As UNLV finishes its season, fans are turning one eye to the fall

Findlay Prep prospect Rashad Vaughn is one reason Rebels fans are focusing less on this season and more on the next.
Photo: Sam Morris

There are still a few UNLV basketball games to be played this season. Some people seem to have forgotten that in the aftermath of last week’s big news—that Findlay Prep prospect Rashad Vaughn committed to the Rebels to give them arguably the best recruiting class in the program’s storied history.

Vaughn will join Baltimore’s Dwayne Morgan and Boston-area big man Goodluck Okonoboh in UNLV’s incoming 2014 class. Depending how the pieces fall, another player or two could join the Rebels this offseason, but that trio of top-40 recruits already has the UNLV class ranked among the top 10 nationally.

Vaughn is an elite scorer and, at 6-5 and 200 pounds, a physical guard. Morgan is a hyper-athletic 6-7 wing who was one of several standouts at the LeBron James Skills Academy this summer in Las Vegas. And Okonoboh is a great 6-9 shot blocker whose presence should increase the alley-oop tally at UNLV games next season.

This year’s Rebels aren’t as disappointing as some might believe, but several home defeats have helped make a fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament bid very unlikely. Win or lose Wednesday’s home game against New Mexico, however, the Rebels will sit no lower than third place in the Mountain West Conference with five games to go—exactly where UNLV was picked to finish in the preseason.

The reason that doesn’t feel like enough for a lot of people is the same reason mediocrity will be met with even more hostility in the 2014-’15 season. UNLV coach Dave Rice’s propensity for getting talented recruits to come to Las Vegas has created a higher demand for him and his staff to develop quicker than they have as game-day coaches. One basketball blogger’s recent ranking of Mountain West coaches had Rice dead last. It was absurd—first-year San Jose State coach Dave Wojcik, who started 0-13 in league play, ranked above Rice—but it’s an indication of the general outside perception of Rice. He’s judged more harshly for not being able to win the league with UNLV’s talent, without getting much credit for bringing those guys here in the first place.

UNLV’s current season will most likely end somewhere other than the NCAA Tournament. Not only will the Rebels be expected to jump right back into March Madness next year, but a program that hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2008 will likely be viewed as a failure if it can’t make the Sweet Sixteen.

UNLV Men's Basketball Next game: at Boise State, February 22, 5 p.m., CBS Sports Network.

Tags: Sports
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