And just like that, the Nevada basketball season is over. At this point last week, I was being asked the odds Nevada wins the Mountain West Tournament. But things change quickly in March, and while the Wolf Pack had a good season considering the circumstances — young team, COVID restrictions, no fans at games — it’s never easy to see a season disappear overnight, which is what happened in Nevada’s Mountain West Tournament semifinal loss to San Diego State (the Wolf Pack is a ridiculous 3-17 against the Aztecs since moving to the MW in 2012). The good news is Nevada won’t be losing its coach, Steve Alford, to Indiana, and the future looks bright. How bright? We’ll start this week’s Mailbag will a glance at the contenders for the 2022 Mountain West basketball title. Let’s get to the questions. Thanks, as always, for the inquiries.
(Note: If you’re not seeing the tweets, it’s because you’re not using Google Chrome. Use Google Chrome.)
Matt Mitchell isn’t coming back. There’s nothing to be gained by coming back after he tested the waters last offseason and got to be San Diego State’s top dog this year. He turns 22 in three days and isn’t going to grow or all of a sudden become more athletic. He’ll be off to a pro career. So we’ll assume Mitchell turns pro and Utah State’s Neemias Queta turns pro (he’s only a junior, but I imagine he’s entering the NBA draft). If those things happen and the league’s other noteworthy seniors don’t return for another season, here are my way-too-early Mountain West basketball power rankings for 2021-22. Of course, these are subject to change as I’m sure teams will add transfers this offseason. (Insert Nevada *emoji eyes* AJ Bramah *emoji eyes*).
1. Colorado State: The Rams didn’t have a senior in its rotation this season and will return two of the league’s five-best players in David Roddy and Isaiah Stevens in addition to veteran role players Adam Thistlewood, Kendle Moore, Dischon Thomas, P.J. Byrd and James Moors. The Rams should be an NCAA Tournament team after being “last four out” this season.
2. Nevada: The Wolf Pack returns its starting five and adds two impact transfers in Addison Patterson of Oregon and Will Baker of Texas, both of whom were top-50 recruits coming out of high school. Nevada has the MW’s best backcourt in Grant Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge and will have great size and depth. This is a potential Top 25 team if everything clicks.
3. San Diego State: It feels wrong putting SDSU this low, but we’re assuming the losses of seniors Matt Mitchell, Jordan Schakel, Terrell Gomez and Trey Pulliam, a quartet that averaged almost 46 points per game. If some of those guys come back, the transition won’t be as rough. But that’s a lot of scoring to replace with the backcourt and playmaking in need of a rebuild.
4. Utah State: Again, we’re assuming Neemias Queta, the best player in the MW this season, turns pro. If he doesn’t, Utah State goes to the top of this list because it brings back Justin Bean, Brock Miller, Marco Anthony and Rollie Worster, all good players. But Queta is a difference-maker on both sides of the court. He’ll be awfully difficult to replace if he leaves.
5. Boise State: This was supposed to be Boise State’s big breakthrough season, but the Broncos limped through the end of the season and had to settle for the NIT. Derrick Alston Jr. is off to a potential pro career. Abu Kigab is a senior, but he could return with some other talented guys (Marcus Shaver, RayJ Dennis, Mladen Armus, Devonaire Doutrive, Emmanuel Akot).
6. Wyoming: The Cowboys aren’t scheduled to lose anybody. Wyoming returns MW freshman of the year Marcus Williams, the versatile Hunter Maldonado and role players like Kenny Foster, Kwane Marble II, Hunter Thompson, Graham Ike and Xavier DuSell in Jeff Linder’s second season. All must improve a lot for Wyoming to get into the MW’s top half.
7. UNLV: This seems low, but UNLV’s roster is not overflowing with talent. Bryce Hamilton and David Jenkins Jr. lead the way, but this program is usually replete with NBA talent. That’s not the case right now. Coach T.J. Otzelberger could be targeted by Iowa State if that jobs open, but there’s a lot of work to do at UNLV if he remains with the Rebels.
