Nevada Must Endure Conference Play With A Short Rotation
Star swingman Cody Martin is doubtful for Saturday’s showdown against Boise State (7:00pm PT, ESPNU)
Nevada will look to beat Boise State without one of its top players
For months – years even – I have applauded Nevada basketball for its conscious pursuit of the ever-growing transfer market. Third-year head coach Eric Musselman and his staff have helped usher in the “transfer era” of college basketball by building their team’s nucleus through transfers.
Undoubtedly, the additions of transfers Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Kendall Stephens, Jordan Caroline, Marcus Marshall and others have helped redirect the Wolf Pack from a lowly Mountain West newcomer to one of the country’s prominent mid-majors.
Nevada’s roster heading into November included just three scholarship players which started their careers in the Wolf Pack program: Lindsey Drew, Elijah Foster, and Josh Hall. The remaining scholarship players? All transfers. Former transfers have compiled 81.5 percent of the team’s points, 70.5 percent of the team’s rebounds, 62.9 percent of the team’s assists and 72.5 percent of the team’s minutes played this season.
Nevada is 17-3, undefeated in conference play, has appeared in the AP top 25 this season and also ranks in the top 20 in both KenPom and RPI. All of this indicates that Nevada is one of the nation’s strongest teams, which it is, but this past week’s roster announcements may cause the Wolf Pack staff to sleep with an eye cracked open.
Last Friday, Nevada opted to dismiss Darien Williams – a senior transfer from St. John’s – for failure to meet program standards. Williams appeared in 15 games, averaging 6.5 minutes per game. According to Sports Reference, Williams was the only player on the roster listed at 6’8″ or taller. Despite his minimal role, Williams provided a big body off the bench in one of the shorter frontcourts in college basketball.
The loss of Williams was succeeded by Thursday’s injury report. Star swingman Cody Martin is doubtful to play Saturday against Boise State (16-3, 6-1) due to an Achilles injury. Reno Gazette-Journal’s Chris Murray reported that Martin could also miss Nevada’s road trip to Wyoming next Wednesday. Martin is third on the team in scoring (13.3 PPG), second in rebounding (6.4 RPG), second in assists (3.8 APG), and first in both steals (1.6 SPG) and blocks (1.6 SPG) per game.
By mid-January, most programs around the country have dealt with at least one suspension, dismissal, transfer or extended injury. No team is immune to these detriments, but with a team that is structured like Nevada’s, each inactive player shrinks the team’s already short rotation.
On Saturday, Nevada hosts Boise State in Lawlor Events Center in a matchup that could have major implications on the NCAA Tournament. The winner will hold sole possession of the conference lead, and will be one step closer to the conference tournament’s No. 1 seed. Additionally, the victor will also pick up a much-needed quadrant one/two victory on its NCAA Tournament team sheet, which is paramount to at-large chances and tournament seeding.
The Wolf Pack will look to top Boise State with just seven scholarship players – Lindsey Drew, Kendall Stephens, Caleb Martin, Jordan Caroline, Josh Hall, Hallice Cooke and Elijah Foster – assuming Cody Martin is unable to play. The remaining scholarships are possessed by transfers forced to sit out the season due to NCAA transfer rules. Tre’Shawn Thurman, Corey Henson, Nisre Zouzoua and Jazz Johnson will have a major impact on the 2018-19 season, but have no choice but to cheer on their teammates on Saturday.
This is the main drawback of a heavily transfer-invested roster. Nevada ranked 350th in the nation last year in bench minutes percentage, according to KenPom. Approximately 18 percent of the team’s playing time last year was allotted to players that came off the bench. Nevada operated with a six-man rotation in its two most important games last season, a 79-71 win over Colorado State in the Mountain West title game and the NCAA Tournament round of 64 loss to Iowa State.
Fatigue has rarely, if ever, been an issue for Eric Musselman’s squad, despite the heavy doses of playing time. Regardless of position, Nevada players are able to compete for upwards of 35 minutes on any given night.
Due to Nevada’s positionless style (every active player is between 6’4″ and 6’7″), Musselman has the luxury of subbing in players of any stature while maintaining the integrity of the lineup.
For example, if Lindsey Drew, the textbook “point guard” of Nevada’s seven-man rotation, is fatigued and needs a breather, Musselman can insert Elijah Foster, the team’s “big man,” into the lineup. The rotation would still have a ball handler, swingmen, and forwards/bigs. The four Wolf Pack players remaining in the lineup would then slide “down” a position, allowing Foster to take over the big man slot and Caleb Martin assume point guard duties. Conversely, with a limited rotation of different individual sizes and skills, a couple early fouls on the team’s top guard or injury to the center would be catastrophic. Nevada is able to combat the issue with multi-dimensional players that can play inside and outside on offense and defend multiple positions.
Even so, Nevada’s situation isn’t an ideal one.
Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison ranks 12th nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes and is 114th in free throw rate. In his three-game stretch between January 6-13, Hutchison averaged 15.6 free throw attempts per game. He’s BSU’s top usage guy, which means his attacking style will result in at least a handful of whistles on Saturday. Early foul trouble could make things exceedingly challenging for Nevada as it hopes to hold onto its unblemished conference record.
Nevada is one of the nation’s premier teams because of its transfers, but also faces major obstacles for the same reason. The great transfer experiment turns to its toughest chapter Saturday night in Reno.