Coaches look at the basketball season in four phases: first, the non-conference season; next, conference play; then the conference tournament, and, finally, if everything turns out well, the NCAA Tournament. But in the three years I played at UNLV from 1974-1977, we were an independent all except the first year, when we played in the West Coast Athletic Conference. The other years, we often had to fill our schedule with games against top ranked teams at their arenas in order to get recognized as a good program. Those were years of long trips and unusual matchups—in 1976, we visited Iowa State in January; in 1977 we played at Bradley and Rutgers in February.
In a conference, you don’t take so many unusual trips, but that doesn’t make them any easier. Even with old rivals Utah and BYU no longer in the conference, the Rebels, who are 16-2 and ranked No. 12 in the nation, will have some tough challenges on the road: New Mexico’s Pit is never an easy place to play, and No. 22 San Diego State, where the Rebels start conference play Jan. 14, will have a stadium full of fans hungry for an upset.
But the Rebels, who have already shown impressive poise on the road this year against Illinois, have a good chance to survive these tests. Consistency, teamwork and solid team defense has led them to a 16-2 start. If they continue to show those traits, it should only get better.