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No. 6 Nevada: Will the Wolf Pack be able to prove how good they are this season?

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Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25.

Today we dive into No. 6 Nevada.


No one was a bigger winner at the NBA Draft early entry deadline than Nevada.

The Wolf Pack not only brought back both Caleb and Cody Martin, both of whom looked like they were as good as gone, but Jordan Caroline returned to school for his final year of eligibility while Jordan Brown, a 6-foot-11 McDonald’s All-American, announced that he will be playing his college ball for Eric Musselman.

The odds of all of those things happening were so low that the Wolf Pack had already promised their scholarships to other players. Ehab Amin, a transfer from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, never even made it to campus, while Josh Hall, who hit the shot that sent the Wolf Pack to the Sweet 16 last season, was forced out, transferring to Missouri State.

Tough break.

But that is decidedly good news for Nevada fans, as they will have a chance to watch and root for the best the Mountain West has had to offer since Jimmer and Kawhi were running roughshod over the league seven seasons ago.

The real question for this group is not whether or not they are good enough to deserve a top ten ranking.

They are.

They have nine players on their roster that have spent at least three seasons playing college basketball, and the only one of those nine that did not averaged more than 13.2 points the last year they played is Lindsey Drew; he averaged “only” 8.3 points, 4.7 assists and 4.4 boards as Nevada’s starting point guard last season before rupturing his achilles.

That also doesn’t include Brown, a top 15 prospect nationally.

The question is less about whether or not there is enough talent on the roster and more if there are enough minutes available to keep all this talent happy with their role.

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NEVADA WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

There is just such a ridiculous amount of talent on this roster.

We need to start with the Martin twins. Caleb is the star. Last season he averaged 18.9 points, 5.4 boards and 2.6 assists while shooting 40.3 percent from three in a year where he spent much of the second half of the season battling a foot injury that was initially thought to require surgery. He is one of the nation’s best shot-makers, even if the shots that he makes tend to be a higher degree of difficulty that would be ideal. His twin brother, Cody, is the more versatile of the two. He averaged 14 points last year, but he also posted 6.0 boards, 4.7 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.5 blocks per night. With Lindsey Drew — the youngest son of former Atlanta Hawks head coach Larry Drew — still working his way back from a ruptured achilles, Cody will likely take on the starting point guard role.

It sounds weird to say this, but Jordan Caroline took a little bit of a backseat to the Martin twins last season even though he himself managed to up his scoring numbers to 17.7 points per game. He’s a threat to go for 25 every time he steps on the floor; as a sophomore, he once put up 45 points and 13 boards in a win at Mexico.

All three of Nevada’s big names are transfers, which should tell you how this roster is made up. They’re far from alone, too: Trey Porter is a grad transfer from Old Dominion that averaged 13.2 points and 6.2 boards last season. Corey Henson, another grad transfer, averaged 14.6 points at Wagner last season. Nisre Zouzoua sat out last season at Nevada after averaging 20.2 points at Bryant in 2016-17. Jazz Johnson (15.8 ppg at Portland) and Tre’Shawn Thurman (13.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg at Omaha) sat with him.

Nevada was one of the nation’s most dangerous teams offensively last season. They had three guys that could put 25 on you on any night, and that certainly isn’t going to change. How many teams in the country can bring four — potentially five, depending on if Drew can get back into the starting lineup — players off the bench that have averaged at least 13.8 points at the Division I level?

(The answer is not a single one.)

The other part of it is that these guys, they’re all old.

Nevada is going to start four guys that are redshirt seniors playing their fifth season at the college level. They’ll bring two more redshirt seniors off of their bench, as well as a trio of players that are simply on their fourth season in college; one true senior and a pair of redshirt juniors.

And I still haven’t mentioned the starting center for this group, Jordan Brown.

He is an athletic, 6-foot-11 high-flyer that will provide a dynamic to this team that no one else can provide — vertical-spacing, rim protection, work on the offensive glass.

RELATED: Expert Picks | CBT Podcast | Best non-conference games
Caleb Martin (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

BUT NEVADA IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

There might actually be too much talent on this roster.

I know how silly that sounds, but there are legitimately 10 guys on this team that deserve to play major minutes and will expect to get shots during those minutes.

But where are those minutes going to come from?

Cody Martin averaged 35.6 minutes last season. His brother averaged 33.3, but that number was higher before he was injured. Caroline played 34.8 minutes last season. Those are the three-best players on the roster, and I would be shocked to see them each average under 30 minutes a night this year.

