Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Monday, Dec. 30, 2013 | 2 a.m.
The UNLV basketball team opens Mountain West play Wednesday at Fresno State in an unfamiliar spot: The Rebels, despite entering league play on a six-game winning streak, likely need a top finish — first or second to be safe — to solidify themselves as an NCAA Tournament team for a fifth straight season.
Yes, according to bracket-prediction experts at CBS and ESPN, UNLV currently isn’t part of the field of 68 teams. But with plenty of games remaining before Selection Sunday in mid-March, the Rebels can play themselves into a berth by continuing their solid performances of the past few weeks into league play.
Last year, the Mountain West had five teams reach the tournament. This year, projections have just two teams reaching the field. Others argue the league might have a third team with worthy enough credentials.
Here’s a few numbers breaking down the Rebels' season and prospects moving forward:
0 — The amount of UNLV wins against top-100 opponents. Here’s why the Rebels aren’t currently projected to be in the NCAA Tournament field: Of UNLV’s nine victories, the best likely came Nov. 15 against Nebraska-Omaha (10-4) of the Summit League.
1 — League regular-season championships won by the Rebels since the 1991-92 season, when Jerry Tarkanian’s team went 18-0 in Big West Conference play. The Rebels of 1999-2000 shared the Mountain West Conference championship with Utah in the league’s inaugural season. The Mark Dickel-led Rebels also won the league tournament that season.
2 — If the season had ended Sunday, Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology on ESPN.com projects two Mountain West teams would be selected for the NCAA Tournament. And UNLV isn’t one of those two — Lunardi tabs San Diego State and New Mexico as No. 7 seeds.
3 — Mountain West teams with 10 wins heading into league play, including No. 20-ranked San Diego State (10-1). Utah State (10-2) and Boise State (10-3) each have double-digit win totals, and three schools (New Mexico, Colorado State and UNLV) are close behind with nine wins. In the standings that count, however, each of the league’s 11 schools is 0-0.
5 — Straight games UNLV has scored more than 80 points, beating opponents by an average of 19.4 points.
6 — Number of players to lead the Rebels in scoring in their 13 games, giving UNLV a balanced offensive attack needed to be an impact team during league games. Roscoe Smith is one of four Rebels to average in double figures at 13.1 points per game and has led the team in scoring four times. Others to lead them in scoring are Kevin Olekaibe, Bryce Dejean-Jones, Khem Birch, Jelan Kendrick and Deville Smith.
8 — The Rebels’ national ranking in effective field-goal percentage, according to Kenpom.com. The stat gives more weight to 3-point attempts, and since UNLV ranks in the top 10 in 3-point defense, it’s also very high in eFG%. Toss in the fact that UNLV holds its opponents to the second fewest free-throw attempts per field-goal attempt in the country, and there are a lot of reasons to feel good about the Rebels’ defense heading into conference play.
11 — Victories last season by Fresno State, which hosts UNLV on Wednesday in the league opener. Last year, Fresno State picked up a pair of upset wins against the Rebels.
19 — Conference wins the past two seasons by UNLV. In 2011-12, the Rebels were 9-5; last season, they went 10-6.
49 — The RPI ranking of San Diego State on ESPN.com. It's the best RPI in the Mountain West. The Aztecs are also the league’s lone team in the top 25. UNLV plays Jan. 18 at SDSU and hosts its rivals March 5 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
62 — The percentage UNLV is shooting from the free throw line, making just 201 of 326 attempts. Khem Birch at 75 percent is the Rebels’ most accurate free-throw shooter in the regular rotation. Freshman Christian Wood has made 14 of 17 attempts.
100 — The Rebels' RPI ranking on ESPN.com heading into league play, meaning the outcome of games against Boise State, New Mexico and San Diego State could have much impact come Selection Sunday in the second week of March.
171 — Rebounds by Roscoe Smith, who averages 13.2 boards per game, best in the nation. With 18 games remaining, the 6-foot-8 forward is 286 rebounds behind Larry Johnson’s single-season school rebounding record. Mike Moser in 2011-12 had 369 rebounds, which was the fourth-best season total in program history. Combined with Khem Birch’s 9.4 rebounds per game, the Rebels rank 10th nationally in rebounding with 43.1 rebounds per game.
12,602 — The average attendance in nine home game at the Mack, which is down 2,594 fans from last season’s average of 15,196. The crowds are expected to be better for league play. And, obviously, more fans are vital to UNLV’s success with road wins traditionally hard to find in the Mountain West.