First off, let me get this out of the way: I am going to be super biased and this is admittedly really early for a win/loss prediction. But, okay, as long as we all know those two things, I can continue on and share with you my thoughts on this year’s Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV basketball non-conference opponents. Also, I’m not going to count the exhibition game because, well, they don’t even count, and we all should know the eventual result…so let’s get on with the games that matter.

November 10 vs. Loyola Marymount

LMU finished last season with an overall record of 10-20. Their best player should be senior guard James Batemon, who led his team in minutes, points, assists and free throws last season. That’s a lot of weight on one guy’s shoulders, and UNLV should be deep and athletic enough to withstand a one-man show and walk away from this contest with at least a 10- to 15-point win. The key will be how the Reb’s young guards handle their senior foe.

November 13 vs. UC Riverside

The Highlanders are not good. Last season, they had a record of 9-22, and I couldn’t go back far enough in time to find their last winning season before I started to feel a little bad and stopped looking. Honestly, I don’t want to dwell on this team too long, so let me just say that I really like their logo. UNLV wins by 24.

November 16 vs. Oakland

The Scarlet & Gray go head-to-head with the Golden Grizzlies of Oakland in this Friday night tilt. Oakland comes into this season without returning their best player, Kendrick Nunn, so only time will tell who is going to fill his Air Jordans. This is going to be a close, gritty game and the Rebs better come out swinging. A slow start may doom our heroes here, and I need to pick a game or two where we just don’t bring it mentally, so this game will get dropped in the last 2 minutes of “winning time” and Oakland comes out with an 80-77 victory in front of our Rebellion.

November 20 vs Pacific

Last year’s meeting in Stockton, Calif., ended up being a nice win for UNLV’s men’s team. A five-point triumph in front of roughly 2,000 fans found itself fitting for the Rebs, so the return trip from this home-and-home arrangement should take on a similar look. The Tigers of the Pacific aren’t a bad team, nor are they going to “Wow!” you with their play, so let’s just agree that UNLV winds up winning this one with a casual walk down the way. We’ll go with a 86-78 win for the home team.

November 23 vs. Southern Utah

The Rebs take on former interim coach Todd Simon in his return to his roots. Also notably marking a return to Las Vegas is former recruit Dwayne Morgan. After being an energy guy and fan favorite his freshman year for then-coach Dave Rice, Dwayne got into a little bit of legal trouble in the summer that Menzies took over. Deciding to transfer might have been the best personal choice for Morgan, who I still like, but this final game in the building he called home for the start of his collegiate career won’t end too favorably for the once highly-touted prospect. UNLV will win this game easily, so the fans can still cheer for Dwayne and Todd as the final seconds tick off the clock, and their hometown Rebels get to say goodbye to old friends.

November 28 vs. Valparaiso

Playing a basketball game against a school known for its baseball program in this spot of the schedule is the best thing for our university at this time. Taking part in the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge (HOW IS THIS STILL A THING?!), the Crusaders come into town looking to knockoff another MWC opponent just as they did last year against Utah State. But, they won’t. UNLV pulls away late with a barrage of threes, 94-79.

December 1 vs. Cincinnati

The Mick Cronin game. Firstly, I want to see all of you at The Mack and let this ‘man’ know just exactly how we feel about him using us to get more money from his current employer. I expect this game to come with a lot of energy from the fans, and the home team should follow suit, but the Bearcats are a good team. Cincinnati will be the toughest test in the early part of the year, but I think they will take after their coach and come up a little… short. UNLV wins it close, 79-76.

December 8 @ Illinois

The lone true road game will not be easy as the National Finals Rodeo kicks the Runnin’ Rebels out of the Thomas and Mack Center for a bullshit-smelling two weeks that would make even the dirtiest of politicians blush. Hopefully coming of an emotional win at home, this could be a let down game for the good guys. The Fighting Illini have a very dedicated fan-base, and their team also isn’t too shabby, despite last year’s 14-18 record. Speaking of, this match-up happened last season at the MGM Grand Garden Arena and UNLV barely escaped with an 89-82 victory. This time the story may differ, as I think the young Rebs drop this and continue their road woes: 86-75.

December 15 vs. Brigham Young

Renew this rivalry! Former MWC foes, the Cougars finally get their wish after all they did is complain that the conference tournament is a home game for UNLV, so this time they take on our Rebs at T-Mobile Arena. Expect a ton of BYU fans here. Nothing ever comes easy when these two-teams used to tango, so we can assume this will go the same way. I can’t live with myself typing out a win for Brigham Young, so I’ll say 78-72 for the home team in a battle on The Strip.

P.S. I still don’t like Jimmer.

December 22-25 Diamond Head Classic (in Hawaii)

This is a tournament in Hawaii that takes place over the Christmas holiday and also features Bucknell, Charlotte, Colorado, Hawaii, Indiana State, Rhode Island, and TCU. UNLV is no stranger to this, but these players and this coaching staff is. I’ll tell you that your Runnin’ Rebs will win the first game of the tournament, guaranteed, but I have no idea what the matchups will be at this point. So let’s just assume UNLV makes it to the championship round and loses. Still, that’s a solid result for the young team to get them ready for the start of the second season, conference play.

From paradise to conference play, the Rebels will return home for Mountain West action. These initial non-league games are vital for the Rebels as they find their footing and help increase their RPI for a potential NCAA Tournament bid. We’ll be back with a look at the conference schedule later. For now — and even though it’s mid-July — the pulse is already speeding up in Head Coach Marvin Menzies’s third season at the helm.