8. Fresno State: Orlando Robinson is a nice building block at center, but Fresno State needs to upgrade its backcourt significantly to beat the MW’s top teams. The good news is the top six players in the rotation have eligibility remaining. Coach Justin Hutson was a defensive guru at SDSU and UNLV, but Fresno State’s defense has been subpar the last two years.
9. New Mexico: Whoever gets this job — sounds like it’s down to Richard Pitino and Tim Miles — has a major rebuild on their hands. Everything is in place for long-term winning but the current roster is a mess, so I don’t expect a one-season turnaround. This is going to be a rebuilding year for the Lobos.
10. San Jose State: SJSU also is in the market for a new coach, and good luck to whoever gets that job.
11. Air Force: The Falcons went 5-20 overall this season despite having a fairly veteran team. Three of the team’s top-five scorers were seniors.
I was asked that question in October about the 2020 season and said football. That one turned out to be correct. For the 2021 season, I’ll stick with football, although both are title contenders who should finish no worse than top three in the conference. I wouldn’t be surprised if both teams win their conference championship, a feat that has rarely been accomplished before. Nevada football and basketball have won conference championships in the same season only twice: 1983-84 and 2005-06. I feel like basketball has a little more high-end competition in the Mountain West than football, although the football team’s schedule is tough. Football gets the close nod.
Question 1: The preseason tournament thing is on my to-do list this week, although some of that could be in a holding pattern since many of these tournaments are outside the continental United States, which could be impacted by COVID regulations.
Question 2: Colorado State, Utah State, Nevada, San Diego State. That’s the list. If Boise State didn’t do it this season, it’s not doing it next year.
It ended up being two Mountain West schools in the NCAA Tournament (San Diego State and Utah State) and two in the NIT (Boise State and Colorado State). That has to be a disappointing development for the conference considering there was a possibility of four NCAA Tournament teams from the conference at this point last week.
Yes it would be. That’s always an easy question for me because Nevada football has only been ranked twice in its history: 1948 and 2010. And in neither of those years was the Wolf Pack basketball team ranked. So if both teams hit the Top 25 next season, that’d be an unprecedented development for the Wolf Pack.
I’ll give one thing for each rotation player from this season.
* Grant Sherfield: Finishing around the rim (he made 47.1 percent of close twos; that should be around 60 percent)
* Desmond Cambridge Jr.: Overall offensive efficiency, which will come with improved shot selection (shot 40.9 percent, including 34.8 percent from three)
* Warren Washington: Improved rim protection/defense (his 3.6 percent block percentage is low for a 7-footer)
* Zane Meeks: Getting healthy knees (can’t play without those)
* K.J. Hymes: Improved 3-point shooting and not fouling (Nevada wants him to be a stretch four; he averaged 8.3 fouls per 40 minutes)
* Tre Coleman: More aggressive offensive mindset and improved 3-point shooting (he didn’t take a lot of threes in high school but has the makings of being a good distance shooter)
* Kane Milling: 3-point shooting (I would say playmaking, but Milling’s ultimate role is a 3-point specialist, so he has to get his 36.8 percent from three up to the 40 percent range)
* Robby Robinson: Some sort of offensive impact (he’s a great defender, but his minutes will be sparse unless he adds something on offense; he shot 29.4 percent this season)
* Daniel Foster: Play-making (Foster’s ultimate position is probably backup point guard, so he should aim for a two-to-one assist-to-turnover rate; he was 15-ot-18 this year)
Ultimately, there’s a lot of good stuff to work with here, but each player certainly has areas to improve, especially if there’s a more traditional offseason than the one we just had.
I do think Nevada would have made the NIT if it was a full 32-team field, but with the tournament only inviting 16 teams due to COVID, there wasn’t much margin for error, and the Wolf Pack unfortunately had four bad losses on its résumé, including two to Wyoming, one to Air Force and one to USF. It was 4-0 against NIT teams, though, so Nevada could have won the tournament if it got the invite. It was an NIT-caliber team for sure.
