If UNLV had lost to an Illinois team that entered the season ranked among the Top 15 in the nation on Friday night in their NCAA tournament opener, many could have lived with it. But the fashion in which the Rebels were dispatched—a 73-62 smashing that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated—will only increase the pressure that Lon Kruger and his coaching staff face entering the 2011-12 season.
UNLV crashed and burned, plain and simple.
Next season, the Rebels should be even better in terms of versatility and overall talent than they were in 2010-11, and in a thinned-out Mountain West Conference, they'll be looked at along with New Mexico as preseason favorites. The key newcomer next year will be UCLA transfer Mike Moser who, at 6-foot-8 with an NBA body and a sweet inside-outside game, has a chance to be the Rebels’ toughest matchup for opponents from Day 1.
As far as returnees go, the guy who needs to take the biggest leap is junior-to-be Anthony Marshall. The Las Vegas product’s game covered major ground from his freshman to sophomore season. Next up, he has to continue developing his jumper and also take over the reins as UNLV’s Alpha Dog. He tried to be that this season at times, but was often trumped by senior Tre’Von Willis.
As for the coaching staff, much of the focus this off-season will be on the important 2012 recruiting class. They’ll have at least four open spots to fill, and with a wealth of top-shelf local prospects to recruit, they might not have to look too far to accomplish that.
It all adds up to a 2011-12 season that will have high expectations, including surviving into the NCAA tourney’s second weekend for the first time since the promising 2007 run.