When it’s time to grade Dave Rice’s third season as UNLV coach, his success or lack of it in March, the month that means everything in college basketball, will be the overriding factor.
But that’s a distant mystery. The only thing to judge now is the 2013-14 nonconference schedule he lined up for November and December, and it’s open to interpretation.
The Rebels return just two starters — juniors Khem Birch and Bryce Dejean-Jones — and the schedule announced Tuesday appears tailored for an inexperienced team. It’s not the fiercest collection of opponents imaginable, and there are only two road games.
At the same time, with tests against Arizona, Arizona State and Illinois, it’s not exactly a soft schedule. So, is it tough enough?
“Without question,” Rice said. “We feel this schedule will challenge us on the road and at home. We’ll be out of our building four times, and two of those will be true road games.”
UNLV, which finished 25-10 last season and 26-9 in Rice’s first season, opens his third season against Portland State on Nov. 8.
UC Santa Barbara, Nebraska-Omaha, Arizona State, Illinois and Tennessee-Martin round out a six-game November homestand at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Rebels’ first road test, Dec. 7 at Arizona, is also their highest-profile nonconference game, and that is followed by a Dec. 14 game at Southern Utah.
UNLV hosts Sacred Heart and Radford in preliminary rounds of the Las Vegas Classic, which shifts to Orleans Arena for the final two games. The Rebels face Santa Clara in the Dec. 22 semifinals and either Mississippi State or South Florida on Dec. 23.
Cal State Fullerton visits the Thomas & Mack on Dec. 28 in UNLV’s final tuneup for Mountain West play.
The Rebels play 13 nonconference games and 18 within the conference, which totals 11 teams this season with the additions of San Jose State and Utah State. The MW schedule will be released in early August, and no game times or TV appearances have been announced.
UNLV went 6-6 on road, including 3-5 in the conference last season, and Rice said he thinks the Rebels will be a more “cohesive” team that’s better prepared to succeed away from home.
“We’ll have an opportunity to prove that with nine conference road games,” he said.
Much of the preseason focus will be on what UNLV lost — freshman Anthony Bennett was the NBA’s No. 1 overall draft pick, senior point guard Anthony Marshall graduated, junior Mike Moser transferred to Oregon and freshman Katin Reinhardt transferred to Southern California.
“It’s a team that has not played a lot of games together, and it should be a team that shows progress,” Rice said. “One of our main goals for this season is to be playing our best basketball in February and March. I know that’s cliche.”
Looking to the distant future, Rice has planned two trips to Hawaii. The Rebels will participate in the Maui Invitational in 2015 and the Diamond Head Classic in 2018.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.