Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, May 13, 2010 | 11:45 a.m.
Next season without question will bring the most lofty preseason expectations coach Lon Kruger has faced since coming to UNLV in 2004.
The athletic department announced its finalized slate of pre-Mountain West Conference games Thursday, highlighted by a home game with Wisconsin and road tilts against Kansas State and Louisville.
The schedule guarantees UNLV 12 games against teams that were in the RPI Top 100 last season — Wisconsin, Illinois State, UNR, Louisville, UC-Santa Barbara, Kansas State, BYU (twice), New Mexico (twice) and San Diego State (twice).
Kruger's club also will have 10 guaranteed games against teams which made the 2010 NCAA tournament.
The Rebels, who went 25-9 last season and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the third time in four seasons, will open the 2010-11 campaign Nov. 12 at the Thomas & Mack Center against UC Riverside. The Highlanders were 12-17 last season overall and 5-11 in the Big West.
That game will be preceded by a pair of exhibitions at the Mack — Nov. 2 against Grand Canyon College and Nov. 9 hosting Washburn.
Following the regular-season opener will be a Nov. 17 contest against Southeastern Louisiana, then a Saturday, Nov. 20 game with Wisconsin. The Badgers went 24-9 last season and have been to the NCAA tournament in each of coach Bo Ryan's nine seasons in Madison. UNLV will play a return game in the 2011-12 season.
Over Thanksgiving the team will be in Anaheim, Calif., for the fourth installment of the 76 Classic, which takes place Nov. 25, 26 and 28. The tournament will be carried on the ESPN family of networks.
The field for the tournament also includes Cal State Northridge, DePaul, Murray State, Oklahoma State, Stanford, Tulsa and Virginia Tech. Both Murray State and Oklahoma State were in the NCAA tournament's field of 65 with UNLV this season, while Virginia Tech was a 25-game winner in 2009-10.
Then things get crowded.
After wrapping up the 76 Classic on Sunday, the Rebels travel to face Illinois State in Bloomington, Ill., that Wednesday (Dec. 1) as a part of the Missouri Valley-Mountain West challenge.
That's followed by a game Saturday (Dec. 4) at rival UNR.
On Dec. 8, UNLV returns home — sort of — for its annual contest at the Orleans Arena, which brings Boise State to town.
The Rebels' series with Louisville will continue Dec. 11, as UNLV will play the Cardinals in their swank new downtown arena. UNLV has won its last two meetings with Louisville, with the Cardinals being nationally ranked in each contest.
After a month-long stint away from the Mack, UNLV will have back-to-back home games — UC Santa Barbara on Dec. 15, then Southern Utah on Dec. 18.
Maybe the biggest game in the non-conference portion of the Rebels' schedule will take place Dec. 21, when UNLV faces Kansas State, widely considered a preseason top-5 club, at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
It's the return game from last December's game in the Orleans Arena, which K-State won convincingly, 95-80. The Wildcats finished the season 29-8 behind third-year coach Frank Martin, advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1988, when, oddly enough, Kruger was the coach in Manhattan, Kan. K-State returns four of five starters and six of its top seven scorers from last season's squad.
The non-conference schedule will wrap up Dec. 30 back at the Mack against Central Michigan, who figures to be improved from last season's 15-15 campaign thanks to the addition of blue chip recruit Trey Zeigler — the son of Chippewas coach Ernie Zeigler.
UNLV Men's Basketball 2010-11 Non-Conference Schedule
Tues., Nov. 2 — vs. Grand Canyon (exhibition) — Thomas & Mack Center
Tues., Nov. 9 — vs. Washburn (exhibition) — Thomas & Mack Center
Fri., Nov. 12 — vs. UC Riverside — Thomas & Mack Center
Wed., Nov. 17 — vs. Southeastern Louisiana — Thomas & Mack Center
Sat., Nov. 20 — vs. Wisconsin — Thomas & Mack Center
Thurs., Nov. 25 — 76 Classic — Anaheim, Calif.
Fri., Nov. 26 — 76 Classic — Anaheim, Calif.
Sun., Nov. 28 — 76 Classic — Anaheim, Calif.
Wed., Dec. 1 — at Illinois State — Bloomington, Ill.
Sat., Dec. 4 — at UNR — Reno, Nev.
Wed., Dec. 8 — vs. Boise State — Orleans Arena
Sat., Dec. 11 — at Louisville — Louisville, Ky.
Wed., Dec. 15 — vs. UC Santa Barbara — Thomas & Mack Center
Sat., Dec. 18 — vs. Southern Utah — Thomas & Mack Center
Tues., Dec. 21 — at Kansas State — Kansas City, Mo.
Thurs., Dec. 30 — vs. Central Michigan — Thomas & Mack Center