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Steve Marcus

UNLV Rebels head coach T. J. Otzelberger watches UNLV play against Boise State in the Mountain West tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center Thursday, March 5, 2020.

Just when you thought UNLV basketball was close to finalizing its schedule for the 2020-21 season, the Mountain West said “not so fast.”

On Monday the league announced changes to its 2020-21 slate that will add games to the Mountain West portion of the schedule (and impact UNLV in a few different ways).

The previous approach to league play was similar to recent years, with 18 games against Mountain West opponents (nine home, nine away). The unbalanced schedule meant two opponents would only be played once apiece; for instance, last year UNLV did not host Wyoming or play at Air Force.

The new schedule will expand to 20 league games and feature a novel road/home travel plan that features back-to-back contests, with an eye toward cutting travel expenses and limiting exposure to potential COVID-19 infections.

Under the new plan, UNLV will host five opponents at the Thomas & Mack Center, playing back-to-backs to account for 10 home games. And UNLV will make five road trips, again playing back-to-backs against the same opponents to get to 20 games.

The drastic approach will lead to an even more unbalanced schedule, but the uncertainty of playing during the height of COVID-19 — with relatively few health and safety protocols in place — has led to volume of games taking precedent over an ordered schedule. The league believes fewer games will be canceled under the new plan and that it will save money for Mountain West schools that have been hit hard by the outbreak.

Unfortunately for UNLV, the program will have to amend its non-conference schedule. The NCAA has instituted a maximum of 27 games this season, and UNLV scheduled exactly 27 (though an official non-conference schedule had not been announced as of Monday). Now, with two more Mountain West games being added, UNLV will have to trim two scheduled non-conference contests in order to stay under the NCAA maximum.

A road game at SMU will likely be cut, according to a source, and one other game will have to be removed from the schedule.

It is unusual to have this much scheduling ambiguity this close to the season. The NCAA is allowing teams to begin play on Nov. 25, so UNLV will have little more than two weeks to figure things out before the tip-off of the 20-21 campaign.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

Article written by #LasVegasSun

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