UNLV basketball:

Despite likely Mountain West shake-up, Dave Rice says Rebels ‘going to be just fine’

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Sam Morris

UNLV’s Quintrell Thomas is guarded by University of North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller during the Las Vegas Invitational championship game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011 at the Orleans Arena. The Rebels upset the number one ranked Tar Heels 90-80.

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Head Coach Dave Rice calls out to players during UNLV's game against Morgan State at the Thomas and Mack Center Sunday, November 20, 2011.

No one is quite sure what the Mountain West Conference is going to look like in two years, but according to several reports that came out Tuesday, it won’t include Boise State or San Diego State.

The Broncos and Aztecs are reportedly heading to the Big East as football-only programs starting in 2013. The Big East is also expected to announce the additions of Houston, Central Florida and Southern Methodist for all sports, perhaps as early as Wednesday.

UNLV Athletic Director Jim Livengood said he would not comment until the moves become official.

Meanwhile, the university’s most high-profile coach, Dave Rice, offered his thoughts on the changes after practice.

“The thing for me, as the coach of the men’s basketball program, is that first, I have a lot of confidence in Jim Livengood and his ability to lead us through whatever the process may be,” Rice said. “And then the other thing is, we’re really excited about being in the Mountain West Conference. But having said that, I always tell recruits, tell our team, tell our staff, that UNLV transcends conference. From that standpoint, whatever the Mountain West Conference looks like a year from now, two years from now, five years from now, wherever we may by, our basketball program is going to be just fine.”

The news has long been anticipated, and now that it seems to be official, the Mountain West must figure out its next step.

Fresno State and Nevada are set to join in all sports next season, while Hawaii is coming on board for football only, giving the conference 10 teams for football and nine for all other sports in 2012-13.

Air Force is still rumored to be considering a move to the Big East, too, which would drop the Mountain West in 2013-14 to seven teams in football and six teams in all other sports.

One possibility is an all-sports merger of Conference USA and the Mountain West. The conference may also try to add teams from several area leagues. For example, San Jose State, a member of the Western Athletic Conference, has interest in joining the league, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

San Diego State’s departure, particularly, hurts UNLV when it comes to rivalries. The Rebels had already lost natural enemies Utah and BYU in the past year and a half.

“That’s a frustrating thing for me as a fan, more than anything,” Rice said. “I love college athletics. I think that’s one of the things that’s gotten lost in all that’s gone on.”

Still, with Nevada set to join next season, UNLV will soldier on, no matter where it ends up.

“We have rivals,” Rice said, “and we’ll build new rivalries.”

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