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July 28, 2015

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

ray brewer:

Let’s keep our expectations realistic for the UNLV basketball team

Many of us have drawn a 17 in blackjack with the dealer showing a face card. Sucks, right?

That’s how players on the UNLV basketball team should feel heading into this season. Facing unrealistic expectations of a deep NCAA Tournament run, they could face a no-win situation even if they play their best.

The Rebels open Monday by hosting Northern Arizona in a season some misguided diehards feel could be the return to the glory years of the late 1980s and early '90s. You get the sense that anything less than a trip to the Sweet 16 or beyond would signal failure.

There is nothing wrong with expectations, but let’s keep them attainable — especially for a program that staggered down the stretch last year, struggles in road games and hasn’t won a tournament game in five years.

There is no disputing the logic: No. 18 UNLV is ranked in the preseason for the first time since 1992, the year after the school’s third Final Four appearance in five seasons, and has a roster highlighted by two possible first-round NBA draft picks: Anthony Bennett and Mike Moser.

But no matter how many All-Americans second-year coach Dave Rice puts on the floor, or how many national media outlets hype the Rebels as a potential Final Four participant, the glory years will never return. Not this year. Not next year. Never.

That time of national prominence started to fade when coach Jerry Tarkanian stepped down in 1992. It came to a screeching halt during the down period that followed Tarkanian’s departure, when UNLV reached the tournament just once from 1991 to 2007 and quickly regressed from a national power to a team annually on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Those glory-years aspirations mostly are from optimistic fans in their mid-30s trying to relive past successes and the awesomeness of their childhood (I should know. I was an eighth-grader during the 1990 title season and went to every home game. It was one of the greatest times of my life).

Plus, how many times have folks argued the glory years are returning? Remember in 1998, when UNLV made its miraculous run through the league tournament to earn its first trip to the NCAAs since the 1991 Final Four?

Or in 2007, when Lon Kruger coached UNLV to the Sweet 16? And of course last year, when Rice — part of those Final Four teams — took over the program and promised to run the ball like those legendary teams of the early 1990s?

Those moments confirmed Rebel fans are passionate, that their program is the only sports franchise that matters in town, and that several — including myself — are quick to set lofty -- likely unreachable -- goals for this unproven team.

Give us Las Vegans a little hope and we start making plans for a championship parade.

That’s especially true among those of us who were kids during the glory years, and it’s not fair. We’ll never recapture that same feeling of exhilaration we did as kids, no matter how hard we press this new generation of UNLV players.

There is nothing wrong with being optimistic, and all signs point to Rice building a program that returns to significant prominence, especially when looking at the caliber of players he is recruiting. First, they need to win an NCAA Tournament game. Make that two or three — in multiple seasons.

Then, we can talk about calling it new era of glory years. Until then, we should keep the expectations to a realistic level.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or ray.brewer@lasvegassun.com. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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