By Jack Rieger
After two meaningless tournament wins in Hawaii, I’m all in on Nevada basketball. If there were a way to buy stock in this team right now, I would refinance my parent’s house, sell my 2002 Toyota Camry, steal my roommate’s rent check and buy as much stock as humanly possible.
I realize they’ve played just two games against small schools in a tournament that will be probably be forgotten by the end of the season, but I’ve seen enough. Nevada basketball is no longer a bottom-dweller in the Mountain West Conference thanks to the human refresh button that is coach Eric Musselman, who has not only vastly improved the team, but has also implemented an exciting, fast-paced style of play that produces an entertaining product.
The quality of a collegiate team is all about coaching. College coaches are the CEO of their teams; they control recruiting, game planning, hiring of assistant coaches, rule-making, and of course the play on the court. Eric Musselman, a former NBA coach, is now the CEO of Nevada basketball and his influence on the team has been palpable.
Nevada scored 83 points in its game on Sunday against Montana State, which matches last year’s season high. It also shot 50 percent from the field, which bests its 2014 high of 48 percent. On Friday night, Nevada beat Coastal Carolina by 17 — a team that made the NCAA tournament in 2013 and 2014. Both wins also came on the road, where Nevada was 2-17 last season.
Coach Musselman spoke with Reno Gazette-Journal reporter Chris Murray on the phone after the Pack’s first win.
“After the Coastal Carolina game, I’ve never been in a locker room at any level where I saw so many happy faces and so much enthusiasm,” said Musselman. “Tonight, after the win, it was like they expected to win. There was no celebrating. They came into the building tonight expecting to win but respecting Montana State, and that’s a huge step in our development mentally as a group.”
Musselman stressed the importance of invoking confidence from his team before the season even started.
“We want them to start believing in themselves again because I think their confidence has been rocked off the last two years,” he said.
The pessimistic angle would be that Nevada won its first two games last year as well, then went on to lose nine straight. But that’s not happening with this team because it is too well-coached and too talented to be outplayed for weeks on end.
Nevada plays in an average Mountain West Conference, led by San Diego State, Boise State and New Mexico. Odds makers have given The Wolf Pack close to no chance of winning the Mountain West or making the NCAA tournament, which makes sense considering it’s gone 37-58 in the last three seasons and hasn’t made the tournament since 2007. But 2015’s team could care less about its recent history because it is led by a veteran coach who’s won at every level he’s coached.
Nevada will upset a lot of critics and teams this year, and come March, maybe even compete for a Mountain West championship.
Jack Rieger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JackRieger.