The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels used to be among the elite teams in college basketball.
Between 1977 and 1990, the Runnin’ Rebels made five trips to the Elite Eight and four trips to the Final Four, the most notable appearance being in 1990 when a team featuring Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony, Anderson Hunt and David Butler ran opponents right off the floor before capping the year with a 103-73 mugging of the Duke Blue Devils in the championship game.
UNLV would return to the Final Four a year later but Duke knocked off its dream of a perfect season. The Runnin’ Rebels were never the same after that, all but slipping off the college basketball map.
But over the last three years, the Runnin’ Rebels have been rising in the desert. They have made three consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament, highlighting last season with a 26-9 record and a signature win over the No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels.
It looks like the rise will continue this year. UNLV is ranked 19th in the preseason poll, its highest ranking since being No. 1 in the nation at the beginning of the 1990-91 campaign.
It’s also the first time the Runnin’ Rebels have been ranked in the preseason since starting out the 1992-93 season at No. 23.
There are a lot of reasons why UNLV seems destined for success this season.
Six letterwinners are back, a cast of talented freshmen are on campus and a couple of Division I transfers will be in the lineup as well.
The success of UNLV will hinge largely on the play of junior forward Mike Moser, an honorable mention All-American a year ago.
Moser led the Runnin’ Rebels in scoring last year, clicking for 14 points per game and has the ability to be explosive offensively on any given night. He also grabbed 10.5 rebounds per outing.
Moser is also a solid defender. The former UCLA Bruins transfer tallied 68 steals, blocked 35 shots and did a nice job of getting his teammates involved by dishing out 80 assists.
If he lowers his turnover total (102 a year ago) and improves on his shooting touch (45 percent), Moser is going to be a headache for opposing defenses.
The best part is that Moser won’t have to carry the team by himself even though he is certainly capable of being the go-to guy in any game.
Moser and his teammates will no doubt be motivated for the year ahead. They will be hungry for a Mountain West Conference championship and a deeper run in the NCAA tournament.
Both goals are within reach. Does that mean we are going to see 1990 all over again? Probably not. But it does mean the rise of the Runnin’ Rebels is going to be tough to ignore this season.
Brian Lester is a featured Big Ten Columnist for Rant Sports and also covers college basketball in general. Follow him on Twitter @BLester1993 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.