In light of my previous post on UNLV football, let's talk about the sport UNLV is actually good at: College basketball. I have two alma maters, UNLV and the University of Washington.
Now, college basketball is a different beast in that teams play about 30 regular season games, there are over 350 Division I programs, and instead of bowl games you're playing for a spot in the massive March crapshoot that is the NCAA Tournament. The 7th best team in a power conference has just as much a chance at the national championship as the best team in that conference, or any conference champion.
While regular season contests don't carry the weight they do in other sports (individual games are typically not life or death), what you do during the season still matters in the big picture. At-large participants in the NCAA Tournament (those who don't win their conference tournaments) are picked based on their in-season performance, so a slate of bad losses can hurt your case as much as big wins over tough teams can help you.
The UNLV Runnin' Rebels currently look good at 6-1 thanks to a soft schedule (a loss to Oregon and wins over N.Arizona, Jacksonville State, Iowa State, UC Irvine, Hawaii and Portland). They get Cal tonight in Berkeley and entertain a few more cupcakes before going to Chapel Hill to play top 25 North Carolina. Their days of glory under Jerry Tarkanian are long gone and the program's relevance has come and gone... but previous coach Lon Kruger did a good job using solid defense to turn the team into a top 25 squad before turning the reins to current coach Dave Rice.
But they're not who I really want to talk about. Over in Huskyland, it's not looking good for often embattled coach Lorenzo Romar.
Though the Huskies made a few Tournament Sweet Sixteens under his watch, many of his teams have a history of underachievement. After three straight NCAA tourney bids, Romar somehow survived missing the 2007 tournament and an early exit from an undeserved CBI tourney bid in 2008 to hold onto his job and swing three more consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances from 2009-2011. Even in missing the 2012 tourney his Huskies made the consolation NIT's Final Four.
And this year it's gotten worse, to the point where I think this will be Romar's last season at UW. Never mind that last year's team missed the NCAA tourney. Previous Romar-led Husky teams at least beat the softer opponents on their schedule. This year's team lost at home to lowly Albany on 11/13, got routed at home by mediocre Colorado State on 11/24, watched Saint Louis (11/28) and Fullerton (12/2) take them to the limit and then lost at home to Nevada on 12/8.
The Huskies expected to be 7-1 off a cupcake schedule, but instead sit at 4-4. Even if they run the table leading into a 12/29 road game with tough UConn, Romar's standing will be in trouble at 8-4 when he should have been 11-1 against a soft schedule. Unless his team rips the Pac 12 apart in conference play, and given their performance to date I strongly doubt they'll even win all four of these upcoming easy games, I have doubts Romar keeps his job.
Compare this to the 6-4 Washington State Cougars, a fellow state of Washington team that while improving isn't expected to make the NCAA Tournament and might even be a hard sell for the 2nd tier NIT. They narrowly lost to 10th ranked Gonzaga, took a narrow loss to lesser but tough Pepperdine, and took expected losses to Kansas and Texas A&M... but have had little trouble beating the weaker foes on their schedule. EWU, Utah Valley, AR-Pine Bluff, Idaho, Portland... all easily dispatched cupcakes. Fresno State was a tougher opponent and still the Cougs won.
If the Cougs can beat such teams, the Huskies and their top 25-50 talent should have had no trouble with their early schedule. Instead, true to Lorenzo Romar form, they found a way to sweat and lose winnable games. Having a young team (which is the current case with UW) is never an excuse in a sport where teams contend and win national titles with freshman and sophomores leading the charge all the time.
Lorenzo Romar has done good things with the UW program, but it looks like the time has come for him to go.