- Ky McKeon
Key Returners: Jordan Caroline, Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Lindsey Drew
Key Losses: Kendall Stephens, Hallice Cooke, Josh Hall
Key Newcomers: Jordan Brown, Nisre Zouzoua (Bryant), Trey Porter (ODU), Jazz Johnson (Portland), Tre-Shawn Thurman (Omaha), Corey Henson (Wagner)
Outlook: Nevada earned the Mountain West’s first at-large bid to the Big Dance since 2015 after falling in ugly fashion to San Diego State in the conference Tourney. Following the defeat, the Wolf Pack won two physical games against Texas and Cincy on the main stage before being defeated by everyone’s favorite Cinderella (and, presumably, the Power of God). Everyone could plainly see the talent of the Pack roster last season, but it was still somewhat shocking to see a team with almost zero depth or post size perform at the level it did. When the Pack lost point guard Lindsey Drew to a ruptured Achilles in February, Eric Musselman was down to a six-man rotation, and nobody in that rotation cracked 6’8”. With an embarrassing amount of talent pouring in from the transfer wire this year (and a tall freshman) Musselman seems to have solved both of Nevada’s glaring weaknesses. A roster that has 11 capable contributors highlighted by NBA talent has the masses buying stock in the Biggest Little City in the World.
Due to the lack of size last year, Nevada’s offense functioned through pushing the pace in transition, driving open lanes, and kicking to open shooters. With Jordan Caroline playing the 5, Musselman had a playmaker or shooter at every spot on the floor, which made guarding the Pack an absolute nightmare. The addition of McDonald’s All-American center Jordan Brown shouldn’t hurt the Pack spacing, and it’ll give Caroline the opportunity to play at a more natural 4 position. Brown isn’t super athletic, but he’s incredibly efficient at scoring in the post with either hand and can step out to about 15 feet. The freshman should also be able to keep up in transition with his stamina and decent quickness.
Driving the #7 offense in the country was superb ball handling (#1 in TO rate) and shooting (#25 in 3P%). Drew might be out until the second semester as he recovers, but Nevada will still have plenty of ball handlers in Caleb and Cody Martin, Portland transfer Jazz Johnson, and Wagner transfer Corey Henson. Shooting-wise, Kendall Stephens was a monstrous loss; the former Purdue Boilermaker hit 43% of his nearly 300 three-point attempts last season. Bryant transfer Nisre Zouzoua and the aforementioned Johnson should be able to make up for the lost production.
There is no shortage of individual talent on this squad. Twins Cody and Caleb Martin and Caroline nearly bolted for the Draft this offseason. All three players stand 6’7” and all three can create their own offense. Caleb Martin is the best scorer and shooter on the roster, pouring in nearly 19ppg while posting a shooting slash of .504/.403/.749 (2P/3P/FT). His shot making in the loss against Loyola was bonkers, but he did it consistently all year long:
Cody Martin assumed the de facto point guard role when Drew went down. Like Caleb, Cody is a talented scorer but his production comes by way of the drive and in transition versus from behind the arc. Together, the pair complement each other’s games perfectly.
Caroline scores from everywhere on the floor and is a bull driving to the rim where he often picks up a foul for a free trip to the line. When he plays the 5, he’s impossible for opposing centers to stop; unfortunately this lineup makes the Pack interior defense susceptible. Nevada allowed far too much at the rim and on the glass last season – the perimeter D was rock solid with the length in the backcourt, but the interior had holes. Caroline has help this year up front with the aforementioned Brown and Old Dominion import Trey Porter. Porter in particular is a mammoth on the glass and a very solid rim protector.
The incoming transfers make the Pack arguably the deepest team in the country (and that may not even be arguable). Each guy provides the Pack with something they need. Tre’Shawn Thurman from Omaha will sure up the paint defense and rebounding, while also providing yet another floor spacer at the 4 spot. Corey Henson and Jazz Johnson will fill the PG void – Johnson in particular could be a huge offensive weapon. Zouzoua, one of the many annual NEC outcasts, will provide instant offense off the bench - the 6’2” shooting guard poured in over 20ppg as a sophomore at Bryant. He’s definitely a bit of a gunner, but valuable nonetheless.
Role allocation will be Musselman’s greatest challenge. We’ve seen supposedly stacked teams entering the year (ala 2017 Duke) fail to live up to the hype because egos get in the way. From watching the Pack last year and considering the type of guys Musselman is bringing in, this doesn’t appear to be an issue, but when NBA and future pro contracts are on the line, the spotlight becomes mighty thin.
Nevada has a legitimate shot to be the best overall team in the country this season let alone a #1 or #2 seed come March. Every position is jam-packed with talent. Musselman should once again have a top ten offense at his disposal and I’d expect the defense, which ranked 108th last season, to be much stronger than the year before. If Musselman can keep the egos in check and parse out minutes in a way that supports what’s best for the team, the sky is the limit for Nevada