There are 200 minutes available to be played during a college basketball game, and those three account for roughly 90 of them. Nevada’s other two starters averaged roughly 28 minutes last season. Let’s call that 25 this year, meaning that Nevada’s starters will be responsible for 140 of the available 200 minutes. The five guys on the bench would be left with about 12 minutes each.

And that’s before we even broach the subject of who would be getting shots and when.

This is not a unique phenomenon in college hoops. Every coach has to deal with it from time to time, and I’m not sure there is anyone in the country that is better at getting his players to buy into a role than John Calipari at Kentucky. The year he won the national title, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were the fourth and fifth options offensively. In 2015, the year they went 38-1 and made the Final Four, everyone played roughly 20 minutes a night. Karl-Anthony Towns averaged just 10.3 points.

The point isn’t to compare this Nevada team to that Kentucky team.

My point is that Musselman is going to have his work cut out for him getting the players on his roster, many of whom were brought into the program with the expectation of playing the minutes the Martin twins are going to be playing, to buy into their role and the team.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

THE X-FACTOR

The Wolf Pack, last season, were not a very good defensive team. They finished the year ranked outside the top 100 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, which was evidenced by the struggles they had stopping two anemic offenses in Texas and Cincinnati in the first two rounds of the tournament.

There were a couple of reasons for those defensive struggles:

  1. Nevada did not force a lot of turnovers.
  2. The Wolf Pack finished outside the top 200 in defensive rebounding percentage.
  3. Opponents shot better than 50 percent from two-point range.

In theory, this year’s team should be better on the glass and defending in the paint. Whereas there really wasn’t much size on the roster last year — for the most part, Musselman rolled out small-ball lineups with four or five guys all right around 6-foot-7 — this season Nevada will likely begin the year starting 6-foot-10 Trey Porter and 6-foot-11 Jordan Brown.

But that’s not guarantee. It ignores the benefits that come with putting a team on the floor where everyone is switchable defensively, not to mention limitations offensively that will come with having two big men playing together.

Either way, I think it will be Nevada’s ability on that end that will determine whether we are talking about a team with real national title potential or a highly-ranked team from the Mountain West that will sputter out early in March.

2018-19 OUTLOOK

The Wolf Pack are really, really good.

They are the class of their conference, and I would be shocked if they fell out of the top 25 at any point this season.

Part of that is because of how talented the are, but there is also a bit of an issue with their schedule. It’s not bad, per se, but there is a very real chance that the best team they play before the start of the NCAA tournament will be this Sunday’s exhibition with Washington, a contender for the Pac-12 title.

Nevada has road trips to Loyola-Chicago, USC and Utah. They play Arizona State on a neutral, and they host BYU and South Dakota State.

We’ve seen worse, that’s for sure, but with the Mountain West failing to provide them with a fellow top 25 team, I think we’re going to head into Selection Sunday talking about how we have yet to see Nevada prove they deserve the seed that they get.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

No. 7 Tennessee
No. 8 Virginia
No. 9 North Carolina
No. 10 Auburn
No. 11 Kansas State
No. 12 Virginia Tech
No. 13 Michigan State
No. 14 Florida State
No. 15 TCU
No. 16 UCLA
No. 17 West Virginia
No. 18 Oregon
No. 19 Syracuse
No. 20 LSU
No. 21 Mississippi State
No. 22 Clemson
No. 23 Michigan
No. 24 N.C. State
No. 25 Marquette

Duke leapfrogs Kansas for No. 1 in latest AP Top 25 poll

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NEW YORK (AP) — Duke has supplanted Kansas atop the new AP Top 25 poll after its dominating win against Kentucky, giving the Blue Devils a record number of appearances at No. 1.

The Blue Devils jumped from fourth to first in Monday’s first regular-season poll. That allowed Duke to set a record with its 135th week at No. 1, breaking a tie with UCLA for most all-time.

Duke claimed 48 of 65 first-place votes after beating then-No. 2 Kentucky by 34 points in their opener.

It was impressive enough to bump the preseason No. 1 Jayhawks, who fell to No. 2 despite a quality win of their own against then-No. 10 Michigan State.

