On paper, the Mountain West basketball pecking order appears too close to call, and UNLV coach Dave Rice is playing along with the guessing game.
“I absolutely think it’s a wide-open conference,” he said.
The Rebels are among four teams that figure to battle for the title. Boise State, New Mexico and San Diego State are the others. The race shapes up as more unpredictable than usual.
But the 18-game unbalanced schedule is no longer a mystery, after the league office released it Friday. The MW jumps from nine to 11 teams for the 2013-14 season, with the additions of San Jose State and Utah State, and the odd number created scheduling quirks.
UNLV will not host San Jose State or play at Wyoming, and the conference made certain the four teams predicted to be strongest will face each other twice.
As for road games, Boise State does not play at San Jose State, New Mexico does not play at Air Force, and San Diego State does not play at UNR. Rice studied the schedule and proclaimed it fair.
“Every league game is challenging,” Rice said. “I’ve never worried about who we play at a particular time. I just look at the scheduling flow.”
The Rebels open league play Jan. 1 at Fresno State, making New Year’s Day a revenge date. The Bulldogs upset UNLV in both meetings last season.
Following a two-game homestand against Air Force and UNR, the Rebels’ schedule flow gets more challenging. UNLV plays at New Mexico on Jan. 15, followed three days later by a trip to San Diego State.
The Rebels will have 11 games, including nine conference games, televised by CBS Sports Network. UNLV’s home game against New Mexico on Feb. 19 will be on ESPN2.
The Wolf Pack and Rebels meet in Reno in their regular-season finale on March 8, followed by the conference tournament from March 12 to 15 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
UNLV announced its 13-game nonconference schedule in early July. Rice opens his third season against Portland State on Nov. 8.
Arizona State and Illinois visit the Thomas & Mack in November, and the Rebels play at Arizona on Dec. 7 in a game that is expected to be picked up by ESPN2.
The Rebels return two starters, juniors Khem Birch and Bryce Dejean-Jones, from a team that finished 25-10 last season.
UNLV is set to open practice Sept. 30 without several familiar faces. Freshman forward Anthony Bennett was the NBA’s No. 1 draft pick, point guard Anthony Marshall graduated, junior Mike Moser transferred to Oregon, and freshman Katin Reinhardt transferred to Southern California.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.