The best way to make the NCAA Tournament out of the Mountain West is to load up the non-conference schedule. UNLV appears to be doing just that for 2021-22.
The Rebels will play in the MGM Resorts Main Event next season with Arizona, Michigan and Wichita State, according to Kansas.com.
UNLV will play 2 of those 3 teams in November of 2021. And the field is a near guarantee for high level games. Since the 2009-10 season Arizona, Michigan and Wichita State have all finished in the Ken Pom top 100 every year.
The shortened 2020-21 season wiped out a few potential marquee games for the Rebels that might get made up next season. The Rebels were supposed to complete a home and home by traveling to SMU and expected home games against Cal and UCLA. But all those were wiped out for the season.
Plus the Mountain West-Atlantic 10 challenge that was scheduled for 2020 has been postponed until 2021. UNLV was originally scheduled to play VCU.
In a normal year, UNLV would play 13 non-conference games. Assuming next season is normal, the Rebels could already have six games against quality opponents scheduled.
The Rebels might need to add a couple more solid opponents to round out the schedule. The last time UNLV had a top 20 non-confernece strength of schedule was 2014-15 when they played seven teams in the Ken Pom top 100 and three teams in the top 10.
Playing good opponents is helpful for NCAA Tournament resumes. Losing a close game to a top 10 team will help your resume more than crushing a sub-200 team. But UNLV will need to prove they can beat good teams.
Under T.J. Otzelberger, UNLV has struggled in non-conference play. This season the Rebels went 1-4 against Division I teams, losing all three games against top 100 teams. In Otzelberger’s first season, UNLV was 5-8 in non-conference play with the best winning coming against Abilene Christian.
UNLV is 0-9 against top 100 teams in non-conference play under Otzelberger.
Reading between the lines of scheduling is always fun. College coaches tend to schedule according to the level of team they expect to have.
If UNLV ends up with a schedule that includes seven or more potential top 100 teams with a couple of potential top 20 teams, Otzelberger will be signaling his expectation to have an NCAA Tournament team.
Which is exactly what everyone should expect in his third year.