Last season Marvin Menzies was stuck with three marquee games that his team was not ready for. With a depleted roster, UNLV was overmatched by Oregon, Kansas and Duke. UNLV lost each game by at least 18 points.
But despite three games against teams rated inside Ken Pom’s top 15, UNLV’s non-conference strength of schedule ranked just 274th out of 351 teams. That was Menzies scheduling down to his talent. He needed games against Incarnate Word and UC Riverside to prevent UNLV from being a five-win team in his first season.
Now Menzies has a roster he can be proud of. With Brandon McCoy—the only class of 2017 top 100 player in the Mountain West—Shakur Juiston and Jordan Johnson, Menzies can feel confident taking on high-level teams.
“This recruiting class and the talent that you project that you’ll have always plays a role in who you want to play to give yourself a chance at some type of post season. But at the same time, you need to make sure you bring them along when they’re younger guys,” Menzies said last week. “This particular year—based off the recruiting class—I wanted to have a few games that have a little girth to them that can help us move the needle if we are fortunate enough to hold serve when we get to conference.”
Jon Rothstein of Fan Rag Sports is reporting that UNLV and Illinois will begin a two-game series with Illinois traveling to Las Vegas on December 9 of this season. Last year Illinois went 20-15 and made the NIT. They ranked 66th in Ken Pom.
Coaches tend to schedule to their expectation of the team. A weak schedule indicates the team won’t be very strong. Consistently playing power conference team means the expectations are high.
Illinois will bring a bit of intrigue to Vegas in December, as their new head coach Brad Underwood reportedly turned down a $2 million offer from UNLV to take the Oklahoma State job for $1 million. But UNLV may have caught a break, as Underwood ditched the Cowboys after just one season.
Underwood won’t bring the hate that a matchup with Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin or Texas Tech’s Chris Beard would generate. But his name was still a part of 2016’s destructive coaching search.
Here’s what we know of UNLV’s non-conference schedule:
Rice (Las Vegas) November 20 – MGM Grand Main Event
- The Owls last season: 23-12, Ken Pom 155
Utah or Ole Miss (Las Vegas) November 22 – MGM Grand Main Event
- The Utes last Season: 20-12, Ken Pom 47
- The Rebels last season: 22-14, Ken Pom 74
Arizona (Las Vegas) December 2
- The Wildcats last season: 32-5, Ken Pom 18
Illinois (Las Vegas) December 9
- The Illini last season: 20-15, Ken Pom 66
Southern Utah (Las Vegas) TBD
- The Thunderbirds last season: 6-27, Ken Pom 333
Pacific (Stockton, Calif.) TBD
- The Tigers last season: 11-22, Ken Pom 246
Northern Iowa (Cedar Falls, Iowa) TBD
- The Panthers last season: 14-16, Ken Pom 169
With six more games to schedule, Menzies has already pegged as many top 100 teams as the Rebels played last season. As long as the last six opponents aren’t college basketball bottom feeders, UNLV should be back to playing the toughest non-conference slate in the Mountain West.