When will UNLV play an important game again?

UNLV picked up two wins over the weekend by beating up on conference bottom feeder San Jose State. But the irrelevancy of the games highlight another wasted season. 

Back in 2013, UNLV snagged a five seed in the NCAA Tournament. After a loss to Cal in the first round, the Rebels season ended ranked 38th in Ken Pom. UNLV has not cracked the top 50 – for even just a day – since. 

Top 50 in Ken Pom is an arbitrary cut off. Being top 50 does not guarantee an NCAA Tournament spot. But it usually means you are at the very least on the NCAA Tournament bubble. That you have hope over the final month of the season that you can make a run and get in. 

UNLV hasn’t had that since 2013. UNLV hasn’t played a relevant game in the month of February in eight seasons. A span that includes three different head coaches and one interim head coach.

While Boise State and Utah State played what could amount to a play-in series for the NCAA Tournament over the weekend, UNLV fans have had no hope for nearly a decade. 

Since the 2013 NCAA Tournament, the closest UNLV has been to playing a meaningful game was in the 2017-2018 season. Brandon McCoy crushed Utah to give the Rebels a signature non-conference win. The next eight games saw UNLV go 6-2 with both losses coming in overtime to Arizona and Northern Iowa. 

That led UNLV to the Mountain West opener against Boise State. The Rebels were ranked 65th in Ken Pom, Boise State 63rd. But UNLV was beaten at home. 

After that, UNLV lost its next three games against top 150 opponents, sinking any chance at making the NCAA Tournament. 

That was the last time UNLV had any reason to believe an NCAA Tournament appearance was possible. But the Rebels didn’t even make the NIT. (Boise State went 23-9 and made the NIT.)

The Rebels had a glimmer of hope in 2015-16 after wins over Indiana and Oregon. But that was immediately followed by losses in 6 of 8 games and a Dave Rice firing. 

The closest T.J. Otzelberger has come to coaching in an important game was the 2020 Mountain West Tournament. UNLV ended the regular season on a five-game win streak, including ending San Diego State’s unbeaten season.

But they were still never close to approaching an NCAA Tournament spot. UNLV needed to win three games in the conference tournament, but they lost the first one to Boise State. 

Which introduces another problem. Despite hosting the conference tournament, UNLV has been awful in the Mountain West Tournament. 

That 2013 NCAA Tournament team made it to the title game, but lost to New Mexico. Since UNLV has gone 4-7 in the Mountain West Tournament. The Rebels have made to the semifinals once (2014). Every other year has ended in either the quarterfinals or the opening round. 

Every year UNLV is presented a chance to win three or four games in the Thomas & Mack Center to steal an NCAA Tournament spot. And every year UNLV fails to give fans any reason to get excited. 

It would be fun to talk about UNLV’s NET ranking or Quad 1 wins. But it has been nearly a decade since UNLV was relevant. 

2 thoughts on “When will UNLV play an important game again?

  1. I would like to see Oz try and get a legitimate shot blocker. A good role player. Khem Birches defense really changed the game by turning defense into offense and making a transition game

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