Runnin' Rebels Are Part Of The Madness
March 14, 2010
The Runnin' Rebels (25-8/11-5 Mountain West Conference), who are one of a record four Mountain West Conference teams in this year's field, gathered on campus Sunday to learn their destination after having earned the storied program's seventh at-large bid in history but first in a decade.
UNLV, which has won six of its last seven games, including advancing to the MWC championship game here Saturday, earned a No. 8 seed in the Midwest Regional. Northern Iowa is the No. 9 seed (the highest in school history) while making its fifth NCAA trip in seven years and sixth in history.
"I am really excited and pleased for our guys," UNLV head coach Lon Kruger said. "They worked extremely hard, made progress from start to finish, and not everyone realizes how hard it is to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. These guys are very deserving and they will work hard preparing during the next couple of days."
The winner of the UNLV-UNI game will advance to play the winner of No. 1-seeded Kansas vs. 16th-seeded Lehigh on Saturday, March 20. The winner of that game advances to the Midwest Regional in St. Louis, Mo., on March 26 and 28.
UNLV was assigned an eight seed for the second time in history but for a second consecutive tournament trip. The program will be playing in the Sooner State for the 14th time in history (a combined 5-8 playing at Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Tulsa and Oklahoma City) but for the first time ever in the postseason. UNLV's most recent trip to the state was Nov. 30, 2005, when it lost to OSU 80-62 in Stillwater.
Northern Iowa (28-4/15-3) won the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title and then clinched an automatic bid by defeating Wichita State 67-52 in the league's tournament championship game on March 7 in St. Louis. The Runnin' Rebels and the Panthers, who hail from Cedar Falls, Iowa, have never met on the basketball court. UNLV is 15-6 all-time vs. teams in the MVC, including 1-0 this season as Kruger's squad defeated Southern Illinois 78-69 on Nov. 21, 2009. UNLV has played a MVC team just once in the NCAA tournament, beating Missouri State (then known as Southwest Missouri State) 54-50 in the first round on March 23, 1988, at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.
"Northern Iowa is a very good club," Kruger said. "They are really solid. I have seen them play a couple of times. They won both the Missouri Valley regular season and tournament championship and are very well coached. It will be a big challenge, as all eight-nine games are expected to be."
If UNLV and Kansas both advance to the second round, it would set up a rematch from the Runnin' Rebels' last trip to the Big Dance. Playing in Omaha, Neb., in 2008, UNLV defeated Kent State in the 8-9 game before being ousted by the top-seeded Jayhawks two days later. UNLV is 0-4 all-time vs. the Big 12 Conference powerhouse. Along with the NCAA meeting two years ago, the teams faced each other as part of the Tip-Off Classic in Springfield, Mass., on Nov. 27, 1998; at Lawrence on Nov. 21, 1997; and in another neutral-site pairing in Pontiac, Mich., on Nov. 22, 1989. The Runnin' Rebels have never faced Lehigh (22-10/10-4), which won the Patriot League's automatic bid to earn the Mountain Hawks their fourth all-time trip to the NCAA tournament.
The Runnin' Rebels boast an all-time record of 33-15 (.688) in the Big Dance, which ranks seventh all-time for the highest NCAA Tournament winning percentage. The program has made four Final Four appearances (1976-77, 1986-87, 1989-90 and 1990-91) and comes in with an impressive 13-2 all-time record in first-round matchups.
On Thursday, Kruger will face UNI for the fifth time in his 24-year career as a college head coach with all four previous meetings taking place while he was leading Texas Pan-American (1-1 in 1982-83 and 1-1 in 1984-85). Kruger, having compiled a 137-61 record in his six years at UNLV, will be making his 12th career trip to the NCAAs and holds a 14-11 mark. Kruger is 8-3 in first-round games, including winning his last five.
Kruger is one of only three head men in college basketball history to lead at least four different schools to multiple NCAA appearances (Kansas State 4, Florida 2, Illinois 3 and UNLV 3). He is joined by Jim Harrick (Pepperdine 4, UCLA 8, Rhode Island 2 and Georgia 2) and Tubby Smith (Tulsa 2, Georgia 2, Kentucky 10 and Minnesota 2). In 2007 Kruger became the fourth head coach to take three different teams to the Sweet 16 (joining Rick Pitino, Bill Self and Tubby Smith).
Kruger said he was pleased that UNLV helped the Mountain West set a record for NCAA teams this season.
"Four teams from the league is great. It's a big step for our conference and obviously I feel like four were very deserving and all four have the opportunity to represent well. We will be cheering for the other three as well."