The 2020-21 college basketball season is going to happen, and it's going to be unlike any that UNLV fans have seen before. A shortened non-conference slate, home and road double-headers against Mountain West opponents, and all with the specter of COVID-19 hanging over everything. But through all of that, UNLV seems to have assembled a very good roster, and in the hands of second-year head coach T.J. Otzelberger it should make for an exciting — if uncertain — campaign.
Let's take our best shot at predicting what lies ahead for UNLV in this unpredictable season, which begins Wednesday against Montana State:
1. Will Marvin Coleman record another triple-double? No. Coleman provided one of the feel-good moments of the 2019-20 season when he totaled 11 points, 11 assists and 12 rebounds in a win over New Mexico, but it's unlikely to happen again this year. It takes a confluence of circumstances for a triple-double to occur, and most of it will be out of Coleman's hands in 2020-21. More talent in the backcourt means he won't have to play 38 minutes like he did in his triple-double, and with an increase in skilled ball-handlers on the roster (forward Edoardo Del Cadia, guard Nick Blake, etc.) it will be harder to rack up 10 assists. It won't be Coleman's fault, but a triple-double sequel is not in the cards.
2. Who will record more 20-point games, Bryce Hamilton or David Jenkins? Hamilton, 15.
3. Will T.J. Otzelberger receive a technical foul? No. This season will go well for UNLV. Otzelberger will enjoy a mostly stress-free season, with few reasons to go at the officials.
4. Will Otzelberger bench the entire starting five for a game? This happened last year, when Otzelberger pulled Amauri Hardy, Donnie Tillman and Bryce Hamilton from the starting lineup for a December game against Robert Morris. Otzelberger thought the team's effort in the previous game — an embarrassing home loss to Pacific — was not sufficient, and so he sent a message. That won't be necessary this season. The players have bought into Otzelberger's system and philosophy, as evidenced by the strong finish to last season, and it's going to carry over this year. UNLV will be a hard-playing, high-energy team from beginning to end.
5. Will Bryce Hamilton play his final game at UNLV this year? Yes. Hamilton, a junior, is primed for a huge season and is sure to draw the attention of NBA scouts. Expect him to go pro.
6. How many Mountain West opponents will UNLV sweep? Five (San Diego State, UNR, Air Force, Fresno State, San Jose State).
7. How many games will UNLV win in the Maui Invitational? One.
8. Who will be the team’s opening-night starter at power forward? Edoardo Del Cadia. The junior college transfer can bring an element of dribbling, shooting and general on-ball skills to the frontcourt, which was a huge issue last year. It remains to be seen how much Otzelberger will play with two big men on the floor, but it makes sense to give Del Cadia the first shot at the job. There will be much experimenting as the season goes on.
9. Who will lead the team in total assists? Marvin Coleman, 85.
10. Who will lead the team in 3-point shooting percentage? David Jenkins, 39.5 percent.
11. Who will lead the team in made 3-pointers? David Jenkins, 105.
12. Which freshman will have the highest scoring game? Donavan Yap, 17 points vs. Air Force on Feb. 5.
13. Will UNLV score 100 points in a game? No.
14. What will be the highest scoring game by a UNLV player? Bryce Hamilton, 38 points vs. Utah State on Jan. 27.
15. Will UNLV beat San Diego State? Yes. In fact, in one of the most surprising outcomes of the season, UNLV will sweep both of its home games against the Mountain West favorite.
16. How many games will be canceled? Two games will get axed due to COVID-19 concerns, which wouldn't be that bad, if you think about it.
17. How many blocked shots will Mbacke Diong record? Diong will swat 43 shots (1.6 per game), and UNLV will need every last one of them. Diong, a senior, is the team's only true rim protector.
18. Will UNLV have a buzzer-beating win? No. Marvin Coleman sent the Thomas & Mack Center into a frenzy with his buzzer-beater against Fresno State last year, but there won't be a similar last-second bucket this season (nor would there be a crowd on hand to go crazy if it did happen).
