Expectations are high for Nevada basketball as they open the season ranked seventh in the nation — the highest preseason ranking in school history — and have climbed to the sixth spot with the first two games in the season. With the return of the Martin twins and senior Jordan Caroline, a run at the NCAA Championship is a possibility. The upcoming season is highlighted with great matchups against Mountain West rivals, challengers from the PAC-12 and a trip to Chicago to rematch the Sweet Sixteen battle against Loyola.
Nevada @ Loyola Chicago, November 27
The first road game for the Pack comes when they travel to Illinois in a rematch against Loyola Chicago. The Ramblers eliminated the Wolf Pack from the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament in March. Loyola is still on a high after head coach Porter Moser led the team to the Final Four, and they have the depth to compete for a national championship once again.
Loyola’s top two offensive weapons Clayton Cluster and Marques Townes return from last season —. Cluster averaged 13.2 points per game, while Townes was averaging 11.1 ppg. The production of Cluster and Townes helped push the Ramblers to the third highest field-goal percentage in the nation. Fans should remember Cluster from his clutch shots in multiple games throughout the NCAA Tournament.
Center Cameron Krutwig will be tasked with guarding the paint for the Ramblers. The sophomore was the team leader in rebounds per game with 6.1 per game. He was also a presence at the basket, scoring 10.5 ppg — he led the team in field goal percentage with nearly 60 percent of his shots going in.
The Ramblers will finally be able to lean on New Mexico transfer Aher Uguak. The forward transferred to Loyola last season but had to sit out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. The forward showed flashes of success during his freshman campaign in New Mexico. Uguak played 7.4 minutes per game during his time with the Lobos and had a field goal proficiency of 35 percent.
Despite the great individual shooters on the team, the Ramblers only averaged 71.6 ppg. The slack left on offense is picked up by the defense though. The Ramblers’ defense was ranked sixth in the nation last year. If they want to make another run at the NCAA Tournament or repeat a win over Nevada, the defense will be the backbone to support this team.
Nevada @ USC, December 1
Just four days after traveling to Chicago, Nevada will pack up and head to Los Angeles to battle the USC Trojans. Lead by head coach Andy Enfield, USC will be looking to upset Nevada in this homestand and set up a run at the NCAA Tournament after missing last year, despite going 12-6 in conference play.
USC lost three key athletes over the offseason — forward Chimezie Metu, guard Jordan McLaughlin and guard Elijah Stewart — all of whom were averaging over 11 ppg.
The Trojans will be relying on a mix of upperclassmen and freshman to help fill the spots left by the departed seniors and junior Metu. One of these potential leaders could be senior forward Bennie Boatwright. Boatwright averaged 13.6 ppg last season — second on the team — before going down with a left patella injury against Oregon. He was also second on the team with 6.4 rebounds per game.
In USC’s first game freshman shooting guard Kevin Porter Jr. debuted against Robert Morris University in impressive fashion, finishing his night with 15 points and five rebounds — he only missed one FG during the game. If USC is to make a run at the NCAA Tournament, it may prove to be on the backs of Boatwright and Porter Jr.
Senior guard Shaqquan Aaron was elevated to a higher role in Enfield’s offense after the departure of McLaughlin and Stewart. In 2017, Aaron was averaging 15.9 minutes per game, he saw the court for 33 against RMU. He scored 20 points in USC’s first outing.
Rounding out the Trojans is junior shooting guard Jonah Matthews. Matthews averaged 9.3 ppg — leading the team with 42.3 percent from the three-point line.
If USC is looking to make to defeat Nevada, they will have to improve in two key categories — free throw percentage and scoring offense.
Southern California was ranked 211th in free throw percentage at the end of last season. The Trojans lost one of their top free throw shooters in Stewart, who had a 84.4 free throw percentage. USC still holds two of their top performers in Derryck Thornton — a 75 percent free throw shooter — and Jordan Usher, who led the team at 85.2 percent.
The Trojans will also need to improve over last year’s scoring offense, the team finished the season ranked 70th in the nation, averaging 77.7 points per game. In USC’s first match of the 2018 campaign, they scored 83 points against Robert Morris University.
Nevada @ New Mexico, January 5, 2019
With the New Mexico Lobos coming off of a strong season under second-year head coach Paul Weir, Nevada will have their hands full with a roster highlighted by transfer talent. New Mexico has six new players coming from other programs and only one returning starter from a year ago, Wier will be challenged to harmonize a roster of players who haven’t played many minutes together.
Returning forward/guard Dane Kuiper is the lone starter returning from last year’s roster. Averaging 6.4 ppg last season, Kuiper will be tasked with helping guide the young talent on the program. If New Mexico wants to compete in a competitive Mountain West Conference, they will need to build off of their strong offensive performance from a year ago — the Lobo offense ranked 22nd in the country, scoring 82 ppg.
Helping Kuiper lead this young team is guard Anthony Mathis. Mathis is coming off a strong junior campaign that saw him put up 12.7 ppg and lead the team in points. His impressive percentage from beyond the arc is the reason for his high point total. Mathis shot for 47.3 percent from the three-point line in 207 attempts. If Mathis continues to produce, he could grow into one of the most dangerous perimeter shooters in the NCAA and create a problem for the Wolf Pack come January.
