unlv basketball:

Mountain West tournament title won’t prove anything, but could improve UNLV’s seeding

The Rebels have already shown their dominance at home, but three more victories could help them avoid a long trip in the NCAAs

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV players laugh as Brice Massamba is escorted out for senior night before their game against Wyoming Saturday, March 3, 2012 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the game 74-63 to wind up an unbeaten season at home.

A Mountain West tournament championship wouldn’t answer any questions about UNLV’s ability to win games outside of Las Vegas. That’s just something the Rebels and their fans are going to have to find out when the ball is tipped in their first game.

What it could accomplish, though, is giving UNLV the best possible chance to succeed, via seeding and location.

“I think our resume is very good, but there’s always room for improvement,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said.

If the season ended today, No. 20 UNLV (25-7, 9-4) would likely be a 5 seed, with a decent chance of falling to a 6 or even a 7, depending on the location.

The committee fills out the brackets by ranking every tournament team from 1-68 and placing them on an S-curve (1-4 are 1 seeds, 5-8 are 2 seeds, etc.). Seeds 1-4, or the top 16 teams, are protected, which means they’re given the highest consideration for location and won’t be moved along the S-curve.

Starting with the 5 seeds, though, teams may be moved up or down a seed in order to avoid rematches, conference opponents or to help with location, either by getting one team closer to home or making sure that a higher seed doesn’t have to play a lower seed in its backyard.

That is why the conference tournament is important for UNLV.

The Rebels can’t prove anything by winning three more games on their home court, but they can chase an unlikely 4 seed and at least solidify themselves as a probable 5.

“We recognize that by definition the better we do in this tournament the better our seed is going to be,” Rice said.

The major bracket projections currently have UNLV as a 5 in Albuquerque (ESPN.com), a 5 in Nashville (SI.com) and a 6 in Albuquerque (CBSSports.com). The Rebels could also be a 4 or 5 in Portland or a 6 in Columbus. The 7 comes into play if they need to be moved because of rematch circumstances or if a couple of BCS-conference teams move ahead of them during the conference tournaments.

Rice said the team’s focus is on Wyoming, but he checks the bracket projections just like anybody else.

“I do, because I’m a college basketball fan,” Rice said. “And I think our players do and our staff does more because we love college basketball.”

The most important factor right now for both the NCAA selection committee and fans is the Rebels’ ugly road record. UNLV hasn’t won away from the Thomas & Mack Center since January and it enters the conference tournament 17-0 at home, 5-7 on the road and 3-0 on neutral courts (two at Orleans Arena and one in Chicago at the United Center).

As we countdown to Selection Sunday there are a few examples from recent history that may provide some clues as to the Rebels’ tournament success.

As of Tuesday night, the Rebels are ranked No. 14 in the RPI and No. 45 in strength of schedule, according to teamrankings.com. From 2006-2011, only four top-30 RPI teams from non-BCS conferences finished with sub-.500 road records, and of those only one really stacks up to UNLV’s profile.

2008-09 Utah, No. 14 RPI, No. 33 SOS, 13-2 (H), 6-7 (A), 5-1 (N)

The Utes, whose road losses included a 10-point defeat at the Mack, are the closest comparison to this year’s Rebels. They had five top-40 RPI victories — UNLV has four with a chance for six — and entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 5 seed after winning the Mountain West tournament.

Despite regionals that hosted 5 seeds in Boise and Portland that year, Utah was shipped to Miami, where it lost 84-71 to 12-seeded Arizona.

The Utes are a good example of the difference between a 4 and 5 seed. With a 4-seed there’s no way that they’re sent that far, but just one spot down it’s easy to become the victim of circumstance.

The equivalent this year for UNLV would be SI.com’s projection of a trip to Nashville. That’s not nearly as bad as Miami, but the Rebels would certainly prefer something closer like Albuquerque.

And while sophomore forward Mike Moser would certainly enjoy the chance to play in his hometown of Portland, don’t count him among the Rebels who are keeping up with bracketology.

“Who knows what’s right and what’s wrong,” Moser said. “I guess it’s kind of irrelevant right now.”

Maybe, but pretty soon it’s all that’s going to matter. And three victories at home should ensure that UNLV doesn’t get the short end of the bracket.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. Whatever happens in the conference tourney, I would just like to see the Rebels get back to playing good basketball. The last half of the conference season they have just not played well. Some crushing defeats and some not so impressive wins have robbed this team of some confidence. They are certainly talented enough to win the MWC tourney and rip off 2-3 wins in the Big Dance but only if they rediscover what made them so successful in Nov-Dec. Make them play your game. Team needs to be ultra aggressive and let it rip. Runnin' Rebels!

  2. I'm really hoping they get Portland. Would mean a lot to Moser for sure, and I think it's a better location than NM.

  3. I'm still hopeful that they can get a 4 seed. If they win all three game convincingly, I think they will get a 4 seed.

    People have been questioning the ability of the Rebels to win on the road, but the NCAA Tournament games are not road games. They are neutral site games.