Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023 | 2 a.m
There is one main goal for UNLV basketball this season: The NCAA Tournament.
Three years into Kevin Kruger’s tenure, the Scarlet and Gray have a frontcourt full of veterans, a backcourt full of shooters and a freshman running the show. It should include the first half of the postseason program beginning with the 2012-13 season.
Because UNLV is committed to making a field of 68, let’s make 68 predictions for the 2023-24 campaign — with a little predictive help from the coach and players themselves.
1. Who will be UNLV’s leading scorer? DJ Thomas. Don’t expect an offense like last year, which featured EJ Harkless as the clear No. 1 option. 1. The ball will be spread around, but Thomas stands out, even among a group that includes several veterans who have scored in double figures in the past.
2. Will Keylan Boone play on the porch? No
3. Will Keylan Boone play in a game this season? Yes. Boone filed for immediate suspension after his second transfer, but the NCAA has yet to rule. Even if he is not allowed to start the first game, he must be able to complete this semester (he is five years old) and be eligible for the second semester as a graduate transfer. That’s good news for a UNLV team that could really use his outside shooting (41.0 3FG% last year).
4. Will UNLV score 100 points in any game? Yes. The Scarlet and Gray will hang 114 points on Carroll College on Dec. 31 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
5. Who will lead the team in dunks? Justin Webster’s Prediction: Kalib Boone. “I think KB is going to…Anytime you throw it up there and he sees the rim, he’s going to dunk it.”
6. Who will score the most points in the paint? Justin Webster’s prediction: Kalib Boone — or maybe Isaiah Cottrell, or maybe Rob Whaley. “We’re throwing it out there a lot, I think those guys are going to lead the way in points in the paint.”
7. Who will lead the team in recovery? Kalib Boone, 7.5 per game.
8. How many 3-pointers will Justin Webster make? 73. Webster made 57-of-124 last year (46.0%), and his streak has been blue ever since. His job is to let it fly whenever he’s on.
9. Who will score the first three points of the season? Justin Webster’s prediction: “I think it’s going to be me or Lu.”
10. How many different players will lead a team in scoring in a game? Kevin Kruger’s prediction: Eight. “I think this will be a balanced team. Yeah, as the year goes on we’re going to have the usual suspects, but I think overall, there’s a bunch of different guys that can benefit in different ways every night.”
11. Will UNLV beat a ranked team? Yes. Three of its opponents are in the AP Preseason Top 25, with Creighton at No. 8, San Diego State at No. 17 and Saint Mary’s at No. 23. The Scarlet and Gray will fall at Creighton, but beat Saint Mary’s on a neutral site and beat SDSU at home.
12. What will be UNLV’s longest winning streak? Eight games (Nov. 8 to Dec. 9)
13. What is the longest losing streak? Two games (Jan. 6 to Jan. 9)
14. What is UNLV’s best regular season accomplishment? vs. San Diego State (March 5)
15. What will be the worst loss? vs. Colorado State (Feb. 24)
16. How many games will the Scarlet and Gray win in the Sunshine Slam? Two
17. Which new veteran will have the biggest impact? Jalen Hill. Kruger expects Hill to play defense at the highest level in the conference while marking multiple spots, and he has shown a disruptive game in practice. He is ready for a strong campaign to return home.
18. Will Kevin Kruger get a technical foul? Kevin Kruger’s prediction: No. “I hope not.”
19. Which home game will have the most people? vs. San Diego State (March 5)
20. Will UNLV win the game at the buzzer? No
21. Will UNLV have players on the MWC All-Defense team? Kevin Kruger’s prediction: Yes. “If you’re talking about Jalen and Lu right away…I think we’re going to have a Defensive Player of the Year hopefully.”
