T.J. Otzelberger has lost more games than he has won as the head coach of UNLV. His record sits at 23-24 as his second season winds down.
The lack of wins have prompted UNLV fans to question why Marvin Menzies was fired and replaced with Otzelberger
Menzies posted a 37-27 record in his last two seasons as head coach, much better than Otzelberger’s below .500 mark. But Menzies loaded up on a weak schedule.
(We are ignoring Marvin Menzies’ first season because he took over after a trainwreck of coaching search, and the 11-21 mark was a reflection of the administration, not Menzies.)
The 2017-18 season that saw UNLV win 20 games was against the 122nd toughest strength of schedule. (And the 302nd hardest non-conference strength of schedule.) Menzies’ last season, which produced a 17-14 record, was against the 210th hardest schedule in college basketball.
Otzelberger’s first two seasons have come against the 92nd and 64th most difficult schedules.
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UNLV is playing tougher games. Otzelberger has already coached UNLV against 24 top 100 Ken Pom opponents. Menzies’ last two seasons had just 18 top 100 foes. Ultimately, 51.1 percent of Otzelberger’s games have been against top 100 teams, with just 26.8 percent of Menzies’ games coming against top 100 opponents.
Playing tougher teams explains Otzelberger’s worse record overall. But Menzies actually had a higher win percentage in those top 100 games, picking up victories in 28.6 percent (4-14) compared to Otzelberger’s 20.8 percent (5-19).
Thankfully Ken Pom ranks teams based on strength of opponent and margin of victory with his adjusted efficiency.
Marvin Menzies produced Ken Pom’s 107th best team in 2017-18 and the 165th best team in 2018-19. Otzleberger has bettered Menzies by ranking 98th last season and 140th this season.
The last four UNLV seasons has yielded one answer: T.J. Otzelberger is better than Marvin Menzies.
But the problem is that the margin between Otzelberger and Menzies appears to be small. Simply beating out Menzies is not a great accomplishment.
UNLV’s real accomplishments should come in the form of Mountain West titles and NCAA Tournament appearances. Neither Menzies nor Otzelberger have produced a team anywhere close to those standards.
When was the last time you checked a bracketology page in February and saw UNLV listed? UNLV can’t even make the next four out group.
The question becomes what can Otzelberger do in the near future to elevate UNLV way past the current form? When Desiree Reed-Francois fired Menzies she stated simply, “If I’m not confident in where we’re headed, we need to make a change.”
Is she confident in where UNLV is headed now?
There are certainly excuses to make for UNLV. This season saw a 33-day break between games due to COVID-19. Bryce Hamilton and Marvin Coleman have missed time due to injuries. And while there have been some good moments – UNLV beat Utah State and lost to Colorado State by three points twice – excuses and moral victories don’t create confidence.
A year three run to the NCAA Tournament (or even the NIT) would instill that belief. And Otzelberger might be under pressure to do just that.
When Reed-Francois joined The Press Box in November of 2018, she gave a timeline for evaluating coaches.
“You pretty much know. I don’t think you have to give a coach 5 years to know if he or she is on the right path at all. Usually you are going to know after year three.”
While that answer was to a question asked about Marcus Arroyo and the UNLV football program, the three-year timeline matches up with the Menzies firing.
Simply being better than Marvin Menzies is not going to be good enough for year three of the T.J. Otzelberger era.