Is it premature to talk about UNLV and the NCAA Tournament after just six games in the Kevin Kruger era?
The Rebels are outside the top 100 of Ken Pom and were picked seventh in the Mountain West preseason poll. No one expects UNLV to be an NCAA Tournament team. Well except the players.
“We definitely feel like we could end up going to the NCAA Tournament,” Bryce Hamilton said ahead of UNLV’s matchup with UCLA. “We want to build that resume. Just to beat a very quality team that’s number two in the country that is definitely a national contender.”
This program is approaching a decade without appearing in the biggest tournament in college basketball. The 2013 team, which lost in round one as a five seed, is the last Runnin’ Rebel team to make it. That was the end of run which saw UNLV in the NCAA Tournament six times in seven seasons.
Since UNLV hasn’t made it and hasn’t even been a bubble team.
This UNLV team sits at 4-2, but the two losses are more significant than the four wins. The Rebels dropped both of their games against high-profile opponents, Michigan and Wichita State.
“The schedule is built for a lot of resume building wins. We feel like we gave away a resume building opportunity on Sunday,” Kruger said about the Rebels one-point loss to Wichita State.
A win in either of those games and the NCAA Tournament talk might be more realistic. But the immediate schedule gives UNLV an opportunity.
The next three games, UCLA, SMU and San Francisco all present UNLV with potential quad one games (and at the worst quad two).
If UNLV loses all three, it will likely cement them as a team that needs to win the Mountain West Tournament in March to break the drought.
But if the Rebels can pull off a couple of wins, the conversation around this team’s fate in March will be extremely different.
“They came here for that,” Kevin Kruger said of his players. “We haven’t been to the tournament in eight years. Those guys came here to have a bigger role and be a significant factor on a tournament team at a program that hasn’t been there. That was a lot of the selling point from our end and the attraction on their end.”
UNLV will still need to handle their business against the remaining non-conference opponents like Seattle and San Diego. Plus, a good showing in Mountain West play (12-6 at a minimum) is necessary.
But all of that is doable for an improved defensive team that is still trying to find the best way to score efficiently.
The problem is UNLV will be underdogs in the next three games.
|Opponent||UNLV chance to win|
|at San Francisco||15%|
UNLV is not expected to win any of these games. But the opportunity exists. If the Rebels take advantage of the opportunity, we can start talking about the Rebels in the dance.