22. What line will DJ Thomas write in his first game? 16 points, six assists, four rebounds, two steals, 1-of-4 from 3-point range
23. How many times will Thomas break 20 points? Seven
24. Which season will Thomas top in assists? Nine, against Hofstra on Dec. 21
25. Will UNLV sweep any conference opponents? Five. The Scarlet and Gray will win their one game against Utah State, if you count that as a sweep, and go 2-0 against Air Force, San Jose State, Fresno State, Wyoming and UNR (Kruger has never lost to UNR as the head coach).
26. What will be the funnest moment of the season? Anderson Hunt’s jersey retirement ceremony, during halftime of Saturday’s game against Stetson
27. What will be the starting lineup on opening night? DJ Thomas, Justin Webster, Luis Rodriguez, Jalen Hill, Isaiah Cottrell
28. Will the 3-point streak survive this season? Kevin Kruger’s prediction: Yes. “We have to do one game. The way the college game is now, we’re going to shoot a lot, so I hope so.”
29. Who will lead the team in doubles? Kalib Boone, eight
30. Who will lead the team in minutes? Jalen Hill. With the way Kruger plans to use him on defense, I wish him luck on the floor for a long time.
31. Will anyone surpass EJ Harkless’ 35 points from last year? No
32. Will UNLV beat San Diego State? Yes, at home on March 5
33. Will UNLV have a player on the All-Mountain West team? No. It’s a talented group, and DJ Thomas will likely claim Freshman of the Year honors, but a balanced attack will leave any one player without the stats needed to make the All-MWC squad.
34. Where will UNLV finish in the Mountain West? Fourth place
35. Will UNLV win the Mountain West championship game? Yes
36. Will UNLV reach the semifinals of the Mountain West tournament? Yes. The Scarlet and Gray haven’t reached Friday’s conference tournament since the 2013-14 season under Dave Rice, but they’re ready to do it now. Look for UNLV to secure a first-round bye, then win their Thursday game to advance to the semis.
37. Will UNLV win the Mountain West championship? No
38. Will UNLV make the NCAA Tournament? Luis Rodriguez’s Prediction: Yes. “Absolutely. We want to go where we can. I’m not going to say the NCAA Tournament; run there.”
39-68. What games will UNLV win and lose?
Wednesday vs. Southern University — Win (1-0)
Saturday vs. Stetson — Win (2-0)
Nov. 17 at Pepperdine – Win (3-0)
Nov. 20 vs. Florida State (at Daytona Beach) – Win (4-0)
Nov. 21 vs. Colorado/Richmond (at Daytona Beach) — Win (5-0)
Nov. 28 vs. Akron — Win (6-0)
Dec. 6 at Dayton — Win (7-0)
Dec. 9 vs. Loyola Marymount — Win (8-0)
Dec. 13 vs. Creighton — Loss (8-1)
Dec. 16 vs. Saint Mary’s (Phoenix) – Win (9-1)
Dec. 21 vs. Hofstra — Win (10-1)
December 31 vs. Carroll College – Win (11-1)
Jan. 6 at San Diego State — Loss (11-2)
January 9 vs. New Mexico — Loss (11-3)
Jan. 13 vs. Utah State — Win (12-3)
Jan. 16 at Boise State — Loss (12-4)
Jan. 19 at Colorado State – Win (13-4)
Jan. 23 vs. Air Force – Win (14-4)
Jan. 27 at San Jose State — Win (15-4)
Jan .30 vs. Fresno State — Win (16-4)
February 3 vs. Wyoming — Win (17-4)
Feb. 10 at New Mexico — Loss (17-5)
Feb. 14 at Fresno State — Win (18-5)
February 17 vs. UNR — Win (19-5)
Feb. 21 at Air Force — Win (20-5)
February 24 vs. Colorado State — Loss (20-6)
Feb. 27 at Wyoming — Win (21-6)
March 2 vs. San Jose State — Win (22-6)
March 5 vs. San Diego State — Win (23-6)
March 9 at UNR — Win (24-6)
Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or (email protected). Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.