May 2018 might prove to be the most important month in Nevada basketball history. First came the commitment of McDonald’s All-American Jordan Brown, the highest-rated recruit in program history. Then, Jordan Caroline announced he was withdrawing from the NBA Draft to return for his senior season. Days later, an even bigger announcement: Twins Cody and Caleb Martin would also be returning to the Wolf Pack.
Already possessing a slew of talented Division I transfers, Nevada was considered a borderline top-25 team. Now, expectations have reached levels once inconceivable in Reno — Nevada is a Final Four contender.
“It’s new territory for our players,” says fourth-year coach Eric Musselman. “It’s our job as a coaching staff to manage those [expectations] and try to get better on a daily basis. The only thing we can control is how we get better today, and we can’t look at anything beyond that.”
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Eric Musselman
2017-18 RECORD (MW): 29-8 (15–3)
2017-18 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Loyola-Chicago 69-68 in the Sweet 16
G Hallice Cooke (4.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg)
G Josh Hall (6.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
G Kendall Stephens (13.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg)
With no rotation player taller than 6'7" last year, Nevada used a form of positionless basketball to overcome its lack of size. That won’t be necessary this season
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Caroline, a bruising 6'7" forward and two-time All-Mountain West performer, played out of position last year as the team’s only post player. This year, Caroline will not be cast as a de facto center. Instead, he can play a more natural stretch-4 and overpower less physical forwards.
At 6'11", Brown is a highly skilled true post who should help relieve some scoring and defensive pressure from Caroline’s shoulders. Trey Porter, a highly sought-after 6'11" senior transfer from Old Dominion, will add tough rebounding and defense.
Tre’Shawn Thurman, a 6'7" forward who transferred from Omaha after averaging 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds two years ago, would be a likely starter on most MW teams. That depth could be the biggest difference maker for the Wolf Pack frontcourt, which will go from weakness to strength.
The biggest loss from 2018 is Kendall Stephens, who broke Jimmer Fredette’s conference 3-point record. While Nevada can’t quite replace the pure stroke of Stephens, its loaded backcourt can shoot, score and defend against virtually anybody.
Cody Martin, a 6'7" senior, will likely run the point as he did last year after Lindsey Drew went down with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Drew’s return will be an unknown up to the start of the season, but the Pack have another option with Jazz Johnson, a transfer from Portland who hit 40.2 percent of his 3-pointers in two seasons with the Pilots.
Another transfer, Nisre Zouzoua, averaged more than 20 points per game and made 92 3s as a sophomore at Bryant University in 2016-17. The combo guard can add points in bunches off the bench.
And if all of that isn’t enough, Nevada returns Caleb Martin, its leading scorer from last year and the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year.
Simply put, the Wolf Pack are loaded. Nevada fell in the Mountain West Tournament semifinals a year ago, but smart scheduling and a bolstered RPI led to a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This year’s schedule is stronger, including three games against Pac-12 schools. The team will also face a stronger conference slate this year, with New Mexico returning to form and San Diego State coming off an NCAA appearance. The challenges for Musselman go beyond managing expectations. The two-time NBA head coach will also have to manage minutes for a deep and talented roster, and his recent history has shown a preference for a short bench. But if the Pack can put it all together, there’s no limit on the potential of this team.
Postseason Prediction: Elite 8
Mountain West Prediction: 1st