I took a flight a couple years ago, and after coasting through most of the trip, we hit "unstable air" (as the pilot referred to it) and the plane started to rock. Sometimes a college basketball season can go the same way (especially in the non-conference portion of the year).
UNLV basketball has experienced a successful first part of their non-conference schedule, perhaps even surprising some doubters who believed the Rebels were too young to perform well against experienced teams they would face. The Rebels have put that doubt to rest in the first 7 games. Almost perfect, minus a 2-point loss to UCLA on a neutral court, the Runnin' Rebs star is climbing.
But, look out, unstable air ahead.
The next five games on the Rebels schedule could have lasting consequences. They arguably have the most challenging end-of-conference schedule compared to anyone in the Mountain West (and maybe even the country).
After having a whole lot of home cooking, they hit the road for a while. After facing some sub .500 opponents in the first few weeks of the season, they now face some ranked ones. After coasting along so far, the Rebels now have to hold on and hope that any rocking doesn't destroy what they've built thus far.
In the next 5 games the Rebels' schedule looks like this: at the MGM in Las Vegas against ranked Oregon, at ranked Wichita State, at UC Riverside, at home against Arizona State, and at ranked Arizona. Currently, the Rebels are 6-1. What will their record look like after this sequence of events?
Here is my prediction. After the game at Arizona, the Rebels new record will be 9-3. And if this came to fruition, the Rebs should feel good about themselves. They likely will not be ranked in the top 25 with this record, but they will continue to gain national respectability. Which teams will they beat and which will have their number?
They will squeak by Oregon on a "neutral" court in Vegas. Then, they will not shock the shockers on the road. They will have a double digit victory against UC Riverside and likely another at home versus Arizona State. Unfortunately, their road woes will continue when they lose at the hands of Arizona.
Nonetheless, their most valuable victory could come this Friday against the Ducks. As a ranked opponent, the Rebels could notch another top-25 program to their list of victories and a win could serve as a momentum push as they head over to meet the Shockers. But, if Ben Carter (formerly an Oregon Duck) and the Rebels muster a sub-par performance Friday night, it could mean "unstable air" as their non-conference tests continue from there.
Best scenario Rebels emerge 9-3 after the next five games. Worst scenario, UNLV posts a meager 8-4 record. Could it even be worse than that? The Runnin' Rebs - and their fans - sure hope not.