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UNLV puts together challenging, but winnable, basketball schedule

Updated May 18, 2019 - 11:42 pm

A difference in scheduling philosophy existed between previous UNLV basketball coach Marvin Menzies and athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois.

He wanted to play more winnable games, scheduling a home-and-home with Pacific and facing the likes of Florida A&M and Prairie View A&M. Reed-Francois pushed for more challenging opponents and used her friendship with then-Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin to arrange a home-and-home that began last season.

Reed-Francois now has a coach in T.J. Otzelberger who shares her thinking, and the evidence is clear as the Rebels will play a more challenging schedule next season. They host Kansas State and Southern Methodist at the Thomas &Mack Center, play Brigham Young in Salt Lake City and visit California, Cincinnati and UCLA.

But there also was a strategic component to this schedule. It’s more difficult, sure, but it’s not as daunting as it sounds given the opponents’ name recognition.

“You’re catching a lot of these teams either in big rebuilds or with new coaches coming in,” said Bruce Marshall of The Gold Sheet. “If you’re asking me, the toughest looks to be the BYU game. They’re catching all these teams at the right time. Kansas State and SMU are not unbeatable teams, for sure. That’s an interesting schedule.”

Each opponent faces serious questions.

BYU, Cal, Cincinnati and UCLA have first-year coaches and the uncertainty that comes with such transitions. Kansas State finished the season ranked 19th and won the Big 12 Conference regular-season title, but the Wildcats must replace three 1,000-point scorers. SMU, which went 15-17 last season, also is in rebuild mode.

That’s not to say this is a dog schedule. It’s far more attractive than the ones of the past two seasons.

What it means is UNLV has timing working in its favor, and the Rebels have a chance to pick up some nice victories that otherwise might be more difficult to achieve.

Except for Kansas State and Cincinnati, which went 28-7 last season, the other programs didn’t play up to high-level standards.

BYU went 19-13, Cal comes off back-to-back eight-win seasons, and UCLA went 17-16 and fired coach Steve Alford near midseason.

Cronin, who three years ago was offered the UNLV job, left Cincinnati to coach UCLA.

“The way UCLA played last year and how sloppy they were, the antithesis of Cincinnati,” Marshall said. “So Mick’s got his work cut out for him, but he’ll have some guys to work with. Since the Pac-12 is kind of shallow, I can see UCLA making a little bit of a return.”

The opponents say two important things about the direction of the program under Otzelberger and Reed-Francois, who will not comment on the schedule as a whole until it’s released, probably next month.

They will be careful with how they sign big-name programs, but they won’t be afraid to put teams on the schedule that even the average fan easily recognizes.

As a long-term observer of the program said recently, UNLV won’t be playing A&M schools anymore unless it’s Texas A&M.

Contact Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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