The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels put an emphatic stop to their three-game losing skid with a dominant 70-39 thumping of Colorado State over the weekend.
With Selection Sunday less than three weeks away, the postseason is a hot topic of debate among fans of UNLV, the Mountain West, and college basketball in general.
In an attempt to sort through the muddled puddle of opinions, and to sift out the accurate information from the swirl of emotional reaction, a round of true or false is in order.
Bust out your No. 2 pencils and a scantron, and remember that cheating in any form is punishable by immediate expulsion.
If the Rebels don’t make the NCAA tournament, Lon Kruger’s job will be in jeopardy.
FALSE. This notion is completely laughable, yet I have seen it expressed by many fans, many times, in many different venues over the last week and a half.
Lon Kruger isn’t going anywhere.
Kruger is unquestionably the best head basketball coach UNLV has had since Jerry Tarkanian. The team competes for a conference title and an NCAA tournament bid each year. Attendance and revenue are also way up.
Losing Lon Kruger would be the worst thing to happen to UNLV in a long, long time.
The Rebels are overachieving this year.
TRUE . Ignore momentarily the fact that UNLV was picked to finish third in the conference and they are on pace to finish third or fourth.
No one predicted the Mountain West would be as strong as it is this year. Most ‘experts’ had the MWC pegged as a one bid league entering the season.
The league was supposed to be in rebuilding mode. It was BYU and a big stinking heap of NIT-quality challengers.
The 'experts' were dead wrong.
Shockingly, this is the strongest the conference has been in its history. Two top-15 teams, another that has spent significant time in the rankings, and four teams with legitimate NCAA tournament aspirations late in February add up to form the most impressive collection of talent the MWC has seen in its relative brief existence.
A third place finish in this year's MWC, behind two top-15 teams, and a birth in the big dance combine to exceed reasonable preseason expectations for both UNLV and the MWC.
Tre’Von Willis is a candidate for MWC Player of the Year.
FALSE . I love Willis. I think you can make an argument that he has been the best player in the conference since conference play began.
Unfortunately, the Rebels’ three-game losing streak all but eliminated Willis from contention for MWC POY.
If UNLV wins their last three, they’ll finish 11-5 in conference, behind New Mexico and BYU. Team performance is a huge factor in selecting the Conference’s player of the year.
Jimmer Fredette is still the overwhelming favorite. Only an outstanding performance by Darington Hobson in a New Mexico victory at the Marriot Center could change that, and even that might not be enough to unseat Fredette.
Having the MWC Tournament played at the Thomas and Mack Center gives UNLV an advantage.
UNLV will be the favorite to win the conference tournament, because they have home court advantage.
FALSE . The atmosphere at the Thomas and Mack Center for the MWC Tournament does not provide a true home court advantage for any team. There is no student section. Both teams are accompanied by their band and cheerleaders. The same number of tickets are made available to fans of each school.
That being said, I’m not naïve.
When UNLV does well, Rebel fans buy up leftover tickets and come out in large number to support the team. UNLV players can sleep in their own beds and enjoy all the fringe benefits, comfort, and added confidence that comes from staying at home.
For what it’s worth, UNLV has won the MWC tournament three times in Las Vegas. All three times, the Rebels were seeded first or second.
When seeded third or lower, the Rebels are 4-3 in MWC tournament games played at the Thomas and Mack.
When seeded third or lower, the Rebels are 4-3 in MWC tournament games played at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
A run to the title this year would likely require back-to-back victories over top-15 teams as a three or four seed.
Throughout the season, I’ve heard some form of the sentiment, “I don’t see the Rebels losing in the conference tournament on their home floor,” expressed many times. It’s a nice comforting thought, but the odds are against them.
UNLV must win the MWC tournament to make the NCAA tournament.
FALSE. This outright falsehood is so prevalent among the local sports community as to cause one to question the intelligence of Rebel fans.
I state, unequivocally, that the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels do not need an automatic bid to compete in this year’s NCAA tournament.
Anyone stating anything to the contrary is confused, misinformed, myopic, or just plain stupid.
The Rebels have a very nice resume; an RPI in the low 40s, four top 50 wins, two top 25 wins, an 8-3 record on the road. The key phrase is “Overall Body of Work”.
Currently, the Rebels are on the right side of ‘the bubble’. While a MWC Championship and its accompanying automatic bid would be nice, they certainly aren’t a necessity.
All the Rebels need to do to remain in the field is avoid taking any additional bad losses. They must win their last three regular season games and at least one game in the MWC tournament.
If they do, they’ll be able to enjoy a nice, peaceful night’s sleep on Saturday March 13th.
If the Rebels make the NCAA tournament, they can win multiple games.
TRUE. UNLV hasn’t looked like a particularly dangerous team lately, but don’t be fooled. All four Mountain West teams with NCAA hopes have the talent to make a nice run.
Matchups are always key, but things are shaping up nicely for the Rebels.
UNLV has spent the last several weeks dealing with several key injuries. Oscar Bellfield has been playing despite an injured knee. Derrick Jasper has missed most of the last month with a partially-torn ligament. Matt Shaw will miss his third straight game with an ankle injury, and Darris Santee is day-to-day with an abdominal strain.
The good news: all are expected to be back at or close to full strength by the end of the regular season. At full strength, the Rebels can hang with just about any team in the country.
To sum up, the season is far from over. Resist the tendency to swing in dramatic reaction to each individual game. Focus on the big picture.
It may not be perfect, but from here, it still looks pretty darn good.
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