Runnin’ Rebels season: A time for hope in Las Vegas

This valley needs hope. It needs something to rally around. It needs fun and excitement.

The suffering and uncertainty that have overwhelmed Southern Nevada over the past five years help explain the excitement surrounding the UNLV men’s basketball team. The Runnin’ Rebels open their 2012-13 season tonight against Northern Arizona University at the Thomas & Mack Center. The team boasts a No. 18 ranking in The Associated Press preseason poll and a roster of talented players who were coveted by some of the best programs in the country.

The start of the college basketball season is indeed good news.

UNLV fans never abandoned their high expectations for the team, even when it went through a period of prolonged mediocrity in the 1990s and 2000s. The belief that the Runnin’ Rebels could again be relevant on the national stage prompted coach Dave Rice to return to the campus where he won a national championship as a player, and helped lure a combination of transfers and new signees to a squad that hasn’t been to the Final Four in more than 20 years.

High expectations are a good thing. If you believe greatness is impossible, it won’t happen.

However, impossibly high expecations are another thing entirely. Will UNLV make a run at an unbeaten season, as it did in 1990-91? Not if Wednesday’s 81-80 overtime exhibition victory over Division II Dixie State is any indication. With so many newcomers, the team clearly is a work in progress. Solid community support and sold-out home games sure would help the squad along.

Try to enjoy the ride. Go Rebels.

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