UNLV’s non-conference schedule is less than impressive. The 12-game slate features just three teams that were inside Ken Pom’s top 100 last season, leaving the Rebels with limited chances to claim a marquee win.
Instead, the scheduled is littered with teams like Incarnate Word, High Point and Southern Miss, three schools that combined to go 28-69 last season.
But that might be the point.
Colorado State’s 2021-22 season may have provided a blue print to gaming the NCAA’s NET rankings, the fairly new metric used to pick and seed teams for the NCAA Tournament.
The Rams non-conference schedule ranked 230th in Ken Pom’s strength of schedule last season. Colorado State played just one top 25 team (St. Mary’s) and just two more top 50 teams (#49 Mississippi State, #50 Creighton).
Like UNLV’s new schedule, Colorado State played awful teams like Arkansas Pine Bluff and Little Rock. Despite the weak schedule, the Rams found themselves in the NCAA Tournament as a six seed.
One of the keys to Colorado State’s success was blowing out bad opponents. They beat Arkansas Pine Bluff by 20. Little Rock by 31.
Using Ken Pom rankings (NET rankings don’t get released until December), Colorado State started the season at 72. After beating Oral Roberts by 29, Arkansas Pine Bluff by 20 and non-division I Peru State by 26, the Rams jumped up to 55 in Ken Pom.
That is a 17-spot jump after playing three bad teams (even though non-division I teams don’t impact Ken Pom ranks).
By the time the first NET Rankings came out, Colorado State was 8-0 and ranked 27th, despite having just one quality win in Creighton.
Because NET rankings and Ken Pom use efficiency margins, a fancier way of looking at scoring margins, teams can get a boost if they obliterate bad teams.
UNLV opens the season with Southern. If the Rebels are favored to win by 15 points, but cruise to a 28-point victory, they will rise in Ken Pom.
If the Rebels can manage to do that to the majority of their opponents, they may have a high NET ranking despite playing such poor competition.
Obviously, this strategy runs the risk of not beating those opponents by enough. A 6-point win over Southern will sink the Rebels Ken Pom and NET ratings.
The bigger key to Colorado State’s run to the NCAA Tournament was winning. The Rams went 10-0, blowing out the bad teams and beating the few good teams on the schedule. Plus, they ripped off a 14-4 conference record.
If this is indeed Kruger’s strategy, the Rebels have to win. An 11-1 non-conference record with a couple of decent wins and bunch of huge blowouts could be enough to make this weak schedule work in UNLV’s favor.