Getting your money’s worth with four questions in one tweet.
1) For the Final Four, only Houston since they’re a two seed. But I don’t see that happening. For the Sweet 16, I like SDSU, BYU and UCSB among mid-major schools.
2) Double-digit seeds to win in the first round: UCSB, Maryland, Winthrop, Utah State.
3) Michigan will be the first No. 1 seed to lose.
4) Gonzaga over Illinois in the title game with Alabama and Arkansas joining in the Final 4.
Question 1: Coach Musselman definitely had an issue beating San Diego State at Nevada. While they’re not close to each other in this year’s bracket, Arkansas could face Utah State in the second round, which would be a fun matchup. The earliest Arkansas could face San Diego State would be the Final Four. And if that happens, I’ll fly out to the game to cover it.
Question 2: I believe Kenley Jansen will go the entire season as the Dodgers’ closer. His peripheral numbers last season were actually quite solid: 3.03 FIP, 12.2 SO/9. I don’t want him closing games in the playoffs, but I’m fine with him in that role for the regular season. Use the better relievers in more high-leverage situations.
It’s definitely a concern. I wouldn’t completely rule out the possibility Zane Meeks has played his last game at Nevada. But I don’t think his career is over because of his knee situation. I have more reporting to do on this front, but it obviously isn’t a great sign Meeks returned from three games off to play against UNLV and Boise State but wasn’t able to suit up the following month. You hate to see a player ailing due to sore knees at such a young age.
No. Given the cost and COVID-19 risks associated with flying to Florida for a neutral-site tournament that could lead to playing one game (and three games tops if it’s an eight-team field), the juice is not worth the squeeze. I don’t think playing maybe three more games helps you improve for next season. In a perfect scenario with home games and full capacity, I’m fine with playing in the CBI. But this year’s situation is far from ideal. I would have turned down an invitation this season, which is what Nevada will be doing.
Yep. It’s the money. If Nevada was able to host games and create enough ticket revenue to break even or make a little money, I think it’d play in the CBI (it made six-figures in 2016). But the Wolf Pack is already running a $10 million-plus debt this season on top of the $6 million debt it brought into the fiscal year, so playing in a tournament all the way across the country when the entire university is taking furlough days isn’t wise.
The NIT is expected to return to 32 teams next season. The shortened field is a result of COVID. Nevada should be NIT caliber at worst next season.
Schools generally make a little money by playing in the NIT, but’s in nowhere near the haul that can be made playing in the NCAA Tournament, where each game played by a team is worth roughly $1.7 million to its conference. So, if SDSU gets to the Sweet 16 this month, it will earn about $5.1 million for the MW over six years (around $460,000 per school). The NIT is a cash positive event for schools — like mid-five figures if you win a couple of games, which stays with the participating school — but it’s not the cash cow the NCAA Tournament is for conferences.
Nope. Luke Babbitt hasn’t played pro ball since 2018 with the Miami Heat. He made almost $11 million in his career, and knowing Babbitt, I’m sure he saved most of it. So, while he’s 31 years old and could go play overseas and dominate for five or six seasons, it appears as if he’s moved into the next phase of his life. He has a couple of kids, and you don’t want to miss time with them playing in a random country like Spain if you don’t have to. I should try and get Babbitt on our NSN Daily show to see what he’s up to. He’s still my favorite player I got to cover. He was so good in college. Too bad he never played on a great team and got to showcase his skills in the NCAA Tournament. If only Brandon Fields grabbed that defensive board in the semifinals of the 2010 WAC Tournament against New Mexico State.
Neither is the correct answer. Nevada is down 33-60 against UNLV. It would take decades of dominance to catch up there. Nevada is down 6-22 to San Diego State, which is a smaller gap, but there’s no reason to think Nevada is going to be plus-16 games over the Aztecs in the near future. It might be able to catch up and be even, but plus-16 in the next 10 years? Not happening.
