UNLV may be considered the favorite against Air Force for their opening round game on Wednesday, but that shouldn't reflect the attitude the Runnin' Rebels need to bring. UNLV has faced Air Force twice this season, needing overtime to beat the Falcons at the Thomas & Mack before being utterly destroyed in the return game.
I don't know about you, but to me it looks like Air Force shouldn't be scared to face this UNLV team. They've already beaten them once and had a very good chance to sweep them. The Falcons are coming off of an 89-88 upset of regular season champion New Mexico on Saturday. They should have all the confidence in the world.
UNLV, on the other hand, is certainly not coming in on a high note. Ask me anytime last week and I'd say that UNLV has all the momentum on their side and is ready to make some noise in the Mountain West and/or NCAA Tournament. Now, I'm not so sure. The Rebels looked lackluster in the second half of a 61-52 home defeat at the hands of Fresno State - the only team to sweep the Rebels this season.
UNLV has no business struggling with a team which has a losing record, and yet they are. The result? Dave Rice needs to whip this team into action and get their minds prepared for a tough game against Air Force, and that will be no easy task after losing to an inferior team on senior night in the Thomas & Mack Center.
Both teams need this win, but Air Force certainly needs it more. The Falcons simply aren't a candidate for an at-large bid. They have beaten each of the top five teams in the conference (with the exception of Colorado State) at least once, but bad losses and a weak non-conference schedule limit their chances to get any sort of an at-large bid.
With that said, Air Force obviously needs to win the whole Mountain West tournament to get in to the NCAA Tournament, therefore they need this win more than UNLV does. If the Falcons do lose, then a NIT or CBI berth is likely in the waiting with a decent amount of good wins, but the ultimate goal is to make the NCAA Tournament.
Air Force certainly has their NCAA Tournament life on the line, but don't think that means that nothing is on the line for UNLV. Up until their loss to Fresno State, the Rebels were riding a five game winning streak and were up as high as a 4 seed in many projected brackets. Now, UNLV is somewhere around a six or a seven seed and could fall to the dreaded 8/9 line with a loss to Air Force on Wednesday. The same line where the Rebels have failed to escape the first round over the past three seasons. A win over Air Force, and possibly other wins in the Mountain West tournament, could secure a higher seed and an easier road to an NCAA Tournament victory for the first time since 2008.