Here is the full AP Poll:

1. Duke (48 first-place votes)
2. Kansas (14)
3. Gonzaga
4. Virginia (2)
5. Tennessee (1)
6. Nevada
7. North Carolina
8. Villanova
9. Auburn
10. Kentucky
11. Michigan State
12. Kansas State
13. Oregon
14. Florida State
15. Syracuse
16. Virginia Tech
17. Mississippi State
18. Michigan
19. Clemson
20. UCLA
21. TCU
22. LSU
23. Purdue
24. Marquette
25. Buffalo

Monday Overreactions: Auburn’s awesome, Duke’s better and Weekly Awards

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: C.J. Massinburg, Buffalo

I’m sure that, at some point this season, we are going to see an individual performance better than the one that C.J. Massinburg posted late on Friday night in Morgantown, W.V., but it’s not going to be easy to do. In a 99-94 overtime win over then-No. 13 West Virginia, Massinburg put up a career-high 43 points to go along with 14 boards and three assists all while shooting 9-for-15 from three.

But the box score itself doesn’t really do his performance justice. He had nine points in an 11-3 run in the final three minutes of regulation that capped off a flurry late in the second half as Buffalo erased a double-digit lead. He hit a three with 14 seconds left that forced the extra frame. He scored nine of Buffalo’s 15 points in overtime.

It was incredible, and it came on the road against a tournament team that plays one of the most aggressive brands of basketball in the country. This is the kind of win that will help get Buffalo on the right side of the bubble should disaster strike during their conference tournament.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Duke Blue Devils

The irony is almost too much to bear.

After repeatedly getting burned by overhyping the one-and-done bluebloods and overstating the impact that one recruiting class, regardless of how good it is, can have on a basketball, the one time that the discussions surrounding a loaded freshman class is somewhat muted, that class ends up looking like it will be as dominant as any that we have ever seen.

Duke brought in three of the nation’s top five freshmen and may have the top three picks in the 2019 NBA Draft on their roster, and it sure did look like it in Tuesday’s season-opener, as the Blue Devils absolutely man-handled Kentucky, beating the then-No. 2 Blue Devils, 118-84.

The win was so dominating and so overwhelming that Duke is going to unseat Kansas from the No. 1 spot in the polls despite the fact that Kentucky is 1-0 with a win over a top 15 team. That’s impressive.

C.J. Massinburg (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

MONDAY’S OVERREACTIONS

DUKE IS GOING TO GO UNDEFEATED

How do you stop Duke’s Big Three?

That is the question that is going to force opposing coaching staffs to lose sleep for the next five months, and I’m not sure there actually is an answer. If we’ve learned anything from the first two games that Duke has played, it is that it is going to take a herculean effort to slow down either R.J. Barrett (28.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.0 apg) or Zion Williamson (27.5 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 3.5 bpg, 3.0 apg). Given their size and their athleticism, there are few teams at the college level that will have one — let alone — two elite wing defenders to put on them.

And then there is Cam Reddish (23.5 ppg, 3.0 apg, 10-for-21 from three). He’s another big, athletic wing and a potential top three pick in the 2019 draft, and he’ll be checked night-in and night-out by what can only be described as the worst wing defender opposing teams have on the floor.

Let me put this another way: Duke has three players on their roster that college teams are not going to be able to defend. That’s a good problem for Coach K to have.

Normally these overreactions are meant to be somewhere between semi-serious, moderately-outlandish and a good old fashioned hot-take, but I’m not kidding in the least when I ask this question: Can Duke be beaten?

AUBURN IS THE BEST TEAM IN THE SEC

Entering the season, I thought that Kentucky would be the best team in the SEC this season as most did. I also thought that Tennessee, given what they brought back from the reigning SEC title team, would end up being the second-best team in the league. I thought Auburn would end up being third, partially by default but mostly because I didn’t think that their success last season would be as replicable as Tennessee’s.

It is still early, but boy, does that look like a dumb take.

Auburn smoked South Alabama in their opener before putting a 22-point win on Washington in their second game of the season. Jared Harper looks terrific, Bryce Brown’s shooting shoulder seems to be healthy and the addition of Samir Doughty is already paying dividends.

Chuma Okeke (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

But the real difference in this group is the return of Anfernee McLemore and the emergence of Chuma Okeke. That’s Auburn’s starting frontcourt. Both are athletic, 6-foot-8 forwards with legitimate three-point range. Okeke has five blocks through two games. McLemore led the nation in block percentage last season, and looking back, it’s not hard to figure out that the reason Auburn trailed off towards the end of last season was the loss of McLemore.

