Nevada should have the best team Eric Musselman has coached in his four seasons in Reno, eclipsing last season’s Mountain West champ and Sweet 16 participant.
And that’s even if Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, and Jordan Caroline all stay in the NBA draft, Musselman said on the latest NCAA.com podcast March Madness 365.
“We feel like regardless of what happens with our three guys testing the NBA waters that we will have the best team we’ve had at Nevada,’’ Musselman said. “That was our plan. We feel on paper, even if the three guys don’t return, we felt like we built this team to be our most talented team.’’
That’s saying quite a bit, considering the Wolf Pack are coming off a crazy run to the Sweet 16 that included a 22-point comeback win over No. 2 seed Cincinnati in the round of 32 before losing to eventual South Region champ Loyola-Chicago in Atlanta in the Sweet 16.
Musselman’s optimism is in large part due to his faith in putting together a collection of transfers and newcomers, like he has in the previous three seasons. He was a long-time NBA and minor league basketball coach and his experience of putting together a new team each season has helped him make the transition in college.
And last week, the Wolf Pack picked up 6-11 McDonald’s All-American Jordan Brown (Roseville, Calif.), giving Nevada a player to post up and feed inside.
Nevada had four players sitting out from lower-level schools who Musselman is convinced can make a quick transition at a higher level: 5-10 Jazz Johnson (Portland), 6-7 Tre-Shawn Thurman (Omaha), 6-2 Nisre Zouzoua (Bryant) and 6-3 Corey Henson (Wagner).
The Wolf Pack also added grad transfers 6-10 Trey Porter (Old Dominion) and 6-4 Ehab Amin (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi).
Musselman said on the podcast that the staff goes through exhaustive evaluations and believes that shooting and rebounding skills translate, regardless of level of basketball.
“For us it’s about studying and making sure that the player fits into our style and system,’’ said Musselman.
Brown is the catch, with Musselman saying he will have a tremendous impact on the Wolf Pack as “the highest rated player to ever come to Nevada in any sport.’’
Battle Born! pic.twitter.com/oHkf9GKy2F— Jordan Brown (@JIBrown21) May 11, 2018
Of course, there is the one problem that all of these transfers and three players testing the NBA draft before the May 30 deadline means Nevada has 15 on the roster. But men’s basketball is only allowed 13. So how will that work?
“We feel it will work itself out,’’ said Musselman. “We are in a unique situation with three guys testing the waters…This roster will work itself out over the next three to four weeks.’’
If all three return, Musselman said the Wolf Pack will play “even faster.’’ He said Nevada had success playing with eight last season, but the number would increase to 10. He said Nevada would press more often, add junk defenses and have a much faster pace of play.
“I had zero problems in the (minor) league keeping everyone happy,’’ said Musselman.
If the Martin twins were to stay in the draft but Caroline did return then Musselman says Carolina can be that go-to guy. He said adding Brown means they’ve got a player who is as good as any in the Mountain West. Add Porter and Thurman alongside those two and Musselman said he would have plenty of pop.
“We’re still a really, really deep team regardless of guys testing the waters,’’ said Musselman.
Nevada did challenge itself by going on the road last season at Texas Tech, at Hawaii, playing Davidson, Rhode Island and also TCU on a natural court. The schedule helped the Wolf Pack get in the field after losing in the MWC tournament title game to San Diego State.
Next season, Nevada will play at Loyola-Chicago in a Sweet 16 rematch, play Arizona State at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and play in a tournament in Las Vegas with Tulsa, UMass and Southern Illinois. Nevada is trying to lock in a home game against South Dakota State, the champs of the Summit league, who will have Mike Daum back next season. Musselman said he’s also trying to get two other neutral-court games in NBA arenas.
New Georgia coach Tom Crean also joined the podcast and went into detail about why the Bulldogs and Athens was the perfect fit for him after sitting out last season working as a television analyst for ESPN.
Crean has been clearly trying to make a splash in Athens and beyond by interacting with students and staff through social media. Georgia, like many SEC schools, has a passionate fan base. Crean is working hard to introduce himself to the fans and hoping to make them feel a part of the program from day one.
Crean said what he has learned about himself after sitting out the year is he has “patience and perspective.’’
Crean is optimistic about next season’s team after working out the Bulldogs in the past month. He said if there are two players who have stood out the most, they are a pair of sophomores in 6-11 Nicolas Claxton and 6-8 Rayshaun Hammonds.
“There’s so much versatility to them,’’ said Crean. “They give us a chance to really take some steps.’’
The SEC is expected once again to be a deep league with a slew of possible NCAA tournament teams. Last season, the SEC sent eight of the 14 teams to the tournament.