Eric Musselman has changed a lot for Nevada athletics. Athletic director Doug Knuth has recently made several excellent head coaching hires, but now that Musselman has shattered expectations so quickly, every new coach has equally high expectations.
For Amanda Levens and the women’s basketball program, these new expectations will be something to manage. Coming off an 11-win campaign, Levens will most likely not have a 20+ win season like Musselman’s first season.
That is not to discount Levens or the team in any way; Levens is an excellent coach and a great hire by Knuth. Turnarounds take time.
Musselman’s turnaround of the men’s team was incredible – taking a 9-win team to back-to-back 20-win seasons is not easy – but there were a number of variables involved that went Nevada’s way. Most notably Cam Oliver.
As soon as he committed to Nevada, it was obvious Oliver was going to be a good player and contribute as a freshman, but the conference freshman of the year and eventual defensive player of the year exceeded expectations.
The same could be said for Eric Musselman. As soon as the hire was announced, it was apparent he would improve the team, but he also exceeded expectations.
One of the biggest reasons why the women’s team cannot expect as quick a turnaround, however, is the disparity in the women’s basketball world.
In the Mountain West conference this year, there were four teams with more than 20 wins: Colorado State, Wyoming, UNLV and Boise State. Outside of those four, only two teams had winning records. The bottom four teams, Nevada, San Jose State, San Diego State and Air Force, combined to win 37 games. Those same four combined to win 20 conference games.
It’s an issue plaguing the national scene too. Powerhouses stack their rosters every year, and conferences become so top heavy it’s extremely difficult for smaller schools to rise up the ranks.
This is not to say the team will be eternally trapped in the bottom of the conference standings. I think with her head coaching and major program experience, Levens is more than qualified to turn around this program.
Although recent teams have struggled, Levens’ predecessor, Jane Albright, developed a solid foundation for Levens to build on. This foundation was not just on the court, but in the community. Albright developed a following and culture for the team going forward.
But none of this answers the big question: what should fans expect from Nevada next year?
First off, this is not going to be a lightning-fast turnaround. The Wolf Pack will likely not be winning the Mountain West in the next three years. With a short time to recruit for next year, it would be surprising if Levens reeled in any major commitments.
As good a coach as Levens is, next year will not be an easy year. Getting to or above .500 should be considered an unexpected success. Hovering around the 11-win mark is most likely.
There is one major test, however: How they compete. The fact of the matter is that this will not be a top team in the conference for at least three or four seasons. That’s known going in, so how do you rate the coach? You do it by attitude, by how the team looks on the court.
Good coaches get players to buy into rebuilds when they do not have to. Seniors do not care what happens in three or four years; they are going to be frustrated. Good coaches manage that.
For Levens, the measuring stick cannot be wins or losses at first, but level of competition. If they hang around in games they shouldn’t, give a scare to some of the teams that should run them out of the gym, and just look like they’re giving it all they’ve got, that reflects well on the coach.
While the wins might not come immediately, they will come eventually. The attitude and culture instilled now, when things are low, will be a key to the culture when things are good.
The Wolf Pack will be on track sooner than you think, you just have to look past the wins and losses for now. The attitude now is what builds championships in the future