March Madness is here, and barring a miraculous run by UNLV in the Mountain West Conference, UNLV will not be in the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year. So how can Marvin Menzies turn one of the worst seasons in UNLV history into an NCAA tournament team by next season? We have a few ideas.
1. Continue Acquiring Talent
Recruiting is the key to any program. Menzies will need to keep adding high-level talent each year. UNLV won’t need to bring in top 10-caliber classes to compete successfully in the Mountain West or make the NCAA tournament, but the Rebels do need to upgrade the roster. Even before Menzies’ 2017 class shows what it can do, next year’s team has already seen an immediate upgrade, as Jordan Johnson, a transfer from Milwaukee who was second in the country in assists last season, and Dwayne Morgan, who should get a medical redshirt after seeing his season end due to injury, take the floor.
2. Keep Scheduling Tough
This season UNLV was overmatched in games against Duke, Kansas, Oregon and Arizona State. But those are the games the Rebels need to keep playing. The Mountain West has fallen off the national scene and doesn’t provide many opportunities for quality wins in conference play, so UNLV will have to pick up key wins in its nonconference games. Next year, the Rebels will host Arizona and play in the MGM Grand Main Event with Rice, Ole Miss and Utah. Despite the highlight games this season, UNLV’s nonconference itinerary ranked outside the top 250 in strength of schedule. That’s due to the likes of Incarnate Word and Northern Arizona showing up on it. The school needs to play the top teams, and the entire schedule needs to be improved to impress the NCAA tournament committee.
3. Win In The Mountain West
Dave Rice kept up tough scheduling and even managed to knock off highly ranked teams in nonconference play, but his teams fell flat in conference play. If Menzies can grab high-end talent and beat some ranked teams early in the year, he’ll need to follow it up with a solid performance in the Mountain West.
4. Develop Talent
Top players such as Johnson and Morgan need to be stars for UNLV to make the NCAA tournament, but some of the current Rebels will need to grow into consistent players. Can Cheickna Dembele become a threat on both ends of the floor? Will Jalen Poyser return to his efficient form from early this season? Can Troy Baxter Jr. improve his shot selection and find his way into the rotation? There is talent on the roster, but it hasn’t performed consistently.
5. Pack Thomas & Mack
UNLV’s budget deficit is largely due to lagging attendance at UNLV basketball games. The Rebels will likely end this season in the top 50 of attendance across the nation, but the crowds have seriously declined. Getting people back to the Thomas & Mack will go a long way in helping the athletic department reverse its deficit. Attendance will come with winning, but next season will provide a new challenge for UNLV, as the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights will begin to play at T-Mobile Arena. UNLV is now in a major league town, where fans will often have another option for sports entertainment.
Next year may be too soon to expect Menzies to put the Rebels into the NCAA tournament. But the roster will be better, which should lead to more wins and the start of the rebuilding process. The main issue will be how quickly Menzies can end that process and turn UNLV into a consistent power player in the Mountain West—and a yearly NCAA tournament contender.