While college basketball season has not arrived, preseason rankings have. Kevin Kruger’s first year in charge at UNLV is expected to look a lot like the previous eight years of Rebel basketball.
No Mountain West title and no NCAA Tournament appearance.
Ken Pom released its preseason rankings and the Rebels came in at 130th overall and just the sixth best team in the Mountain West.
That is an improvement on last season, when UNLV ended ranked 176th and had the 7 seed in the Mountain West Tournament.
But 130th in the country is nowhere near the NCAA Tournament. The lowest ranked team by Ken Pom to snag an at-large spot in the 2021 NCAA Tournament was 52nd ranked Virginia Tech.
Plus, Ken Pom might be the most optimistic about UNLV.
Matt Norlander of CBS Sports ranked every division I team, UNLV slotted in at 168th and seventh in the Mountain West.
Haslem Metrics has the Rebels at 198th in the country and seventh in the Mountain West.
If these projections hold true, UNLV will be hovering around .500 all season. Ken Pom projects UNLV to go 16-14 and 9-9 in the Mountain West.
UNLV has hovered around .500 for the better part of a decade. Over the last seven seasons, UNLV has finished three games above .500 or worse six times. The only exceptions was the 2017-2018 when UNLV went 20-13, but that came against the 302nd toughest strength of schedule.
There may be reason to think UNLV can surprise and make all of these projections look silly. Matt Norlander wrote: “Kevin Kruger’s team is the most mystifying to me in all the Mountain West, but I do think it’s going to be an entertaining group that bobs and weaves its way to a .500 record. Bryce Hamilton and Jordan McCabe will help pull off a couple upsets.”
Mystifying, because UNLV has a new head coach and nearly an entire new roster. With just Bryce Hamilton, Marvin Coleman and Reece Brown returning, UNLV should be a hard team to project.
But expectations for Kruger’s first run are not high.