Can Nevada improve on the Defensive end of the court?
Just to prove that I am not the creative type I am going to steal an idea from ESPN, well not really steal, may be appropriate and expand upon their idea. This article by Myron Metcalf breaks down best and worst cases for the preseason top 25. Before breaking down what he got right and what he got wrong with his synopsis of Nevada I want to emphasize that I think it’s a great article. For the casual fan, it is great with a short synopsis of the top 25. In this year of high expectations and national hype, Nevada fans are not casual; they are intense as evidenced by having to cut off season ticket sales to ensure there would be single game tickets available.
Coach Eric Musselman has put all his chips in the middle of the table on this year’s team, or so it may seem. Musselman has assembled a squad that seems to have everything one would want in a team; skill, experience, and size, and then surrounded them with what may be the largest basketball staff in D1. He has even scheduled a Pro Day where his players can display their skills in front of NBA front office personnel showing his commitment to helping players make it to the next level.
Metcalf opines that the best case scenario for Nevada is a Final Four appearance. If we are talking about realistic expectations for Nevada a Final Four appearance seems appropriate given that most preseason polls have Nevada in or near the top 8 in the country. But the article is not about realistic expectations but based on realistic expectation what is the ceiling for each team as well as the cellar.
For Nevada fans, the ceiling would be Musselman leading the team off the plane at Reno-Tahoe International Airport on April 9th sans shirt with “National Champs” penned across his chest courtesy of his lovely wife Danyelle.
With the likely starting line-up of Caleb and Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline, Jordan Brown and Trey Porter Nevada will be able to match-up much better against bigger teams this year. There are few things more frustrating than watching another team get 2 or 3 shots at the basket because they are dominating the offensive glass. Nevada fans suffered through quite a bit of that frustration last year.
If that happens this season expects to see Musselman go to his bench quickly and often. Last year he showed little patience with Darien Williams and Elijah Foster when they failed to rebound well, replacing them with quicker players. While Porter and Brown are much more skilled offensively than Williams and Foster make no mistake about it, they will need to rebound and play strong defensively if they want minutes on a Musselman coached team.
This brings us to just what this season will look like if it’s a failure. Metcalf fairly points out that Nevada just was not a great team defensively last year. The knee-jerk reaction is to point to Brown and Porter and declare that it was a complete absence of rim protection last year at fault and that the problem is fixed. While this has the makings of a very good defensive team the jury is still out on Mussleman’s ability to field a top-notch defensive squad.
In three years at Nevada, the best a Musselman team has ranked nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency by Bart Torvik on his basketball analytics site barttorvik.com is 69th and that was his first year at Nevada. The last 2 years they have been ranked 95th and 105th and I should point out that 2 seasons ago Nevada had an excellent rim protector in Cam Oliver.
The NCAA tournament is fraught with pitfalls, heck even a 16 seed can dominate a 1 seed, just ask Virginia. Nevada could end up as a 2 seed and lose its first-round game, it is what makes the tournament so fun, its do or die, survive and advance. Anything short of a return to the sweet 16 should be considered a failure, a season of lost opportunity.
Prior to last season, Musselman was already talking about season four as being the season when everything comes together, a deeper bench with fewer scholarships sitting out their transfer year and building off prior success. Metcalf is correct if Nevada cannot significantly improve defensively the chances of making the Final Four are slim.