If it’s possible, Nevada just finished off a 29-4 season that was nothing less than a massive disappointment.
And the way it ended is fitting, really.
It took 30 minutes and a 51-33 deficit for Nevada to finally show up against No. 10-seed Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and by the time they did, the deficit to overcome was too great and their ability to actually make the shots they take too little for it to matter.
They entered the season as a team many believed was a top five team nationally. They will be heading back to Reno on Thursday with a 70-61 loss and nothing more than the memory of what could have been.
Caleb Martin, who entered the season as Nevada’s all-american candidate, finished with 19 points but shot 5-for-22 from the floor to get there while turning the ball over six times. Jordan Caroline, who had played like Nevada’s all-american this season, was 2-for-11 from the floor with just seven points. Cody Martin came to play, but the rest of the roster mustered all of 10 shots from the floor.
Eric Musselman played a risky game all season long. He bet on the fact that his studs — both of the Martin twins and Caroline — were good enough to win their matchup by making enough of the tough shots they take to win. That was not the case on Thursday, and it’s worth noting that in Nevada’s four losses this season, Caleb Martin and Caroline combined to shoot 8-for-47 from the floor.
But that happens.
Living and dying with tough shots coming out of isolation is inherently risky. There are going to be some nights where the shots just don’t fall.
The bigger story, to me, is that Nevada never looked like they were fully engaged this season. It never felt like they had everyone on the roster pulling in the same direction. Musselman was coaching with one eye on his next job. The Martins and Caroline returned to school after declaring for the draft, and it’s fair to wonder just how badly they wanted to be back at Nevada. Jordan Brown is McDonald’s All-American freshman and the only thing he checked in the box score on Thursday was a foul. Transfers Corey Henson and Nisre Zouzoua were big time scorers at Wagner and Bryant, respectively, and they combined to average 18 minutes this season. Neither played in the NCAA tournament.
For a team that has 13 scholarship players that are probably good enough to play in someone’s rotation in the Mountain West, having a rotation reduced to roughly six guys by the end of the season is not easy.
And when you start off the season by running off two players that had committed to the program, it doesn’t exactly set a precedent of loyalty.
We talked about this back in October.
It’s the risk that Musselman ran by bringing in so many transfers and talented recruits.
Last year, it paid off in a Sweet 16.
This season, the result was that Nevada never felt more relevant than in the preseason poll.