Tuesday, May 19, 2009 | 5:23 p.m.
2009-10 UNLV non-conference hoops schedule
- Tues. Nov. 10 -- vs. Washburn (exhibition)
- Sat. Nov. 14 -- vs. Pittsburg State
- Wed. Nov. 18 -- vs. UNR
- Sat. Nov. 21 -- vs. Southern Illinois
- Wed. Nov. 25 -- vs. Holy Cross
- Sat. Nov. 28 -- vs. Louisville
- Wed. Dec. 2 -- at Arizona
- Sat. Dec. 5 -- at Santa Clara
- Sat. Dec. 12 -- vs. Kansas State (Orleans Arena)
- Tues. Dec. 15 -- at Southern Utah
- Thurs. Dec. 17 -- vs. Weber State
- Sat. Dec. 19 -- vs. South Carolina-Upstate
- Tues. Dec. 22 -- at Diamond Head Classic*
- Wed. Dec. 23 -- at Diamond Head Classic*
- Fri. Dec. 25 -- at Diamond Head Classic*
- *Matchups for the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu have yet to be set. So far, the field includes UNLV, Southern Cal, SMU, College of Charleston, St. Mary's and Western Michigan. The eighth and final team is still yet to be determined.
- --The series with Louisville has been extended for four more seasons, with both the Cardinals and Rebels getting two home games.
- --The Dec. 12 meeting with K-State pits three UNLV staffers against their alma mater. Head coach Lon Kruger played four years at K-State and was also formerly the Wildcats' head coach. Assistant Steve Henson was a four-year player under Kruger from 1986-90, and Dir. of Basketball Ops. Mike Shepherd graduated from KSU in 1992. Assistant Greg Grensing was an assistant in Manhattan from 1986-94.
- --Of UNLV's 14 non-conference games, 7 will be played at the Thomas & Mack Center, including the first 5 of the season.
In 23 seasons as a college head coach, Lon Kruger has never coached on the visitor's bench in Manhattan, Kan. -- the home of his alma mater Kansas State.
That won't change in the 2009-10, but for the third time in his career, he'll do battle with the Wildcats, as an intriguing matchup with K-State is a key piece of UNLV's upcoming non-conference schedule, which was released on Tuesday.
The pre-Mountain West slate also includes matchups with Louisville, Arizona, UNR, Southern Illinois and a trip to the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu over Christmas.
The K-State game, which will be played at the Orleans Arena on Dec. 12, wraps up maybe the toughest 15-day stretch the Rebels will face all season. It begins with a home game against Rick Pitino's Cardinals on Nov. 28 -- the same day as UNLV's regular season football finale at home against San Diego State.
In between the two will be road trips to face Arizona on Dec. 2 and Santa Clara on Dec. 5.
What adds some spice to the contest against K-State, however, are the deep connections to the school with the UNLV coaching staff.
Kruger played for Jack Hartman from 1971-74, and his number currently hangs in the Bramlage Coliseum rafters. He then served as head coach for the Wildcats from 1986-90.
Assistant Steve Henson played point guard for Kruger from 1986-90, while assistant Greg Grensing was a K-State aide from 1986-94. Director of Basketball Operations Mike Shepherd was a student manager for Kruger in Manhattan before graduating in 1992.
But there won't be much room for sentiment when Frank Martin's club comes to town. The Wildcats, who finished 22-12 and an NIT berth last season, return four starters and have a loaded incoming class, including McDonald's All-American forward Wally Judge.
"Kansas State's gonna be picked third or fourth in that league coming here, so I think it's a great opponent, the Orleans is a great place to play and it should be a good opportunity to test ourselves against a very good Big 12 club," Kruger said. "We were there a long time ago. It's your alma mater, so you still have those feelings, of course, and those ties. But there's nothing personal about it."
Kruger's first coaching venture against his alma mater came while at his first stop as a head coach at Texas Pan-American in the early 1980s.
"Ironically, we played Kansas State in a tournament here in Vegas back in 1983 or 84," he recalled. "We were playing coach Hartman's team out here and they whipped us."
The second time came early in his tenure at Illinois, where he inherited the back end of a home-and-home series -- a game played in Champaign.
The return trip for the upcoming game will take place during the 2010-11 campaign, but will not be played in Manhattan. Instead, the two will square off in Kansas City at the Sprint Center.
Five consecutive home games will be right at the beginning of the 2009-10 schedule. Following an exhibition with Washburn on Nov. 10, the Rebels will get the regular season going against another opponent from Kruger's home state in Pittsburg State on Nov. 14.
UNR comes to the Thomas & Mack Center on Nov. 18, followed by Southern Illinois on Nov. 21. The contest with the Salukis is part of the inaugural Challenge Series between the Mountain West and Missouri Valley Conferences.
On Nov. 21, UNLV hosts Holy Cross before kicking off the aforementioned 15-day stretch.
The marquee matchup in that set, obviously, is Louisville's trip to Las Vegas.
UNLV knocked off Pitino's bunch on New Year's Eve Day last season, 56-55 in Freedom Hall. Louisville eventually advanced to the Midwest regional finals, where it fell to eventual national runner-up Michigan State. The Cardinals should be loaded once again.
That series has been officially extended through the next four seasons.
"Rick was interested in doing it, we were, and it's something that worked out pretty easily," Kruger said. "A national, quality program like that, it's a good opportunity to measure yourself against the very best, and that's great."
The Rebels wind down for a bit after facing K-State with a Dec. 15 road contest at Southern Utah, a Dec. 17 home tilt with Weber State and a home non-conference finale against South Carolina-Upstate on Dec. 19.
Closing out the non-conference portion of the schedule is a trip to Honolulu for the Diamond Head Classic.
The eighth and final team in the field is still yet to be determined, as are the matchups, but so far, outside of UNLV, it includes host Hawaii, Southern Cal, SMU, College of Charleston, Saint Mary's and Western Michigan.
Those games will be played between Dec. 22 and 25, with the off day coming on Christmas Eve.
"You'd always, quite frankly, rather have everyone home at Christmas time, but even though we won't be home Christmas Day, they'll be able to get home the following day and spend 3 or 4 days at home following the tournament," Kruger said.
Following the brief hiatus comes the MWC schedule, which Kruger again feels his team will be well-positioned for.
Last year, after defeating Louisville, UNLV was flying high at 12-2 heading into conference play. Despite a 9-7 record in the Mountain West, the Rebels were still in the discussion for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid until nearly the final hour, thanks to the strength of their non-conference schedule.
Kruger said there are no plans of that changing any time soon.
"Even this past year, we were positioned great going into conference play -- The non-conference schedule and our play during that time really served its purpose," Kruger said. "Every team has their own agenda, but we definitely want to schedule in a way that gives us a chance to do that.
"It needs to be that way. I think to schedule in a way that puts all the chips on winning the conference tournament doesn't do us any good, and I think for a lot of reasons. Players like playing a tough schedule, fans like quality opponents and I think it's good for at-large consideration."