Rebels can afford to stay home for nonleague games

It’s modern mathematics, college basketball style:

A home win counts for 0.6 percentage points and a road win counts for 1.4. A neutral court win counts as 1.0.

Know this: It’s most important to win, no matter the venue.

Know this II: It’s vital that if you schedule a healthy amount of guaranteed home games, you avoid opponents whose Ratings Percentage Index is 200 or lower.

To avoid those who don’t merely stink, but really, really stink.

If crafting an annual schedule to create an impressive RPI is a science, UNLV has consistently graded higher than most biology honor students. The Rebels have advanced to five of the past six NCAA Tournaments, mostly because of impressive records and yet also because their RPI has been so strong throughout the course of a season, their placement as an at-large team is often solidified weeks before Selection Sunday.

They really seem to have the formula down, and if it’s true Dave Rice’s team is close to announcing a nonconference schedule for next season that will have the Rebels play just two road games — Arizona and Southern Utah — those putting such things together are even smarter than usual.

Teams such as Kentucky and Duke and Syracuse have dictated their scheduling needs for years because, well, they’re Kentucky, Duke and Syracuse. Theirs are nonleague schedules defined by neutral site games against other powerful programs.

They play on another’s floor before the conference season about as often as John Calipari and Rick Pitino exchange recruiting secrets.

If part of the argument for such teams staying home more than not is conference competition will be so tough that they will easily play themselves into the NCAAs, UNLV and others in the Mountain West should boast the same claims today.

The Mountain West was second in RPI last season and, despite a forgettable NCAA showing that rightly questioned whether the conference was anywhere near that good, it should give coaches hope their nonleague schedules don’t have to feature countless road games to build good enough at-large cases.

There is no tougher league to win on the road nationally than the Mountain West. None. Period. The. End. None offers the same types of hurdles as changes in altitude and difficulty in travel.

Here’s another thing: It’s going to be even tougher now.

The conference will offer an 18-game unbalanced basketball schedule for 11 teams, meaning an extra road game awaits, meaning most years will include a trip to Utah State, where the Aggies have won 94 percent of their games under coach Stew Morrill. They’re a monster in Logan.

There are also no travel partners in the Mountain West, meaning teams probably will be facing nine separate trips.

There is also this: The expanded league will ensure the top teams play each other twice a year, akin to what the Big East Conference did for years with an unbalanced schedule to indulge those TV partners writing big checks. Networks want the best teams meeting as often as possible.

Translation: There will be no breaks from the computer for the UNLVs and New Mexicos and San Diego States of the conference, allowing the league to remain relevant nationally and for the top teams to retain stronger power ratings.

Teams will play eight league opponents twice and two others once annually, which could translate to avoiding a trip to Laramie, Wyo., some seasons.

Hey, you can find a silver lining in most every scenario.

Conference coaches preferred a random schedule by an 8-3 vote.

Athletic directors who deal with TV executives overruled their desires.

I side with the latter. I love big games.

I’m sure Rice can’t be completely happy with things due to, well, you know, two games against Fresno State each season.

It all means a team such as UNLV will get plenty of road tests once conference play begins, that the Rebels are at a point where they don’t need to load up on such games before January to impress anyone.

The bigger key for UNLV is to not slip up against inferior nonconference teams either at home or in a neutral setting such as Orleans Arena. There is no bigger RPI buzzkill than losing to someone you shouldn’t.

Two nonleague road games?

Good for Rice and his staff, honor students that they are at this stuff.

Point is, if you’re going to recruit with the big boys and play the big boys and want to be considered part of that mix, you might as well schedule like them.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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