T.J. Otzelberger: UNLV Can “Win A National Championship”
High expectations are always there for Rebels hoops.
Can Otzelberger live up to his own expectations?
UNLV basketball has achieved something that no other Mountain West team has achieved in its history: A national title.
New head coach T.J. Otzelberger noted in his introductory press conference to say it is possible to achieve that feat once again.
“When you think about the history of this program, there are not many programs in the United States where you have a real chance to win a national championship,” Otzelberger said. “We have that here. It has been done here. It has been proven that it can be done here. So we have that historical reference as the bar that we know we can get to.
“We will compete for conference championships, NCAA berths and, one day, a national championship again.”
Saying those things is a clear nod to past Rebel teams and to energize the UNLV fanbase that has high expectations for this team, and it was a way for Otzelberger to win the press conference and get fans excited for his hire.
How realistic are these claims?
While UNLV has a rich history but it has been 29 years since the Rebels won the 1990 national title which was followed up by a repeat appearance to the Final Four.
Since 1991, the Rebels have appeared in the NCAA Tournament just seven times and the deepest run was a Sweet 16 appearance in 2007. The last time UNLV made the NCAA Tournament was in 2013.
Also to consider is that the Rebels have not been ranked to end the season in the AP top 25 since 2012. One last thing to take in mind is that UNLV has not won a regular season conference title since 2000, or 20 years ago, and that title was shared with Utah.
The point Otzelberger is making that since the Rebels have done it once they can do it again, which is technically correct. He did this to win the press conference where Otzelberger acknowledged the storied history of Runnin’ Rebels basketball.
Realistically, UNLV is nowhere close to any of the goals he stated, let alone win a national title. The Rebels need to first start competing in the Mountian West and perhaps win a conference title more than once every 20 years.
So, what will it take to be nationally relevant?
To get back to that level it will take a lot of work and it starts with re-recruiting the seven UNLV players which put their names in the transfer portal. Retain a good portion of those players and the 2019-20 season is off to a start with a solid foundation.
Next would be to keep recruiting at a high level and bring in players like Anthony Bennett and Brandon McCoy, but also keep those elite talents for more than one year. In fact, the mass exodus of transfers over the past few years needs to stop. It is impossible to build a program when there is a revolving door of players and the need to bring in five-seven new people each year.
Scheduling was brought up with the idea of playing great teams. UNLV did this recently with Duke at the T-Mobile Center. Getting great teams on the schedule is a good idea it might be something the university may want to mix in so that the schedule is not too tough too soon.
Otzelberger said the right things to get the fans excited but it will take a ton of work to get this Rebel team to the level that the fans think it is capable of. Yes, it has been proven a national title is possible because it happened in Las Vegas, but this team needs to take some baby steps first before thinking winning March Madness is a realistic possibility.