UNLV can’t win close games

UNLV is so close to contending in the Mountain West. The Rebels sit at just 5-7 in the Mountain West, but with better finishing, UNLV could be on the cusp of the conference’s best teams. 

UNLV has lost three games this season in which they had at least a 65 percent chance at winning in the final 10 minutes.

UNLV’s Blown Games

— 88.2% chance of winning — Up 59-46 at Colorado State with 8:52 to play — Lost 74-71

74.6% chance of winning — Up 58-53 at Nevada with 5:44 to play — Lost 72-62

65.7% chance of winning — Up 55-50 at Boise State with 4:22 to play — Lost 61-59

(Win probabilities from Ken Pom)

Three games against top five teams in the conference that UNLV has blown in the final minutes. 

 “When you are in the heat of the battle, it comes down to one stop, it comes down to free throws, it comes down to execution offensively. We’ve been in that spot a few times,” Otzelberger said on the Coaches Show on ESPN Las Vegas earlier this week. 

Otzelberger gave some details as to how the coaching staff has responded to these close games losses. One time they ditched the usual 10 minute video session with the players for a two hour breakdown of every small nuance from a collapse.

But there is another issue that keeps popping up for this season. There is no point guard. 

“We miss the presence of not having a true point guard. Someone to command those possessions offensively. Someone to relay responsibilities a lot defensively,” Otzelberger said. 

Otzelberger gave credit to Elijah Mitrou-Long and Marvin Coleman for pulling last year’s team together. (Amauri Hardy who?) But also looked back at his days at South Dakota State, where he had the same point guard for three years. 

This year’s team has lacked at point guard since Marvin Coleman went down with a season ending leg injury. 

Regardless of how much video players watch or if anyone is considered a true point guard, winning close games tends to be random in college basketball. 

Ken Pom takes a team’s adjusted efficiency margin and measures it against their record. The result is a luck ranking. Essentially, this is how well does a team performs in close games. 

UNLV ranks 266th in luck this season, meaning their 8-11 record is a bad representation of how good this team is. That doesn’t mean UNLV should be a 13-6 team, but rather that they have been robbed of a couple of wins by late game luck. 

In two years under Otzelberger, UNLV has ranked 266 and 234 in Ken Pom’s luck. That could indicate Otzelberger is a bad coach in close games,.

But Otzelberger is actually a perfect example of close games being random. In his three years at South Dakota State, the Jackrabbits ranked 101st, 13th and 263rd in luck. Above average, great and terrible in close games. 

Otzelberger’s ability to coach didn’t change that drastically and his rosters were very similar for the two teams that finished 13th and 263rd in luck. 

How would you feel about this UNLV team if they were 11-8 and 8-4 in the Mountain West with series splits against Utah State, Boise State, Colorado State and Nevada?


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