Texas Southern, led by former Nevada coach Johnny Jones, would actually get Michigan in the first round if it wins its “first four” game. I don’t see the Tigers beating the Wolverines even though that’s the most favorable No. 1 seed to play. I’ll give it a 0.0001 percent chance of a Texas Southern win.
No replacement teams will be added after the tournament begins, so once games tip Thursday the bracket is locked in. If a team has to withdraw before that and is the lone representative from that conference, a team from the same conference will be added as its replacement. You can read the full contingency plan here.
Utah State because of the whole fire extinguisher situation.
Harder to fix? Kansas because the competition at the top of the Big 12 is so much higher than the competition at the top of the Mountain West. I mean, we just saw San Jose State go from miserable to Mountain West champs essentially overnight (seven straight winless seasons before going 7-0 in the regular season this year). That’s a lot more difficult to do in a power conference. Not impossible, but more difficult. You basically need to be a top-10 program to win the Big 12. You need to be about top 35 to win the Mountain West. And with UNLV having a new football facility, a new NFL stadium to play in, a huge recruiting base and a reasonable budget compared to its conference counterparts, the Rebels should have a winning program. It’d mind-boggling to me that program has never been good. It doesn’t make sense.
I’ll say heavyweight title fight just because each division in boxing has four major world titles plus multiple other hangers on. That’s the biggest problem with boxing right now. There should be one belt per division. I don’t think either of your options happen, although Lawlor Events Center is not too far below the standard required to host NCAA Tournament games.
They sadly sat idle inside dark and lonely closets. Makes you wonder if they will reappear next season. Nobody really wants to wear a suit unless they have to, and college coaches learned this season they don’t have to wear them.
This is not my forty, but I’ll go:
1. Greg Sankey (SEC)
2. Bob Bowlsby (Big 12)
3. Michael Aresco (American)
4. James J. Phillips (ACC; he’s new, so hard to judge)
5. Craig Thompson (Mountain West)
6. Judy MacLeod (C-USA)
7. Jon Steinbrecher (MAC)
8. Kevin Warren (Big Ten)
9. Keith Gill (Sun Belt)
10. Larry Scott (Pac-12)
First and foremost it was a family decision. It was best for my family to stay in Northern Nevada, and I’ll probably live the rest of my working life in Reno. On top of that, the newspaper I was interviewing with was part of the McClatchy chain and was going through a similar transition at that time that I experienced working at Gannett, which was laying off editor-level jobs in favor of keeping content-producing jobs. I was twice offered an editor position at the Idaho Statesmen, the first being sports editor and the second being a managing editor. I got the feeling during the interview process that the positions being offered would be laid off in the coming years. I was right. The publisher I interviewed with left the job a couple months after I turned down the first position. The executive editor was laid off shortly after that. The sports editor job didn’t exist a little after that. I could see the writing on the wall in terms of McClatchy taking the same path as Gannett and cutting management positions. That made me leery. But it was a family decision above anything else. Boise would be a great place to live, though. Awesome town.
I’ve actually answered this question previously in a Mailbag, so I’ll copy and paste:
Per the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, “The woodchuck is an herbivore preferring tender plants to coarser bark and trees. They do not typically eat hard wood. While woodchucks do not ‘chuck’ wood, they do ‘chuck’ dirt as they build underground burrows.” Do not believe everything you hear in a Geico commercial. So the hypothetical is null and void since woodchucks are ambivalent toward wood.
I went back to the 1988 World Series and the Dodgers had 15 position players and 10 pitchers on its roster (it only used seven of them). The 2020 world champion Dodgers had 13 position players and 15 pitchers (they were allowed 28 players due to COVID). So there’s definitely been a shift toward more pitchers at the expense of position players. Back in the day, you could carry a third catcher and pinch runner/defensive specialists. So those are the guys who are being squeezed off rosters these days. And with the NL eventually adding the DH, pinch-hitters will be less necessary, too.
