Nevada Basketball’s Five Biggest Games in 2019-20
The Five Biggest Games for Nevada Basketball in 2019-20
The Wolf Pack’s schedule is packed with storylines – and chances at quality wins.
Head coach Eric Musselman parlayed his success – 110 wins, three NCAA Tournament bids, three Mountain West regular season titles, and one MWC Tournament title in four seasons in Nevada – into a job at Arkansas. The core of the teams that won those games is also mostly gone. Caleb and Cody Martin are signed on to play for the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, while Jordan Caroline is now playing for the Lakers alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
But that doesn’t mean the train is doomed to go off the tracks.
Nevada brought in Steve Alford fresh off his firing from UCLA, giving him a second chance to make his mark on this league. Remember that Alford guided to New Mexico to at least 22 wins in each of his six seasons in Albuquerque, while snaring four Mountain West crowns and three NCAA Tournament bids. So basically, from 2007 to 2013, Alford ran a Lobos program that was very similar to Musselman’s Wolf Pack teams from the past four years, in terms of overall success.
With senior Jazz Johnson coming back as the most experienced player on the team, Nevada enters the season as something of a mystery. You can make the argument that their recent run of success grants them some manner of mercy with regard to how much they’ll regress after losing so much talent and veteran leadership. But those losses are quite significant in reality. You could be forgiven if you expect Alford to have a rocky first season in Reno before really getting to put his fingerprint on the program.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the five biggest games on Nevada’s schedule this season. These are listed in chronological order, not in order of importance. Because of the realities facing mid-major conferences and the NCAA Tournament, performing well in league games and getting a good draw in the conference tournament is vital. Therefore, I’ve included just one non-conference game in this Top 5. However, I’ll highlight a few of the other notable out-of-league matchups at the end.
12/21 Saint Mary’s (Al Attles Classic in San Francisco, CA)
The old BracketBusters matchups may be a thing of the past, but this late December tie feels like it would have been a perfect marquee game for the series. This is exactly the type of matchup that the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee will highlight when they are poring over the résumés of teams like the Wolf Pack and the Gaels. So, while this game isn’t necessarily a must-win, this neutral site matchup should be a Quadrant 1 or 2 game in the NCAA’s NET rankings for Nevada. Snagging a Q2 win before Christmas would be a tremendous feather in the cap come March. It’s also worth considering that beating a team like St. Mary’s would also deal a blow to a (likely) direct competitor in the race for an at-large bid. But with Moraga just a 45-minute drive from San Francisco, expect some full-throated support for the Gaels in this one.
1/11 Utah State (Logan, UT)
Perhaps you’d already forgotten about the fracas following the Aggies’ 81-76 win over the Wolf Pack in Logan last March – though if you’re a fan of either one of these teams, I surely doubt it. These teams certainly haven’t forgotten, either. And while Nevada is certainly a different team from who they were a year ago, you have to believe this game is circled on the calendar. Even without all that added drama, this game also likely represents the best possible win in the Mountain West in 2020, as the Utah State is widely considered the front-runners to win the league. However, one storyline to keep an eye on is the health of Aggies big man Neemias Queta. The Portuguese sophomore suffered a knee injury during FIBA play last month, but avoided any ligament tears. Still, if he has to miss significant time, that could cause a massive power vacuum in the Mountain West. Regardless, a win here could likely be the most important W on the schedule for Nevada. With no return game in Reno this season, this is the only chance to beat Utah State.