Lucky No. 19.
The UNLV Runnin' Rebels were pegged the 19th best team in the nation when the ESPN/USA Today preseason poll came out this afternoon. It was the first time that the Rebels have been ranked to open a season in 20 years when UNLV was slotted at No. 23 at the start of the 1992-93 season.
The Rebels appear just before conference rival, San Diego State, which checked in at No. 20 in the poll.
Fans that are thinking that this placement may be a little off have nothing to worry about. In fact, it's probably the perfect ranking for a couple of reasons.
For one, UNLV is returning just five of its players from last year's roster, which, for all its success, struggled down the stretch and was knocked from the NCAA Tournament in the event's opening round.
Sure, the talent level may have been drastically upgraded but, for the most part, it's unproven talent at the Division I level. The Rebels aren't going to get the same respect that programs like Kentucky and North Carolina, which had similar overhauls, receive. Those two schools checked in at No. 3 and 12, respectively.
Secondly, I'm sure that head coach Dave Rice likes the fact that his club is a bit underrated at this point. Remember, this is only the preseason. Everything will be proven over the course of the season on the court.
This Rebel team has plenty of high expectations locally. The people closest to the program know just how good this group of Rebels can ultimately be. And the true measuring stick will be where UNLV finishes in April and not October.
Over the years Rebel fans have clamoured for something special during the opening season celebration, which will take place Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack Center in the form of the Runnin' Rebel Scarlet/Grey Showcase.
During the Lon Kruger era, UNLV ran what was essentially a practice during this type of event. That will no longer be the case. The fans will finally get what they have wanted.
Rebel players will put their athletic prowess on the line with a dunk contest that should be quite exciting with the amount of talent that UNLV now possesses.
The question is which Rebel will come away with the crown?
With all due respect to freshmen Anthony Bennett, Savon Goodman and Demetrius Morant, I'm going with one of the veterans to earn the fans' vote of champion.
Senior Anthony Marshall is already a fan favorite, is a local player and has the athletic ability to go toe-to-toe with the three freshmen that he will have to beat. He has one other thing going for him - he is the smallest of the group, which is an advantage in this type of competition because it looks more impressive to throw down thunderous dunks.
Rice has done it, again.
After hauling in one of the best recruiting classes in UNLV history in 2012, the Rebels have reached the rankings in the 2013 class with just two players committed. Eric Bossi released the updated team rankings today http://basketballrecruiting.rivals.com/content.asp?CID=1423221.
UNLV appears at the No. 16 spot with the pairing of Christian Wood and Jelan Kendrick. Bossi noted on Twitter that the Rebels ranking could shoot up much higher if they are able to secure another top player, such as Jermaine Lawrence or Isaac Hamilton, which both have the Rebels near the top of their lists.
For more in-depth information, be sure to check out Rebel-Confidential.
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