Expectations reach an all-time high at No. 7 Nevada
Nevada put together one of the best seasons in program history last year despite a shorthanded roster.
The Wolf Pack have nearly everyone back, including a preseason All-American, added key transfers and have a program-best No. 7 ranking in The Associated Press preseason poll.
With all that comes something rarely seen in Reno: Sky-high expectations.
The goals in the past had been conference titles, a trip to the NCAA Tournament. This season, there are predictions of an even deeper NCAA run, possibly a national title shot.
Part of what comes with expectations like that is tempering the hype and keeping the focus on the court, not what’s swirling around it.
“It’s new territory for us,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “We have to find a way to manage those expectations.”
Nevada made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 10 years in 2016-17, but lost in the first round. The Wolf Pack returned to the bracket last season and kept going, racking up wins as Musselman ripped off shirts with each victory until they reached the Sweet 16.
Nevada fell a basket short of reaching the Elite Eight, but matched the deepest NCAA run in program history and tied a school record with 29 wins.
The Wolf Pack are expected to be better this season with an influx of transfers and received a huge boost when Jordan Caroline and the Martin twins all decided to withdraw their names from the NBA draft.
Caleb Martin is a preseason All-American who averaged 18.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. Caroline added 17.7 points and 8.6 rebounds, while Cody Martin put up 14 points and 6.3 rebounds.
With its top three scorers and rebounders back from a team that reached the Sweet 16, no wonder Nevada is being picked to do great things.
“We just have to tune the hype out,” Caleb Martin said. “This is a new team and we really haven’t done anything yet.”
A few more things to look for from Nevada in 2018-19:
THE TRANSFERS: The Wolf Pack knew they would have four transfers in the rotation this season after Corey Henson, Jazz Johnson, Tre’Shawn Thurman and Nisre Zouzoua sat out last year. Nevada got a huge boost when it added Trey Porter, a 6-foot-11 graduate transfer from Old Dominion. Porter averaged 13.2 points and 6.2 rebounds on a team that won 25 games last season and should have an immediate impact on the Wolf Pack.
Henson, a 6-3 guard, averaged 14.6 points as a junior at Wagner in 2016-17. Johnson, a 5-10 guard, put up 15.8 points per game with Portland two seasons ago. The 6-7 Thurman averaged 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds in his final of three seasons at Omaha. The 6-3 Zouzoua averaged 20.3 points and 4.2 rebounds as a sophomore at Bryant in 2016-17.
Musselman will have plenty of scoring options with this team.
CAROLINE’S ROLE: Nevada didn’t have a lot of size the past few seasons, often playing a version of position-less basketball to make up for it. That often meant Caroline, at 6-7, had to play the middle against bigger players. With the addition of Porter and talented 6-11 freshman Jordan Brown, Caroline can play his more natural position. Athletic and strong at 230, Caroline is an adept shooter from the perimeter and can overpower smaller forwards in the post. Expect him to flourish even more this season.
BACKCOURT BALANCE: The one big loss Nevada had from last season is Kendall Stephens, who broke Jimmer Fredette’s Mountain West Conference 3-point record before graduating. The Wolf Pack also might want to limit point guard Lindsey Drew’s minutes as he returns from a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered last season. Even if Drew’s minutes are limited, the Wolf Pack have a loaded backcourt with the additions of Henson, Johnson and Zouzoua. The Martin twins also play like big guards at 6-7, so the backcourt will be a big strength on this team.