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Analysis: Taking a look at some important games on the UNLV basketball schedule

The Rebels could potentially face off against national power North Carolina at the Orleans Arena


Associated Press

North Carolina head coach Roy Williams instructs his team against UNC-Pembroke during the first half of an exhibition basketball game Oct. 28 in Chapel Hill, N.C.

The UNLV basketball team has made a habit of starting the season on a winning streak.

Last year, the Rebels won 10 consecutive games to open the season, not losing until mid-December in finishing with a 24-9 record and reaching the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five years. In 2009-10, the Rebels were undefeated in November.

This year, UNLV will have its hands full matching the feat. The Rebels’ schedule starts Friday at home against Division II Grand Canyon, and includes winnable games in the first two weeks at the friendly confines of the Thomas & Mack Center — Nov. 14 against UNR, Nov. 17 against Canisius College; Nov. 20 against Morgan State and Nov. 22 against Cal-Poly.

But after those five relatively leisurely games, UNLV will be tested in a big way.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, the Rebels will play at the Orleans Arena in the Las Vegas Invitational, potentially facing national power North Carolina.

UNLV opens the tournament Nov. 25 against Southern California, with the winner playing the North Carolina-South Carolina winner the following day.

Southern Cal is far from a walkover, but the reward of getting past the Trojans and facing UNC highlights the schedule.

The Rebels will be looking to make an early statement under first-year coach Dave Rice, and a national stage — the game would be televised on ESPN2 — against an elite program would be a golden opportunity. Imagine legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian sitting courtside and the announcers talking about the glory days of UNLV basketball. It would be a great advertisement for the program.

Here’s a look some other significant games on UNLV’s schedule.

    • UNLV vs. UC Santa Barbara
      Photo by Sam Morris/Las Vegas Sun

      Nov. 30 at Santa Barbara

      The five-hour drive into Southern California to face the Gauchos is UNLV’s first road game of the season, giving the Rebels a chance for redemption after falling last year at home to Santa Barbara, 68-62. UCSB is traditionally one of the Big West Conference’s top teams, serving as a perfect first road game test for the Rebels, who have games in Big 10 country at Wisconsin and Illinois in December. Last year, UNLV’s 10-game winning streak to open the season was snapped by Santa Barbara, which connected on 9-of-19 shots from 3-point range.

    • unlv basketball

      Dec. 10 at Wisconsin

      Talk about a chance for Rice’s team to make a splash on the national stage. Wisconsin enters the season ranked No. 15 by the Associated Press and is surely eager for redemption after falling to UNLV last year in the final seconds. Chace Stanback had arguably his best performance in UNLV’s 68-65 victory, scoring a game-high 25 points in an exciting afternoon game at the Thomas & Mack Center. A Justin Hawkins steal late sealed the victory, giving UNLV one of its signature wins of the season. UNLV travels to the Midwest in consecutive weeks, facing Illinois the following Saturday at the United Center in Chicago. Both games are on the Big 10 Network, giving the Rebels more exposure in their quest to reach new markets on the recruiting trail.

    • NCAA - UNLV vs. Illinois
      Photo by Sam Morris/Las Vegas Sun

      Dec. 17 at Illinois

      This game will have extra significance for UNLV’s returning players, who were dismantled by Illinois in last season’s NCAA Tournament. Illinois made quick work of the Rebels, connecting on 17-of-27 shots in the first half and going on a 15-0 run early to essentially seal the game. It definitely wasn’t pretty as UNLV lost its first tournament game for the second straight season. This is one of the biggest games of the season for UNLV for more than the revenge factor. It’s a team from a big-time conference (the Big 10) and played in a big-time arena (the Chicago Bulls’ United Center). Illinois graduated several of its key players from last year, and with five freshman and just one senior on the roster, will still be experimenting with new pieces during the nonconference season. D.J. Richardson, a Findlay Prep product, is one of Illinois’ top players.

    • UNLV Basketball
      Photo by Justin M. Bowen

      Dec. 23 vs. California

      California enters the year ranked No. 23 by the Associated Press, coming to Las Vegas for a Friday game two days before Christmas. A win against a quality team from a power conference will be beneficial come March, when the Rebels should be jockeying for seeding in the NCAA Tournament. This is the best non-league game on the home schedule — remember, a potential game against North Carolina would be at the Orleans Arena. Cal is led by senior guard Jorge Gutierrez of Findlay Prep. He averaged 14.6 points in 33 minutes per game last year.

    • UNLV vs. New Mexico Basketball
      Photo by Sam Morris/Las Vegas Sun

      Jan. 21 vs. New Mexico; Feb. 18 at New Mexico

      Here’s how significant the games between UNLV and New Mexico are expected to be: the Feb. 18 meeting at The Pit in Albuquerque will be televised by CBS, becoming the second game in Mountain West Conference history on the network. UNLV won both meetings against New Mexico last season, including a three-point overtime victory at The Pit that was one of UNLV’s most impressive of the season. This season, don’t be surprised if these two games decide the regular-season league champion. New Mexico power forward Drew Gordon, who average a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds per game last year, is one of the conference’s top players and has given UNLV fits on the interior.

    • MWC Tournament - UNLV vs. SDSU
      Photo by Sam Morris/Las Vegas Sun

      Jan. 14 at San Diego State; Feb. 11 vs. San Diego State

      San Diego State won’t be the same team that knocked UNLV out of the Mountain West Conference last year, having lost several key components of its best team in school history to graduation and sophomore Kawhi Leonard to the NBA. But the Aztecs still will be one of the Mountain West Conference’s top clubs and will be tough to beat at home. Transfers Garrett Green (LSU) and Xavier Thames (Washington State), and junior point guard Chase Tapley are talented enough to make San Diego State a threat. The Mountain West appears to be a two-bid league this year, meaning the Rebels can’t afford slipping up against the Aztecs.

    Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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    1. I think its time to stop talking about the "Glory Days" whenever UNLV plays on TV. Whenever I watch UNLV play on TV that's all the commentators talk about is "remember those great UNLV teams of the 80s-90s?" What does that say about the current teams when all anyone ever talks about when UNLV is on national TV is the "Glory Days" of the 80s-90s Rebels when Tark was around? None of the top notch recruits nowadays were even alive when those UNLV teams were playing and I don't think any of them really care about those teams either. When you watch Duke, Kentucky, UNC, Michigan St play on TV you don't hear the annoucers countiously talk about the glory days of the past with those programs. They talk about the teams they have on the floor right now. This new UNLV team needs to establish a identity for themselves and stop relying on the days of Tark, LJ, Augmon, Gilliam, and Banks to advertise themselves on national television.

    2. mj, What's your point? We have two coaches who are players from the "glory days", kinda hard to dismiss.

      Go Runnin' Rebels!

    3. My point is nobody cares about or knows anything about the current Rebels teams. Whenever you watch them on TV now all the commentators do is talk about the 1990 squad and how great they were. It's been over 20 years now and you'd think the program would have something else to talk about besides what they did in the past. How is UNLV suppose to get any better and land top notch recruits when every time they get on ESPN, VERSUS, CBS Sports all anyone talks about is what happened 20-30 years ago when none of the high school blue chippers of today were even born. They never saw those teams play, probably know little about Tark and probably don't care about any of that. Meanwhile, you watch Duke, Kentucky,UNC, UCLA play and they are talking about their recent success, championships, final fours, and players they've put into the NBA that the young players of today actually know and watch on TV. I love watching and talking about the old UNLV teams of the past but would like to establish a new identity for the current teams of today. I don't want UNLV basketball to forever live off what they did in the 80s-90s.

    4. there's a problem with your logic: UNLV hasn't really done anything in the last 20 years to give commentators something else to talk about, so of course they're going to bring up what they know--that UNLV had one of the greatest college teams ever.....in 90-91. and of course fans are going to keep talking about it, for pretty much the same reasons. it won't help our recruiting efforts, but it's not as though jay bilas has any interest in helping us land shabazz muhammad.

    5. I agree with your point, mj, however, a past as glorious as UNLV's is difficult to live down, and we shouldn't try. The fact that the bubbleheaded ESPN suits can only talk about the Tark teams is fine, and shortsighted, but what do you expect from a network NOTORIOUS for east coast bias? I think it's funny, actually. I think it's a good thing that the University and the Program are embracing the past and re-establishing old traditions ("Jaws" theme, etc.) and if coach Rice can WIN, whether by running teams out or grinding them down, then kids will want to play here, it really is that simple.

    6. and they always follow up the glory years with the Sweet sixteen run from the Kruger era.

    7. One more point, it's very hard to "escape" the glory years when even HBO does a special on them.

      I long for days when all the commentators talk about is the current situation, but it is what it is, at least they are still talking about us. It could be worse, we could be UNR.

      Sorry for the cheap shot.

    8. You can't head into the future without knowing where you came from. I'm glad they at least have something to talk about in the past. You can't say that about most teams. Would you rather them talk about the immediate down years after Tark instead? It'll ring a bell in some recruits and spectators now that might have forgotten that UNLV was and can be a great team.

    9. We've got a tough schedule this year. Go Rebs!

    10. In previous years we have gotten off to good starts and played very well in the non conference part of our schedule. Then we seem to play worse and worse as the season would go on. I think this might be the opposite this year. With a new system and staff in place and with the quality of non conference opponents it could be slow start. But I am hopeful that by conference time and a full lineup in place we can peak at the right time. It is about time we win the regular season title! Runnin' Rebels!

    11. Actually, UNLV won their first 9 games before falling at Louisville on Dec. 11th and then lost their very next game against UCSB at home Dec. 15th.

    12. UNLV will need to get local pride from those kids from the area below is a quote from Loreno Romar about seeing former players all from Seattle at a recent UW game.

      --- Romar talked about the large gathering of former UW players behind the bench during the exhibition that included Will Conroy, Nate Robinson, Spencer Hawes, Brandon Roy and Isaiah Thomas. He said: "People always ask me what is your most memorable moment. It was great that we got the Pac-10 championship. We did a lot of things like that. But things like that (the former players at the SPU game), I saw those guys sitting up there during a timeout and did a double take. I froze for a second. ... They were right there supporting us. That was pretty good."

      This is what UNLV needs from the local talent, it has to start somehwere! C'mon Shabazz be the first to sign on!!!

    13. Well, if you were here during the "glory days" you might continue to talk about them now and then. They were something, indeed.

      Of course, being married to a Carolina girl who has new glory years every four years or so is enviable so I understand.

      But at least we both have glory years to talk about, unlike many other schools. Oh, and we can also also talk about our hatred of Duke.

      Should UNLV and UNC meet in the finals it will be a house divided. Hopefully, we can keep the score respectable for the national TV audience.

      What is needed is to put Tark in the college basketball hall of fame where he belongs. Then we could really reminisce about the glory days!

    14. By the way, Lunardi has UNLV in at a #7 seed against George Mason. I'll take it this early in the season too.

    15. We have a very tough non conference schedule this year, but there is so much opportunity to shine! I hope we can get it done. Go REBELS!!!!!