Friday Column: A Reality Check On Marvin Menzies, UNLV Basketball
What to make of UNLV after eight conference games
Is UNLV a contender or a pretender?
UNLV will be at the halfway point of its league schedule after its Saturday afternoon matchup at Utah State, and a lot of folks still have no idea if this team is a contender or pretender.
For me, I’m leaning towards the latter.
But with that being said, isn’t every team in the Mountain West not named Nevada also jumbled into the same category?
Let me explain a few things first.
First off, I want to go all the way back to the preseason. There are a handful of reasons why I was skeptical about UNLV heading into the fall.
Last season, the Rebels had cruised through a pillow-soft non-conference slate, allowing a lot of outsiders to buy into the hype of the team’s 11-2 start. I was one of them, certainly. But I was also quick to acknowledge that last year’s team was heavily flawed, and that revealed itself later on in the season. Marvin Menzies’ group dropped each of its final five regular season conference games (four by 12 points or more), and needed overtime to defeat Air Force in the 8/9 game of the Mountain West Tournament.
That team had four upperclassman starters and a five-star recruit in Brandon McCoy.
It only finished ahead of Air Force, Colorado State (which parted ways with Larry Eustachy mid-season), and San Jose State.
That’s a ton of roster turnover, especially for a team that finished eighth in the conference the previous season. This is why I selected UNLV eighth again in my Mountain West media ballot. (For the record, the Mountain West media picked UNLV sixth.)
Barring a stretch that would make Marvin Menzies’ hot seat warmer than the center of the sun, UNLV will finish higher than eighth in the Mountain West standings. How much is that actually saying, though?
I question whether Menzies and the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels can win the “big game” that cements this team among the Nevadas, Fresno States, and Utah States.
Speaking of winning the “big game,” Marvin Menzies is second-to-last among current Mountain West coaches in win-loss record against top 100 KenPom opponents.
New Mexico’s Paul Weir already has as many wins against top 100 KenPom opponents in about half as many games, while first-year Fresno State head coach Justin Hutson will have his third top 100 KenPom victory if the Bulldogs defeat Utah State at home next week.
Needless to say, Menzies and the Rebels have struggled to defeat quality opponents since he’s been in Vegas. By quality, I mean any team at .500 in Mountain West play or better.
I will continue to look back at this quote by Menzies after his team’s 74-58 win over New Mexico last week.
You want to know why there’s always an asterisk? Take a look at the table below.
UNLV has defeated 3-5 New Mexico twice, 3-5 Colorado State, 1-7 Wyoming, and 0-8 San Jose State. The Rebels have losses to 4-5 Air Force, 4-3 San Diego State, and 7-1 Nevada.
Tell me that’s a coincidence.
Until proven otherwise, UNLV will be what I thought they were heading into the season. This is an average basketball team that will defeat most teams below .500 and struggle against teams above .500 in conference play.
Eli Boettger is the lead basketball writer at Mountain West Wire. He’s covered Mountain West basketball since 2015 and his work has been featured on Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, SB Nation, Yahoo Sports, MSN, and other platforms. Boettger is a current USBWA member.