The Runnin’ Rebels are playing well*, clinched a first-round bye in the Mountain West Tournament and get to play in their home building. All the necessary ingredients for winning a conference title and stealing a bid to the NCAA Tournament, right?
*Yes, I am ignoring UNLV’s dreadful performance against New Mexico to end the season.
UNLV has a decent shot at claiming a conference championship. According to Bart Torvik, UNLV has a 14.1 percent chance to win the tournament. The only teams with better odds are Boise State (23.3%), San Diego State (18%) and Colorado State (14.3%).
UNLV enters the tourney as one of the second tier of favorites. First off, UNLV has been playing well lately. The Rebels have the 13th most efficient offense in the country over the last 10 games of the season*. Plus the defense ranks up at 60th down the stretch. No other Mountain West team ranks in the top 60 of both offensive and defensive efficiency over the last 10 games.
There is one other key to Bart Torvik ranking UNLV so highly in tournament odds: the Thomas & Mack. Part of Bart Torvik’s odds factor in that UNLV plays games at home.
But does that actually matter? It certainly hasn’t recently.
In the last 10 Mountain West Tournaments (all played at Thomas & Mack) UNLV is 8-4 as a favorite, using Ken Pom’s pregame projection. The Rebels are 0-6 as an underdog.
For a decade, UNLV has not pulled off an upset on their home floor.
It gets even worse when you look as who specifically UNLV is beating.
Over the last six Mountain West Tournaments, UNLV has beaten Air Force three times. They haven’t beaten any other team.
That’s right UNLV’s record over the last six years in the conference tournament is 3-0 vs. Air Force and 0-6 when playing anyone else.
Maybe the only school with a valid complaint about the location of the Mountain West Tournament is Air Force.
However, San Diego State tends to have the loudest complaints about the tournament being played in UNLV’s home building.
But San Diego State dominates UNLV in the Mountain West Tournament. Since the Mountain West Tournament returned to Vegas in 2007, the Aztecs are 7-0 against UNLV.
In the last 15 Mountain West Tournaments, UNLV has been knocked by San Diego State nearly half of the time.
Now none of that means UNLV can’t storm through the conference tournament in 2022. Nothing that happened in the last decade has any bearing on Bryce Hamilton’s ability to carry the Rebels offense for three days.
But playing at home hasn’t helped UNLV in over decade.