These are two separate things. The first one — a San Diego-based reporter saying Wolf Pack players would allow their coach to fall to the ground before catching him — is obviously dumb and a little surprising considering there’s not a lot of professionalism in that tweet. I know a lot of people don’t like Coach Alford, but his players seem to love him, at least during his time at Nevada. I don’t think they’d let him fall to the ground. The second one — the San Diego State student section tweet — is much more predictable. While it’s not fair to paint a fan base with one brush, I received some vicious hate mail from Aztec fans last year after voting Jalen Harris over Malachi Flynn for MW player of the year. So that second tweet is not surprising at all. And I’ve put SDSU on my Top 25 basketball and football ballots more than any writer in the nation the last decade. The bottom line is a lot of sports fans are losers whose identity is wrapped up in whether a team they root for (but have no say over whether they actually win or lose) has success. It’s quite sad. And it’s made me like sports less and less the older (and hopefully wiser) I’ve gotten. I can’t imagine telling a fan from another team “we kicked your asses, sit down and take your L salty-ass losers.” I can’t imagine a university would want that being tweeted from a verified Twitter account associated with its fan base. I harken back to a lessen I learned from a teacher in middle school. “Blowing out somebody else’s candle does not make yours burn brighter.” Thank you for attending my TED talk.
No, for a few reasons.
(1) T.J. Bruce is the only active head coach at Nevada that has won a Mountain West championship.
(2) He’s 70-41 in Mountain West games, which is the best conference record of any coach on campus (he is 121–128 overall, but he puts together tough non-league schedules).
(3) Non-revenue coaches don’t really get fired for on-field results at Nevada unless they’re brutal. Over the last 10 years, Nevada has fired only two non-revenue coaches. One was 21-94. The other went over his budget too many times. That wasn’t about on-field results. If non-revenue coaches at Nevada got fired for results, there would be a lot more firings.
Coach Bruce’s job is safe.
Sonny Allen: David Wood, Dwayne Randall, Ken “Tree” Green, Darryl Owens, Billy Allen
Len Stevens: Ric Herrin, Kevin Soares, Kevin Franklin, Matt Williams, Eric Morris
Pat Foster: Faron Hand, Eathan O’Bryant, Jimmy Carroll, Jimmy Moore, Brian Green
Trent Johnson: Nick Fazekas, Kirk Snyder, Marcelus Kemp, Terrance Green, Kevinn Pinkney
Mark Fox: Luke Babbitt, Armon Johnson, Ramon Sessions, JaVale McGee, Dario Hunt
David Carter: Deonte Burton, Malik Story, Olek Czyz, Jerry Evans, D.J. Fenner
Eric Musselman: Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline, Cameron Oliver, Jalen Harris
Steve Alford: Grant Sherfield, Desmond Cambridge Jr., Warren Washington, Addison Patterson, Will Baker
Maui, San Diego, Myrtle Beach. Three locations I can at least go to the beach, hopefully.
Top five movies of all time
4. The Lion King
3. The Shawshank Redemption
2. Inglorious Bastards
1. Home Alone (duh)
Best picture for 2021
Sound of Metal is the best movie I’ve seen this year, although I’ve only seen two of the nominees for Best Picture, those being Sound of Metal and Judas and the Black Messiah. I do hope to watch Nomadland soon. It’s going to win Best Picture, and there’s a Northern Nevada element to it. But Sound of Metal is a great look at what we take for granted and what we’d tried to do get back to our “normal life” even if that’s not the best thing for you after tragedy. Plus, I like to believe Riz Ahmed is my doppelgänger, so I’ve always been a fan of his. It’s definitely worth a watch. See y’all next week!
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. He writes a weekly Monday Mailbag despite it giving him a headache and it taking several hours to write. But people seem to like it, so he does it anyway. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.