19. Which freshman will play the most minutes? Devin Tillis. He wasn't the highest ranked recruit in UNLV's 2020 class, but he is smart, tough and willing to do the little things. That will earn the California product about 15 minutes per night.
20. Who will lead the team in dunks? Mbacke Diong, 20. UNLV never quite seemed to figure out how to convert alley-oops last year, but this roster has more capable passers. The big guy will slam home almost a couple dozen dunks.
21. How high will UNLV peak in the KenPom rankings? No. 68.
22. Where will UNLV finish in the Mountain West regular-season standings? Second place.
23. What will be UNLV’s longest winning streak? Five games, Jan. 31-Feb. 11.
24. What will be UNLV’s longest losing streak? Two games (multiple).
25. What will be UNLV’s best win? vs. San Diego State, Jan. 2. After scoring a win over SDSU at the Mack on Dec. 31, most people will expect the league preseason favorites to bounce back and get a split. But UNLV will double down and notch their third straight win over the Aztecs, making a big statement early in MWC play.
26. What will be UNLV’s worst loss? at Wyoming, Dec. 22.
27. Will any Mountain West opponents sweep UNLV? No.
28. Who will lead the team in rebounds? Bryce Hamilton, 208 total rebounds.
29. Who will lead the team in scoring? Bryce Hamilton, 18.5 points per game.
30. Who will lead the team in minutes? Bryce Hamilton, 36.5 minutes per game.
31. Will UNLV make the NCAA Tournament? No. UNLV will make a good run at it, as I predict they will play in the Mountain West championship game, but a loss in that contest will leave them on the outside looking in. The program will use the close call as a launching point for a tourney run in 2021-22, however, boosted by a star-studded incoming recruiting class.
32. How many starting lineups will UNLV use? Five.
33. Where will UNLV finish in the KenPom rankings? No. 80.
34. What will be UNLV’s most efficient lineup? UNLV surged late in the 2019-20 season by going to a four-guard lineup almost full-time, and Otzelberger has said the program will embrace that alignment going forward. Marvin Coleman, David Jenkins and Bryce Hamilton are locks to start; the other two players who will end up battling for the majority of the minutes in four-guard lineups will be freshman Nick Blake and sophomore transfer Caleb Grill. Given Grill's superior defense, he likely has the edge. Look for a Coleman/Jenkins/Hamilton/Grill/Del Cadia lineup to end up as UNLV's go-to quintet.
35-61. Which games will UNLV win and lose?
Wednesday vs. Montana State — Win (1-0)
Nov. 30 vs. North Carolina — Loss (1-1)
Dec. 1 vs. TBA — Win (2-1)
Dec. 2 vs. TBA — Loss (2-2)
Dec. 5 at Kansas State — Loss (2-3)
Dec. 9 vs. Eastern Washington — Win (3-3)
Dec. 14 vs. Pepperdine — Win (4-3)
Dec. 20 at Wyoming — Win (5-3)
Dec. 22 at Wyoming — Loss (5-4)
Dec. 31 vs. San Diego State — Win (6-4)
Jan. 2 vs. San Diego State — Win (7-4)
Jan. 7 at Colorado State — Loss (7-5)
Jan. 9 at Colorado State — Win (8-5)
Jan. 14 vs. New Mexico — Win (9-5)
Jan. 16 vs. New Mexico — Loss (9-6)
Jan. 25 vs. Utah State — Loss (9-7)
Jan. 27 vs. Utah State — Win (10-7)
Jan. 31 at UNR — Win (11-7)
Feb. 2 at UNR — Win (12-7)
Feb. 5 vs. Air Force — Win (13-7)
Feb. 7 vs. Air Force — Win (14-7)
Feb. 11 at Boise State — Win (15-7)
Feb. 13 at Boise State — Loss (15-8)
Feb. 19 at San Jose State — Win (16-8)
Feb. 21 at San Jose State — Win (17-8)
Feb. 25 vs. Fresno State — Win (18-8)
Feb. 27 vs. Fresno State — Win (19-8)