Updated November 17, 2020 - 1:34 pm
UNLV basketball has been preparing for coach T.J. Otzelberger’s second season for a long time, hoping the young roster can get fans excited about the direction of the program.
Now the Rebels finally know when they’ll be playing. UNLV released its schedule Tuesday, eight days before its season opener will be held without fans Nov. 25 against Montana State at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Rebels will play seven nonconference games — including three at the Maui Invitational in Asheville, North Carolina — before opening Mountain West play Dec. 20 at Wyoming. The conference has a new format for this season to reduce travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each team will play 10 two-game series (five at home, five on the road) with a one-day break between games.
Otzelberger said he thinks the change will make it harder than ever to win on the road.
“It’s going to be teams staying in a hotel for four, 4½ days consecutively, not really getting out and trying to stay focused and preparing for that game and then the next one coming,” Otzelberger said last week at the Mountain West media days. “I think it’s going to lend itself to probably greater parity in the league because, to me, winning on the road in back-to-back games is an even greater challenge than what we’re normally up against in the schedules that we’ve had.”
UNLV has several notable nonconference games before diving into the Mountain West’s new schedule.
The Rebels play No. 16 North Carolina at 4 p.m. Nov. 30 in Asheville, then will meet either Stanford or Alabama at 1 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 1. UNLV travels to Kansas State on Dec. 5 for its only true nonconference road game.
Then the unique conference format begins. League coaches aren’t sure how the Mountain West’s new schedule will affect the standings, but the Rebels can’t be too upset about their draw.
UNLV plays two of the conference’s top three teams at home and avoided many difficult trips to high altitude.
The Rebels will play San Diego State, New Mexico, Utah State, Air Force and Fresno State at home, and Wyoming, Colorado State, UNR, Boise State and San Jose State on the road.
That means two of the conference’s top three teams in the projected order of finish — San Diego State (1) and Utah State (3) — are coming to the Thomas & Mack. Two of the UNLV’s five road series are against teams expected to be at the bottom of the standings in Wyoming (9) and San Jose State (11).
The Rebels fared OK with games at high altitude amid concerns from coaches, most notably San Diego State’s Brian Dutcher, that playing back-to-back games at high elevations could be taxing on players. UNLV avoided going to Utah State, New Mexico and Air Force, but will have road series against Colorado State, UNR and Wyoming.
The Rebels, 17-15 last season, close conference play by hosting Fresno State on Feb. 27. The Mountain West tournament is March 10-13 at the Thomas & Mack.
The only game times announced were the first two games of the Maui Invitational.
“My team, we still have things to prove,” point guard Marvin Coleman said last week. “We didn’t win the Mountain West. We didn’t reach goals that we should reach here at UNLV.”
UNLV basketball schedule
Home games at Thomas & Mack Center
Nov. 25 — vs. Montana State
Nov. 30-Dec. 2 — Maui Invitational at Ashville, N.C.
Dec. 5 — at Kansas State
Dec. 9 — vs. Eastern Washington
Dec. 14 — vs. Pepperdine
Dec. 20 — at Wyoming
Dec. 22 — at Wyoming
Dec. 31 — vs. San Diego State
Jan. 2 — vs. San Diego State
Jan. 7 — at Colorado State
Jan. 9 — at Colorado State
Jan. 14 — vs. New Mexico
Jan. 16 — vs. New Mexico
Jan. 25 — vs. Utah State
Jan. 27 — vs. Utah State
Jan. 31 — at UNR
Feb. 2 — at UNR
Feb. 5 — vs. Air Force
Feb. 7 — vs. Air Force
Feb. 11 — at Boise State
Feb. 13 — at Boise State
Feb. 19 — at San Jose State
Feb. 21 — at San Jose State
Feb. 25 — vs. Fresno State
Feb. 27 — vs. Fresno State