UNLV has released its non-conference schedule for the upcoming season and the marquee games are nearly nonexistent.
The headliner is Arizona, which comes to the Thomas & Mack Center on December 2. But it is hard to find many big-time games after that.
Illinois will play in Vegas, as UNLV takes on the Illini at MGM Grand Garden Arena on December 9. The Runnin’ Rebels will get one more shot at a power five team when they take on Utah or Ole Miss in the second round of the MGM Grand Main Event at T-Mobile Arena.
And that’s pretty much it for big games. While Arizona may be the best team in the country, Illinois, Ole Miss and Utah could all finish near the bottom of their respective conferences.
Instead the schedule is littered with teams like Florida A&M, which has lost at least 20 games in 8 of the last 9 years.
UNLV Non-Conference Schedule
November 11 | Florida A&M
November 15 | Prairie View A&M
November 17 | Eastern Washington
November 20 | Rice (T-Mobile Arena)
November 22 | Ole Miss or Utah (T-Mobile Arena)
November 25 | Southern Utah
November 29 | at Northern Iowa
December 2 | Arizona
December 5 | Oral Roberts (MGM Grand Garden Arena)
December 9 | Illinois (MGM Grand Garden Arena)
December 16 | at Pacific
December 20 | Mississippi Valley State
December 22 | Northern Colorado
Most college coaches fill out their schedule based on how well they think the team will perform. A weak team will likely have a weaker schedule so that they can accumulate some wins.
But a team expecting to compete for the NCAA Tournament is likely to load up on as many big games as possible to boost the resume. And Marvin Menzies changed his scheduling philosophy for this season when he landed top-15 recruit Brandon McCoy and the junior college player of the year Shakur Jusiton.
“It was a liquid document,” Menzies said of the schedule. “We had some games that were already in there and then we started to add games. And then the recruiting started to change a little bit. We added Illinois there late when they weren’t initially on our docket.”
But when asked which games were specifically scheduled prior to landing the big-time recruits, Menzies wasn’t sure.
“Just a few games. Arizona was done,” Menzies said. “There’s 30-plus games. I’m a little bit too old to remember all those kinds of things. There were some in place and then we went to get some. I am sure all of you experts will go figure out how good of a schedule it is or how bad it is. I am just going to coach these guys up and go out and get wins.”
The tournament featuring Rice, Ole Miss and UNLV was also a done deal prior to the commits from McCoy and Juiston. While it isn’t sure which other games were added after the roster was upgraded, the only game of note to be added was Illinois.
And that leaves UNLV with a schedule that might lead to just one game against a top 50 opponent, a rarity for the Runnin’ Rebel program.
Here's UNLV's non-conf schedule in comparison to the past decade. Could be first time UNLV has only one top 50 KenPom non-conf opponent. pic.twitter.com/wfMUpYaZv2— Eli Boettger (@boettger_eli) July 31, 2017
This could be UNLV’s worst schedule in a decade. But Menzies believes some of the teams they scheduled will be better than expected.
“When you look at the name of a team you don’t know how that team is going to finish their season,” Menzies said. “So we have to investigate a lot moving parts when we do scheduling. And we think that a lot of the teams that don’t necessarily have big names on our schedule, we think because of their rosters that they could end up with better RPIs than they have in the past.”
Throwing aside RPI for the efficiency-based Ken Pom, UNLV has a lot of bad teams on the schedule. Four opponents were ranked outside the top 300 last season, while three more were outside the top 200. That’s seven teams that have a chance to be really bad again in 2017-18.
Four Games on the Strip
UNLV will play 11 non-conference games in Las Vegas, but only seven of those will come at the Thomas & Mack. UNLV will take on Rice and then either Ole Miss or Utah in the MGM Grand Main Event at T-Mobile Arena. Then in December the Rebels will play two games at the MGM Grand Garden Arena against Oral Roberts and Illinois.
Season ticket holders will have access to free tickets for all four games. The four games will be treated as semi-road trips for UNLV because the Rebels won’t be leaving the state very often prior to the conference portion of the schedule.
There are only two road games on the schedule – at Northern Iowa and at Pacific. But those two games combined with the four games on the strip will give UNLV plenty of chances to play in unnatural environments.