Following tough back-to-back road games, the Nevada Basketball team has over a week off to prepare for its last stretch of non conference games before heading into Mountain West play. It is safe to say that the meat of its out-of-conference schedule is done. There has been much ado made about the need for this basketball team to bulk up its schedule in the preseason to help boost its resume come Selection Sunday.
Thus, with the conclusion of its marquee games against Texas Tech and TCU, let’s take a look at what we’ve learned about this team thus far as it heads into Mountain West Conference play.
Ever since head coach Eric Musselman has stepped foot on campus, he has preached that he wanted his teams to play a fast-paced style of basketball. Prior to the beginning of the season, he believed that he had the personnel necessary to run the majority of his offensive and defensive schemes.
With the departure of three starters from the NCAA Tournament qualifying team in 2016 in Cameron Oliver, D.J. Fenner, and Marcus Marshall, there were some question marks as to who would step up to fill those shoes. Especially on the offensive end, that trio made up a majority of its scoring attack.
Cue Caleb and Cody Martin. The Martin Twins were touted to be the prototypical “position-less” player that Musselman has tried to model his team after. Not to mention that coming out of high school they were both highly ranked consensus four-star recruits, they have been key to giving the Wolf Pack its identity this season.
Caleb Martin, who started off the season with a turf toe injury, has taken on the primary ballhandler/first option scorer for this team that Marshall had last year. He leads the team in scoring at 19.7 points per game. Martin has made a living from beyond the arc, where 52.7 percent of his shots have come from. Through eight games, he has converted at a 49.2 percent clip. It will be interesting to see whether he can sustain this level of shooting throughout the season.
In Nevada’s loss against Texas Tech, it was evident that he had the same green light that Marshall had last year at points during the season. Musselman loves to get his players into isolation situations where they can exploit the defense. It is clear that he trusts Martin to the point where he took over 30 percent of the team’s shots that game.
Cody Martin has become the Wolf Pack’s designated defensive stopper. While he is the third leading scorer on this team, averaging 16.2 points per game, his greatest contributions have been on the defensive end, guarding the opposing team’s best player.
Without the presence of a real shot blocker unlike in years past where Cameron Oliver anchored the paint, Martin has helped stabilize the defense. Instead of traditional position-type players, the Wolf Pack essentially has the length and speed to switch every ball screen. In most cases, this is a strength because Martin has thrived in both defending perimeter and post players.
Through nine games, the Martin twins have been a pleasant surprise to Wolf Pack fans as the duo has played a large part in molding the identity of this iteration of Nevada Basketball.
Heading into the season, Jordan Caroline was the media’s pick for Mountain West Conference Player of the Year. He has played well in the non conference portion of the season. He trails Caleb Martin in points per game as he is averaging 17.4 a contest.
Despite the major contributions that the Martin twins have brought to the team, Caroline is still the heartbeat of this team. His effort on the boards and overall hustle cannot be overstated. When Caroline plays well, the team feeds off his energy.
In last year’s NCAA Tournament game against Iowa State, Caroline was the one who sparked the near-comeback against the Cyclones. On the biggest stage, he displayed that nobody can match his energy level. His 16 points and 10 free throw attempts helped keep the Wolf Pack afloat when the Cyclones seemed to try and break the game open.
In the game against Rhode Island, Caroline delivered one of the best performances in the season as he bulldozed his way to 28 points. More importantly, he affected the game most with his ability to shift the momentum at points where the Rams seemed to take control of the game. His game-high 17 free throw attempts were what won that high-profile matchup.
Caroline may still be adjusting to being the de facto small-ball “big man” with the departure of Cameron Oliver. However, he has to be able to anchor the post if Nevada is to match up against taller teams.
In Nevada’s sole loss against Texas Tech, Caroline only attempted nine shots and got to the line once. For Nevada to win its matchups against higher caliber opponents, it needs to rely on the play of its most important player. It may be nitpicking to what is otherwise a solid start to the season but Caroline should never shy away from asserting his role in key games.
One of the main storylines in the early portion of the season is the depth that this Wolf Pack team has. Kendall Stephens, Josh Hall, and Lindsey Drew are three contributors that have helped add to the scoring punch of the Martin Twins and Caroline. Stephens is averaging a hair under 10 points per game. Hall and Drew contribute 6.8 ppg and 5.9 ppg respectively.
When those three are locked in offensively, Nevada becomes one of the most dynamic teams in the nation. Nevada is a very unselfish team on offense. Musselman stresses the need to reach at least 200 passes every game.
However, beyond this trio, in its high-profile games, Musselman has stuck to his short rotation. Friday night’s matchup against TCU showed Musselman’s preference for the short rotation. In games where the Wolf Pack will be playing high quality opponents, this trio needs to make their contributions impactful.
Drew had a difficult time stopping the ball against TCU. He is a capable defender and prior to Cody Martin, was the one who was usually tasked to defend opposing teams’ best players. Part of this may be due to the fatigue from the grueling schedule thus far.
While Drew has always been a pass-first point guard during his time, he needs to be able to keep the defenses honest with his shooting and drives to the rim. At one point in the second half against TCU, Drew drove on the baseline and had a clear path to a reverse layup. However, he kicked it out to a teammate for a long-range shot. Drew has the skills to score. He just needs to continue to play aggressively on offense so that when teams respect his scoring, he can open up some lanes for others.
While the Wolf Pack lost both marquee games in their nonconference schedule, they have still shown that they are one of the top teams in the nation. While it would have been helpful to win one of these games to help its resume come Selection Sunday, Nevada still has a solid team that has shown that it can compete with high caliber teams.
As the team gets a week off for its final exams before its game against Radford, they should be rested before it jumps into conference play.
Opinions expressed in The Nevada Sagebrush are solely those of the author and do not necessarily express the views of the Sagebrush or its staff.