A basketball carnival will be staged today at UNLV, and junior forward Mike Moser is happy to be in the middle of the hype. Attracting attention is generally better than being ignored.
The Rebels are getting all the preseason recognition they could want, and maybe more. Moser recently was picked to the All-America second team by CBSSports.com.
When the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll was released Wednesday, UNLV came in at No. 19, its first preseason ranking in 20 years. At least two publications rank the Rebels in the top 15, and some Final Four predictions from the national media already have come their way.
Senior guard Anthony Marshall and freshman forward Anthony Bennett are collecting accolades, too.
"It’s great for the program," Moser said. "But you take it for what it’s worth. We were supposed to be this and that last year, and it just didn’t go the way we wanted it to go."
The hype and rankings that arrived last season faded fast as UNLV unraveled in the final month and finished 26-9 after losing its opening game in the NCAA Tournament. But the renewed optimism of October will be on full display tonight.
The Rebels are hosting a Scarlet/Gray Showcase, a free event for fans, at 7 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack Center. Festivities include a dunk contest, 20-minute scrimmage and Legends game featuring around 25 former players.
A Fan Fest with activities for kids starts at 5 p.m. Cheerleaders will perform, and players will sign autographs after the scrimmage. When the carnival ends, UNLV coach Dave Rice will begin refocusing his team on the realities of November.
Rice is closing some practices to fans and media, something his predecessor, Lon Kruger, never did in seven years. The coach Rice played for 20-some years ago, Jerry Tarkanian, rarely, if ever, had to close practices, either.
"I love the expectations and the attention. It’s great that people are excited," Rice said. "But the main thing is, I want to set a tone for our team. It was more for me to send a message. The season is here, and it’s time to get serious about the task at hand."
In early August, as the Rebels prepared for an exhibition tour to Canada, their opening practice at the Mendenhall Center drew an estimated 400 fans, some tailgating in the parking lot while music blared.
UNLV’s first official day of practice last week attracted about 150 fans. The increased fanfare led Rice to make a move to minimize distractions and increase his players’ focus. He closed practices Monday and Wednesday.
During the regular season, Rice said he plans to close a small number of practices while still keeping several of them open for fans.
"It became relevant to have a couple days a week where we close it off," Rice said. "I just thought it was an important thing to do. There is a consistent opportunity for fans to come to practice, but at the same time, we have a couple days a week where it’s just us."
Expectations are higher at Indiana, Louisville and Kentucky – the top three teams in the coaches poll. But the fan interest and hype surrounding UNLV right now might be second to none, and is definitely at its highest point in 20 years.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.