When UNLV announced its nonconference schedule last summer, the 2017-18 slate was revealed to be so weak that there was almost no need for the Rebels to play the regular season. With a dearth of quality opponents, UNLV’s postseason fate was always going to come down to the Mountain West tournament.
As a result, fan interest declined as the Rebels took on an assembly line of low-conference tomato cans in games that obviously didn’t matter. It was a bad scene at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The 2019-20 schedule, which was announced today, represents a clear step up in difficulty. Among the 13 contests, UNLV has a home date with Kansas State (last year’s Big 12 champion) and road games at UCLA, Cincinnati and BYU.
The season will open unofficially on Oct. 25 with an exhibition game against West Coast Baptist College at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Rebels will then take the next 10 days off before hosting Purdue Fort Wayne in the first regular season matchup.
The intensity increases immediately, as Kansas State visits the Mack on Nov. 9. Last year, the Wildcats went 25-9, won the Big 12 tournament and finished No. 18 in the AP poll. Kansas State is one of five opponents who earned postseason berths last season.
UNLV will be road-tested by the time Mountain West play begins. After scheduling just one road game last season (plus a neutral-site appearance in the Diamond Head Classic), the Rebels will travel to play four away games in 2019-20, starting with back-to-back contests at Cal (Nov. 12) and at UCLA (Nov. 15).
The Rebels will also play at Cincinnati on Nov. 30, then travel to Salt Lake City to take on BYU on Dec. 7. Cincinnati went 28-7 last year and reached the NCAA tournament for the ninth straight season; though coach Mick Cronin left for UCLA in the offseason, the Bearcats should be good again in 2019-20.
After returning from BYU, the Rebels will close out the nonconference season with three home games against Pacific (Dec. 18), Robert Morris (Dec. 21) and Eastern Michigan (Dec. 28).
In a statement, first-year UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger said this represents the first step in getting the Rebels back to playing national schedules each season.
“It will be competitive and challenge our team as we prepare for Mountain West play,” Otzelberger said. “Our goal is to continually strengthen our schedule each year and we look forward to playing against some of the best teams in the country.”
Oct. 25 vs. West Coast Baptist College (exhibition)
Nov. 5 vs. Purdue Fort Wayne
Nov. 9 vs. Kansas State
Nov. 12 at Cal
Nov. 15 at UCLA
Nov. 18 vs. Abilene Christian
Nov. 20 vs. Texas State
Nov. 23 vs. SMU
Nov. 26 vs. Jackson State
Nov. 30 at Cincinnati
Dec. 7 at BYU
Dec. 18 vs. Pacific
Dec. 21 vs. Robert Morris
Dec. 28 vs. Eastern Michigan