Two of the six transfers to New Mexico are expected to make a very immediate impact on the Lobo roster, UCONN transfer Vance Jackson and Indian Hill Community College transfer Corey Manigault. The pair saw action early in UNM’s first game against Cal State Northridge. Jackson spent 23 minutes on the court, scoring seven points and recovering eight rebounds per game. Manigault saw the court a minute less than Jackson, but scored 16 points during his time.
Last season New Mexico struggled heavily to recover shots, with a rebound margin of minus 4.2 per game.
SDSU @ Nevada, March 9, 2019
Nevada closes out the regular season with a home game against the previous year’s MWC tournament winner, San Diego State University. After punching their ticket to the NCAA Tournament under first-year head coach Brian Dutcher, the Aztecs are looking to take the next step and get back to the tournament. This will be a challenge for SDSU who lost two key players during the offseason — including top scorer Malik Pope who averaged 12.8 ppg. Pope went on to play for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2018 summer league and is currently playing professional basketball in Greece.
Fortunately for the Aztecs, three starters are returning for another season. Senior guard Devin Watson was one of the top all-around players for the team last year averaging 12.2 ppg, one steal and 3.8 assists per game. He also was the top three-point shooter on the team.
Forward Jalen McDaniels was another standout for SDSU last year, recording 10.5 ppg and 7.5 rebounds per game in route to an impressive freshman season. McDaniels toyed with the idea of applying for the NBA draft during the offseason but ultimately decided to return for his second year at SDSU. According to ESPN, McDaniels is the ninth best player in the country at his position.
San Diego State will be relying on a heavy rotation of young talent, with five freshmen being brought in. These freshmen — in addition to the six returning players — will be tasked with improving an Aztec team that was ranked 79th in the nation last season in scoring offense.
Two of the freshman that were added to the Aztec roster are brothers, Nathan and Joel Mensah from Ghana. Each brother is both 6-foot-10-inches and play the forward position.
The brothers were used sparingly in SDSU’s first game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, only playing for a combined 17 minutes. Watson performed as the Aztecs had hoped, scoring 20 points in 38 minutes.
The Aztecs won the game 76-60, but some of their offensive troubles from last year have continued. San Diego State struggled to knock down shots, only scoring 43 percent of their field goal attempts.
UNLV @ Nevada February, 27, 2019
Nevada’s biggest rivalry is without a doubt UNLV. Nevada will play the Rebels two times in the upcoming season, once in January and once in February.
In Marvin Menzies’ second year as UNLV’s head basketball coach, he led the Rebels to a 20 win season. Despite the losses of key players such as Brandon McCoy, Jordan Johnson and Jovan Mooring, the Rebels core squad is still made up of players that have established relationships on the court.
UNLV had four shooters who averaged more than 10 points a game this past season. Three of those shooters have moved on from the program, but senior forward Shakur Juiston remains as the lone player from that group. Juiston was second on the team last year averaging 14.6 ppg and also averaged 10 rebounds per game.
Last season, the Rebels struggled at the three-point line ranking 327th in the country. The backcourt will be built around senior guard Kris Clyburn. Clyburn is the Rebels most dangerous shooter from beyond the arc as he finished last season with at 32.7 percent from the three-point line.
Akron transfer student Noah Robotham is expected to make an immediate impact for the Rebels. In his last season with the Zips, he averaged 8.9 ppg. Robotham likes to spread the ball to this teammates, recording 3.2 assists per game.
As well as improving on their three-point proficiency, UNLV will need to tighten up their ball control if they want to compete with other programs in the Mountain West. Las Vegas was near the bottom the barrel last year with a turnover margin of -2.7 turnovers per game.
Honorable Mention: Arizona State @ Nevada, December 7
After traveling for their previous two games, Nevada turns around heads right down to Los Angeles to play Arizona State at Staples Center. The Sun Devils are coming off their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014 under head coach Bobby Hurley.
ASU started last season 12-0 but fizzled out once conference play began. The Sun Devils relied heavily on the play of guards Tra Holder and Shannon Evans who led the team in points per game with both averaging more than 16 — both Evans and Holder graduated in spring.
ASU now looks to lean on returning sophomore forward Romello White who has the highest average ppg among returning players. White averaged 10.5 ppg and was second on the team with 62.5 percent shooting from field goal range.
Returning junior forward Mickey Mitchell will also be asked to quickly help the team. He saw limited action last year, only participating in 11 games. Mitchell was on the court for an average of 22.5 minutes during that span. In addition, Mitchell recorded 125 rebounds during that stretch — good enough to finish fourth on the team.
Arizona State is hoping their freshman class makes a quick turnaround from high school. Freshman shooting guard Luguentz Dort is expected to get minutes early. The four-star recruit was named a starter just before week one. He will be asked to help improve a Sun Devils team who possessed the 254th rebound margin in the NCAA at -1.4. In their first game of the season against Cal State Fullerton, ASU won 102-94. Dort led the Sun Devils with 28 points and also tied with two teammates in rebounds with nine.
Ryan Freeberg can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.