rebels basketball:

Runnin’ on empty: Rebels’ season ends without a postseason trip

UNLV isn’t selected for the NIT and decides to focus on the offseason rather than pursue lesser tournaments

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV coach Dave Rice reacts as a call goes against his team during their game against New Mexico Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

MWC Tournament: UNLV vs. San Diego State

UNLV associate head coach Heath Schroyer puts his head in his hand during their Mountain West Conference semifinal game against San Diego State Friday, March 14, 2014 at the Thomas & Mack Center. The #8 ranked San Diego State Aztecs won 59-51 to advance to the finals. Launch slideshow »

Much like its start, UNLV’s 2013-14 basketball season ended with a whimper.

The Rebels were not selected to the NIT and announced they would not seek a bid to the lesser two postseason tournaments, officially ending the season. This is the first year without a postseason trip since 2005-06.

“After not receiving an invitation to the NIT this evening, Coach Rice and I discussed the other possible postseason opportunities but agreed that the best thing for our program right now is to start preparing for the 2014-15 season,” Athletic Director Tina Kunzer-Murphy said in a statement. “Dave and his staff have a good recruiting class coming in, good returning players and have lined up a very exciting and challenging schedule for next season. The focus now needs to be on next year and we can't wait to get it going again in the fall.”

UNLV (20-13) reached the 20-win plateau for the eighth straight season and finished tied for third in the Mountain West with a 10-8 season. It also lost a record seven games at the Thomas & Mack Center in the regular season, plus another two that bookend a disappointing year.

The Rebels’ lost their first exhibition game at home to Division II Dixie State on Nov. 1 and then ended their season Friday with a Mountain West tournament semifinal loss to San Diego State. That game ended any chance the Rebels had of making the NCAA Tournament and likely left them one quality win short of making the NIT field.

After that loss, multiple players could be heard yelling at each other and the locker room was kept off limits to media for longer than normal. While no team wants to admit defeat, by deciding not to pursue the CBI or CIT the Rebels clearly feel it’s in their best interest to simply move on.

“It is difficult when a season ends short of reaching your goals,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said in a statement. “After meeting with our administration, we have decided that this is in the best interest of UNLV and the Runnin' Rebel program. The best thing now is to focus on next year.”

The NIT exclusion isn’t a big surprise. The tournament awards an automatic bid to any team that wins its conference’s regular-season title but doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament. This year that meant 13 teams were automatically in with only 19 at-large spots remaining.

Other teams left out of the NIT include Indiana, Marquette and Boise State. The latter was picked tied for second with UNLV in the Mountain West and also will not pursue any other postseason tournaments, mostly because of the Broncos’ injuries.

Last year the Mountain West sent a record five teams to the NCAA Tournament. This year there are only two — No. 4 seed San Diego State and No. 7 seed New Mexico — and none in the NIT.

It’s not all bad news for the Rebels, who have arguably the best recruiting class in program history coming in. Guard Rashad Vaughn and forwards Dwayne Morgan and Goodluck Okonoboh are very talented prospects that have the coaches excited. Just whom those guys will be playing with remains to be seen, though.

UNLV is going to submit a waiver to see if it can get immediate eligibility for senior point guard Cody Doolin, who left San Francisco after four games this season. Then there’s the question of which Rebels with remaining eligibility will return.

Bryce Dejean-Jones, Khem Birch, Jelan Kendrick and Roscoe Smith all have decisions to make in the near future. Other guys down the bench, like Bishop Gorman grad Demetris Morant or freshman guard Kendall Smith, who didn’t play at all in the Mountain West tournament, may look for more playing time elsewhere.

In some cases it’s probably best for both sides that a player move on, though that’s certainly not the case for most of the guys on UNLV’s roster. Rice has had to deal with a lot of turnover in his first three years and some stability would be a welcome change.

That’s likely not coming this year, as even one or two changes on the staff are expected. The offseason is going to be a busy one around the program, and now that part of the year is officially underway.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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