Auburn’s system works when they have a switchable, floor-spacing, rim-protecting big.

And Bruce Pearl now has two.

Can we please get Duke-Auburn in the Maui Invitational?

PRESS VIRGINIA WILL NEVER BE THE SAME WITHOUT JEVON CARTER

We talk about unicorns in college basketball all the time, and while there is nothing about Carter’s physical tools that make him unique in college basketball, there is no questioning just how good he was as a defensive presence last year. He could single-handily take a player out of a game, and on Friday night, West Virginia desperately needed someone to do that to C.J. Massinburg.

They didn’t have that player.

And while Beetle Bolden, Brandon Knapper, Chase Harler and Jordan McCabe are all fine players that will win games for the Mountaineers, the fact that they cannot put anyone on Jevon Island this season is going to hurt.

Ashton Hagans (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

KENTUCKY HAS THREE FIVE-STAR POINT GUARDS AND A MAJOR POINT GUARD PROBLEM

There are all kinds of issues currently plaguing this Kentucky program, but I don’t think any of them are as big as the point guard conundrum that John Calipari is currently facing. There are three point guards on their roster that were five-star prospects in high school, and none of them are good enough to take over that point guard role.

Ashton Hagans is a complete mess at this point. It’s still early in the year and Hagans is a guy that reclassified to enroll early, so it’s being too harsh on him probably isn’t fair, but suffice to say that he cannot play major minutes in close games at this point. Immanuel Quickly is probably the best scorer of their trio of ball-handlers, but he has just one assist in 50 minutes thus far this season and did not make a shot from the field against Duke. Quade Green is the guy with the experience, but truth-be-told, he’s better playing off the ball as a secondary ball-handler due to some of his physical limitations.

Rationing minutes between Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson is going to become an issue — especially if Herro keeps making it clear Johnson should be on the floor — as will P.J. Washington’s disastrous start to the season — is Kentucky’s best front-line really Nick Richards and E.J. Montgomery?

But none of those things will matter if Calipari doesn’t fix what’s ailing his point guards.

THE ATLANTIC 10 AND AMERICAN WILL END UP ONE-BID LEAGUES

The start to this season as been absolutely disastrous for the Atlantic 10.

George Mason got first-place votes in the A-10 preseason poll. They’re 0-2 with home losses to American and Penn. George Washington is 0-3 with home losses to Stony Brook (after leading 22-0) and Siena. Michigan is next.  La Salle started 0-2 with a loss at home to Lafayette. Richmond lost at home to Longwood, St. Bonaventure lost at home to Bucknell and Fordham lost at home to Houston Baptist.

Things haven’t been much better in the American. League-favorite UCF lost at home to Florida Atlantic. SMU lost at home to Southern Miss. Wichita State did look impressive in a neutral site game against Providence, but they had to win that after losing their opener at home to Louisiana Tech. Cincinnati got dropped by Ohio State at home. East Carolina lost to James Madison. Tulane took a home loss as well, but at least that came to No. 17 Florida State, who absolutely pounded Florida in their opener.

Non-league performance is critical for conferences like this. The dreck at the bottom of the leagues already hurts the computer numbers for everyone in the conference, and taking this many ugly losses early in the year only gives those computer numbers a lower floor.

I’m not sure anyone will be that shocked if the Atlantic 10 ends up only sending their automatic bid winner to the NCAA tournament.

But it will be quite the wake-up call for the AAC if they do the same.

NBC Sports Top 25: Duke is No. 1, Kentucky to 18

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With all the hand-wringing and excitement about the return of college basketball this week, you might be surprised to learn that just three teams ranked in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25 lost.

Two of those losses came in the Champions Classic, as Kentucky and Michigan State fell to the top two teams in this week’s NBC Sports Top 25, Duke and Kansas, respectively. The third? Then-No. 17 West Virginia losing at home to now-No. 25 Buffalo on Friday night.

