We should probably stop talking about UNLV as a sleeping giant in the Mountain West. Hibernating might even be too kind.
Since Lon Kruger left for Oklahoma, UNLV has been just average in the Mountain West.
Starting with Dave Rice’s first season through the 2020-21 season, UNLV has an 88-86 record in Mountain West play. The Rebels have five seasons under .500 and five season over .500 in that stretch.
As average as it gets.
It is not for lack of trying. UNLV spends more money on basketball than any other Mountain West school. Otzelberger is among the conference’s highest paid coaches. The recruiting classes are ranked in the top 2 of the conference on a near annual basis.
UNLV just sucks in conference play.
That is highlighted by this stat: Of the four coaches to lead UNLV in conference games since Kruger left, T.J. Otzelberger has the highest winning percentage.
Even if you factor out Marvin Menzies’ first season where he took the school’s worst roster to a 4-14 record, he still won just 52.8 percent of his conference games.
The context of UNLV basketball has changed. Clearly this isn’t the 1980s or 90s anymore. But it is even hard in envision UNLV getting back to the mid 2000s, when Kruger made four NCAA Tournament appearances in seven seasons.
While the context has changed, the expectations have not. Otzelberger enters year three with serious pressure to make a run to the NCAA Tournament. At least be on the bubble at some point in the season.
But why would we expect an average Mountain West team to reach the tournament? Colorado State, Utah State and Boise State have all posted at least 14 conference wins this season and all are squarely on the bubble.
UNLV seems locked into winning between 8 and 10 Mountain West games every season, leaving them nowhere near the NIT bubble.
UNLV has the history. UNLV spends the money. UNLV lands the recruits. But until UNLV actually challenges for a conference title or an NCAA Tournament spot, we shouldn’t even consider this program a potential giant.