UNLV basketball:

Rebels in good tournament seeding position with chances left to improve

UNLV, which could still finish second in the Mountain West, is looking at a likely No. 5 or 6 seed right now in the NCAA Tournament

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Fans watch Baylor take on South Dakota State in the second round of the 2012 NCAA tournament, March 15, 2012 at the Pit in Albuquerque.

LasVegasSun.com Sports Talk

Reno week

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Las Vegas Sun sports editor Ray Brewer and sports writers Case Keefer and Taylor Bern discuss the Rebels' road win at Wyoming and what it could mean for their chances going to Reno this weekend, and Keefer recaps Ronda Rousey's victory at UFC 157.

If you believe him, senior guard Anthony Marshall has never spent any time in his four seasons looking at UNLV’s NCAA Tournament bracket projections.

Sure, he sees the tweets telling him the Rebels are a No. 7 seed in Kansas City or a No. 5 seed in San Jose. But Marshall says he never clicks the links.

“When Selection Sunday comes and we find out (who we’re playing), that’s when we start worrying about it,” Marshall said.

UNLV coach Dave Rice said he and the staff pay a lot of attention to potential ratings percentage index (RPI) and strength of schedule (SOS) when they’re putting together the schedule, but at this stage, there isn’t much they can do other than what they’ve been trying to do the entire season: get better and win.

It’s OK if the Rebels try to avoid the bracketology talk because there are plenty of people around to overanalyze it and balance everything out. In fact, that’s what we’re doing here today.

The Rebels have three more regular season games remaining and then as many as three in the Mountain West Tournament from March 12-16 at the Thomas & Mack Center. In that time, plenty of things can change — “If we lose the next game, all that changes anyway, so it really doesn’t matter,” junior Mike Moser said — but here’s where the Rebels stand as of Thursday evening in some of the major bracketology projections:

• ESPN.com: No. 5 vs. Belmont in San Jose, Calif.

• SI.com: No. 6 vs. Kentucky in Salt Lake City

• CBSsports.com: No. 5 vs. Belmont in San Jose

• Bustingthebracket.com: No. 5

So a No. 5 or 6 seems like a possibility right now, but with 17 days left until Selection Sunday, a lot can change. Here’s a look at UNLV’s resume, how it stacks up to the league and seed competitors and what may happen when the Rebels hear their named called March 17.

Good

UNLV’s resume is very solid, and it’s only getting better with the emergence of California, whom the Rebels beat by one on the road on Dec. 9. The Rebels also have good victories against New Mexico (home), Colorado State (home) and a sweep against San Diego State. They still get Boise State, which is a top-50 RPI team, at home and then will have a chance to play at least one more top-50 game if they make the league tournament semifinals.

Here’s a look at the Rebels’ most important numbers as well as those for the four other Mountain West teams with a chance to make the NCAA Tournament.

UNLV

Home	R/N	RPI	SOS	v1-50	51-100	101-200	201+

15-1	5-6	16	13	5-5	7-1	4-1	4-0

New Mexico

Home	R/N	RPI	SOS	v1-50	51-100	101-200	201+

14-1	10-3	2	3	8-3	8-1	7-0	1-0

Colorado State

Home	R/N	RPI	SOS	v1-50	51-100	101-200	201+

13-1	7-5	17	35	3-5	6-0	7-1	4-0

San Diego State

Home	R/N	RPI	SOS	v1-50	51-100	101-200	201+

11-1	7-7	31	27	4-6	3-2	7-0	4-0

Boise State

Home	R/N	RPI	SOS	v1-50	51-100	101-200	201+

10-1	7-7	47	78	2-5	4-1	7-2	4-0

The Broncos are the only fringe candidates in there, and they’ll have a chance to prove themselves with home games against Colorado State and San Diego State plus a road trip to the Mack before the conference tourney. The rest are playing for seeding rather than playing to get in, although San Diego State would be wise to not lose out.

When the selection committee looks at UNLV’s profile, they are going to have enough good evidence to outweigh the bad, CBSsports.com writer and bustingthebracket.com founder Jeff Borzello said.

“They’re going to look at UNLV’s five top 50 wins more than they’re going to look at the Fresno State loss,” he said.

Bad

Any conversation about UNLV’s deficiencies has to start with that aforementioned loss at Fresno State, a black mark that followed a loss at Boise State and took place one week before the Rebels got run out at Air Force.

“The thing that concerns me about UNLV is that this is now a two-year pattern of this type of behavior, at least in conference play,” SI.com writer and bracketologist Andy Glockner said. “And we’re not going to get a chance to see more from them the rest of the season.”

Glockner said the committee wouldn’t think much of UNLV’s victory against a depleted Wyoming team or whatever it does Saturday against UNR (11-15, 3-10).

“I don’t know that (UNLV) would get a tremendous amount of credit for winning a couple more games at home when everybody knows they can do that,” Glockner said. “The last credible thing the committee could look at that UNLV would have done on the road was the win at San Diego State.”

The sub-.500 road/neutral record aside, there’s not a lot to hold against the Rebels right now, especially when compared with some other potential 4-7 seeds. UNLV’s 12 top-100 victories holds up against most teams, and the Rebels will have a few chances to add some more to that total.

Best-case scenario

The Rebel Room

Breaking down the brackets

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CBSSports.com's Jeff Borzello joins Las Vegas Sun reporter Taylor Bern to discuss UNLV's seeding possibilities in Part One, and then at the 15:30 mark Taylor is joined by SI.com's Andy Glockner who offers his insight to the Mountain West's collective standing as we approach tournament time. All rights for the intro, outro and intermission music to alt-J, so go buy their album.

If UNLV wins out, which would give it a nine-game winning streak, Borzello sees potential for it to move up.

“It might be hard to keep them out of a 4, and depending on what happens, maybe the last 3 line,” Borzello said.

While Glockner didn’t see UNLV being able to rise that high, he does think a 4 would be possible if not probable with six more victories, and even a 5-1 mark could leave the Rebels high enough to avoid some of the more dangerous teams in the first weekend.

“UNLV’s talent is so potentially explosive and tantalizing that perhaps they have the upside to beat an elite team that maybe a New Mexico or a Colorado State team does not,” he said.

“Worst”-case scenario

Obviously, the actual worst-case scenario would be four straight defeats, but considering three of those will have UNLV favored in the Mack, that’s not an outcome worth pondering until it happens.

However, it is possible the Rebels could lose Saturday up at Reno and then, like last season, win in the quarterfinals before losing a tournament semifinal game. That would make UNLV 3-2 from here on out, and the good news is both Borzello and Glockner don’t see a major decline in that case.

“I think the 7 might be as low as they can go,” Borzello said.

Added Glockner: “I think they’ll be safely in the top 8 seeds.”

While dropping to No. 7 or 8 comes with the punishment of potentially facing a No. 1 or 2 seed in the Round of 32, it’s a lot better than the possibilities the Rebels were looking at before this three-game winning streak, when a No. 10 or even No. 11 seed was still very much in play.

The bottom line is UNLV has done enough good work to feel comfortable with getting an at-large bid in the top half of the bracket. Beyond that, there’s still work the Rebels can do to give themselves an even better shot at a higher seed or closer location that could ultimately help spur a run or at least the program’s first NCAA Tournament victory since 2008.

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

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  1. Mike Moser will be the key for UNLV going forward. The Wyoming game showed how much of a difference he can make. Also, I think the Rebels' ceiling is a four seed. But, that is in a best-case scenario.