With Dave Rice out the door and UNLV sitting on an 0-3 record in Mountain West play, it certainly seems like the Rebels’ season is in tatters. But is it over? Like, OVER over? What if, against all odds, Todd Simon is able to rally the team to a miraculous finish? Then what?
To figure it out, I ran some RPI projections through the end of the regular season. It wasn’t easy. The Ratings Power Index is weighted for home and road win-loss records, and the formula also takes into account strength of schedule and opponents’ strength of schedule. It’s a whole thing.
To fill in the missing data, I started by projecting the rest of UNLV’s season. Then I projected the final records for the rest of the Mountain West teams, using KenPom.com ratings to determine each head-to-head outcome. Then I used the current win-loss percentages for opponents of opponents (because honestly, I love you guys but I’m not going as far as projecting 200 schedules). It’s not a precise method, and it wouldn’t survive a vigorous peer review, but I think it’s close enough to help us figure out a “what if” scenario.
Once I had those numbers, I plugged them into the RPI formula, which can be found here.
The results were surprisingly optimistic for a team that is currently ranked No. 141 in RPI. The Rebels are helped by the fact that they have six games remaining against the group of Boise State, San Diego State and New Mexico, all of whom project to win at least 19 games this season. And the Rebels also play Nevada-Reno twice, and UNR projects to finish with a respectable 17-11 record (excluding the games against UNLV).
So it’s a long shot, but there is still hope. For instance, if Simon turns out to be the basketball version of some combination of Bill Belichick and Bill Belichick and leads UNLV to a 15-0 finish, the Rebels would finish with an RPI score of 0.6090. That would currently rank No. 34 and firmly put UNLV in the NCAA field on Selection Sunday.
Of course, 15-0 is a little ambitious. But even if the Rebels go 12-3 the rest of the way, with road losses coming at Boise State, San Diego State and New Mexico, their RPI ranking would only drop to No. 53. That’s bubble territory, with the possibility of a strong Mountain West tournament run putting the Rebels over the edge. If UNLV splits the difference and goes 13-2 the rest of the way, they’d end up at No. 40 in the RPI.
Now, have the Rebels given any indication that they’re capable of winning 12 or 13 of their final 15 games? Not recently. But regardless of the current 0-3 record, this is a talented team that plays killer defense, and stranger things have happened.
That’s all I’ve got for you optimistic types. It wouldn’t quite take a miracle to get UNLV into the postseason (assuming I mathed good here), but it would have to be miracle-ish.