I say all that to say this: There really isn’t all that much to change about the Top 25 this week. There are really only three questions that need to be answered, so I’ll walk you through my thought process for each one:

  1. Can Kansas fall out of the top spot with a win over a top 15 team?: Hell yes they can. The Jayhawks were the No. 1 team in the country in the preseason based on projections and feelings we had about how good they might end up being. Now we have actual, actionable results to evaluate, and there really should be all that much of a discussion. I’m not even sure there are Kansas fans will sit here and say that, after watching Duke beat Kentucky by 34 points, they believe the Jayhawks are better than the Blue Devils.
  2. How far should Kentucky fall?: I dropped the Wildcats to 18th. I’ve seen other top 25s that have Kentucky at the back-end of the top ten. I don’t think that’s crazy, but I also think that we have much more to worry about with this Wildcat team that those folks realize. Kentucky still has top ten potential, but for my money they are much further from reaching their ceiling than anyone realized. I ended up with them 18th because I couldn’t justify dropping them below LSU or Mississippi State.
  3. What do we do with West Virginia and Buffalo?: I was already lower on West Virginia entering the season than the public, so dropping them out of the top 25 with a loss at home against Buffalo was pretty easy for me to do. I know that loss came as a result of a once-in-a-career blow-up game from C.J. Massinburg and that the Mountaineers didn’t have Beetle Bolden down the stretch as he dealt with cramping issues, but it seemed pretty evident that Press Virginia has some kinks to work out. Buffalo, on the other hand, entered the season as one of the best mid-majors in the country after smoking Arizona in the first round of the 2018 NCAA tournament. They lived up to that billing, so why not reward them?

Anyway, here is the entire NBC Sports Top 25:

1. Duke (2-0, Last week: 4)
2. Kansas (1-0, 1)
3. Gonzaga (2-0, 3)
4. Villanova (2-0, 5)
5. Nevada (2-0, 6)
6. Tennessee (2-0, 7)
7. Virginia (2-0, 8)
8. North Carolina (2-0, 9)
9. Auburn (2-0, 10)
10. Kansas State (1-0, 11)
11. Virginia Tech (1-0, 12)
12. Florida State (2-0, 14)
13. Michigan State (1-1, 13)
14. TCU (2-0, 15)
15. UCLA (2-0, 16)
16. Oregon (2-0, 18)
17. Syracuse (2-0, 19)
18. Kentucky (1-1, 2)
19. LSU (2-0, 20)
20. Mississippi State (2-0, 21)
21. Clemson (2-0, 22)
22. Michigan (2-0, 23)
23. N.C. State (2-0, 24)
24. Marquette (2-0, 25)
25. Buffalo (2-0, NA)

New Additions: 25. Buffalo
Dropped Out: 17. West Virginia

Washington evacuates team bus after it catches fire following loss to Auburn

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Washington’s bad road trip to Alabama got worse on Friday night when the team had to evacuate their bus.

Following an 88-66 road loss at Auburn earlier in the night, the Huskies boarded the team bus to take a charter flight home to Seattle. That’s when the team bus blew a tire about 15 miles outside of the airport in Montgomery.

The bus caught fire and the team had to evacuate. A Washington spokesperson told Percy Allen of the Seattle Times that no one was injured. Senior big man Noah Dickerson documented the experience on Twitter. The team had to wait for a second bus to arrive at 1:30 a.m. to get them to the airport to end a long night.

Thankfully, everybody seems to be okay after this incident. Washington doesn’t play again until hosting San Diego on Monday night, as they will hopefully have time to rest after a long night of travel.

Duke lands four-star 2019 guard Boogie Ellis

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Duke picked up a commitment late Friday night as Class of 2019 four-star shooting guard Boogie Ellis pledged to the Blue Devils.

Although the San Diego native is not the typical five-star recruit commonly associated with Duke recruiting over the last several seasons, he is a valuable addition to the Blue Devil Class of 2019 recruiting haul. The 6-foot-2 Ellis became a national recruit this summer heading into fall thanks to his shot-making ability and knack for making clutch plays. Regarded as the No. 41 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2019 national rankings, Ellis should fit in well in Duke’s backcourt next season.

If point guard Tre Jones stays for his sophomore season, then he’ll have a quality complementary shooter in Ellis beside him and five-star wing Wendell Moore could also fit in at the three. Ellis averaged 17.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game in the Nike EYBL playing with the Oakland Soldiers this spring and summer. Perhaps most importantly, Ellis shot 46 percent from three-point range, meaning Duke’s floor-spacing will be greatly benefitted by his arrival.

Duke recruiting hasn’t been as dominant in this class as it has in the past few years. But that could quickly change in the coming weeks as the Blue Devils remain heavily involved with a number of top-ten prospects and five-star recruits.