Eric Musselman had sympathy from a grand total of zero fellow Mountain West coaches at last month’s preseason media conference.
The biggest problem for Musselman and the No. 7 Nevada Wolf Pack — owners of the highest preseason Associated Press Top 25 ranking in what is now 20 seasons of Mountain West basketball — seems to be he might have too many talented players (12 are eligible to play) to keep happy with minutes.
“It is new for us,” said Musselman, who is known for preferring short six- or seven-man rotations throughout his career, which worked when he had so many players sitting out the past two seasons as Division I transfers.
“We’ve had four guys sitting out who were on scholarship (in recent years), but weren’t playing. … Our scout teams beat our regular guys every year. That won’t be the case this year. We talk about it every day. We have some freshmen that aren’t going to play.
“Now there’s all that noise that you’ve got to deal with that’s extra. We want to play nine. We feel like there’s nine deserving talent-wise to play, but there’s also probably going to be some nights when we only play six and three guys are really pissed off at me.”
At the top of the roster are three fifth-year seniors who are all 6-foot-7 and voted as preseason All-Mountain West selections — Jordan Caroline, Cody Martin and his twin brother Caleb Martin, who was also announced this week as the school’s first-ever preseason AP All-American.
Joining them are 6-11 graduate transfer Trey Porter and 6-10 McDonald’s All-American and five-star freshman recruit Jordan Brown, who are expected to be the starting five.
But then there’s the bench, where four transfers who each averaged double-digit points per game at their previous Division I program will now be sitting impatiently waiting their turn. They include Nizre Zouzoua (20.3 points per game in 2016-17 at Bryant), Jazz Johnson (15.8 points per game in 2016-17 at Portland), Corey Henson (14.6 points per game in 2016-17 at Wagner) and Tre’Shawn Thurman (13.8 points per game in 2016-17 at Omaha).
So when asked if he was surprised his team, a preseason national top-10 selection, wasn’t a unanimous No. 1 in last month’s preseason Mountain West poll (some anonymous media member had the Pack third with San Diego State getting the lone non-Nevada first place vote), Musselman quickly answered.
“Not really,” Musselman said. “We haven’t done anything.”
That’s not entirely true. Nevada, some might remember, won the MWC last season for the second consecutive season and advanced to the Sweet 16 where it narrowly lost to the even more unlikely Cinderella of the Big Dance, Loyola-Chicago (the two teams play each other this season on Dec. 1).
After being asked at the Oct. 16 media conference if his team could win a national championship, Musselman was quick to try to temper expectations, something that might prove to be his biggest challenge.
“I would say based on our Silver and Blue scrimmage the other day, we could easily finish in sixth place in the Mountain West we played so bad,” Musselman said. “It was an absolute disaster. We didn’t play hard. We turned the ball over. One of our walk-on freshman local kids almost led us in scoring.
“… We’ve got a lot of moving parts. A lot of new pieces that we’ve got to try and figure out how they’re going to fit.”
Nevada Wolf Pack
2017-18: 29-8 (15-3 Mountain West, 1st)
2018-19 preseason poll: 1st
Head coach: Eric Musselman (81-29, fourth season at Nevada and overall)
*Starters/letterwinners returning: 4/4
vs. UNM: Jan. 5 the Pit; Feb. 9 Reno, Nev.
*started at least 50 percent of 2017-18 games