When Steve Alford was hired as Nevada’s men’s basketball coach in 2019, he inherited a program that was firing on all cylinders. Nevada was coming off a three-year stretch that included an 86-20 record, three NCAA Tournament appearances and a run to the Sweet 16 in 2018.
Alford, a head coach with nearly 30 years of experience and 11 NCAA Tournament appearances, seemed the perfect fit to keep the machine buzzing after Eric Musselman left for Arkansas.
As it turned out, it took Alford longer than expected to get Nevada back on track. The Wolf Pack went 48-40 in his first three years and appeared out of the NCAA tournament, while a disastrous 13-18 season in 2021-22 led to the departure of key starters and contributors. Otherwise, year four was a season for Nevada to get back to its winning ways, going 22-11 overall, finishing fourth in the conference, and earning a championship bid for the first time in three years. Entering his fifth year in Reno, the 2023-24 squad is shaping up to be the best Alford team in Nevada and one built to make a postseason run.
Who’s in, who’s out
Nevada lost four players, including three key contributors, to the transfer portal: center Will Baker (LSU), forward Darrion Williams (Texas Tech), guard Trey Pettigrew (Bradley) and Michael Folarin ( N/A).
Nevada added five freshmen, two transfers and three freshmen, to the roster this offseason: forward Tylan Pope (Tulane), center Jeriah Coleman (St. Francis/Clarendon College), center Jazz Gardner, and guards Tyler Rolison and Amire Robinson.
Nevada was picked to finish fourth in conference play at Mountain West media day, behind San Diego State, Boise State and New Mexico. No Nevada players were named to the preseason all-conference team.
Guards, guards, guards
Nevada power appears to be lagging behind. Second Team All-Mountain West guards Kenan Blackshear and Jarod Lucas are both coming off big seasons for the Wolf Pack.
Blackshear was thrust into the starting role after starter Hunter McIntosh missed most of the year with an injury.
He filled the role well, averaging 14 points, 4.6 assists, four rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. His 6-foot-6, 215-pound frame coupled with his quickness and athleticism also made him a ball stopper on defense.
Lucas was Nevada’s leading shooter and leading scorer, averaging 17 points per game while shooting 38 percent from the 3-point line on 6.3 shots per game. The combination of Blackshear and Lucas gives Nevada one of the best frontcourts in the conference.
Behind them is McIntosh, who appeared in just six games last year. He was promoted to starting point guard before knee surgery forced him to miss most of the season. An Elon transfer, he averaged 13.3 points and 2.8 assists per game his senior year while shooting less than 38 percent from the 3-point line. Although he doesn’t look like a starter, his ability to shoot, pass the ball, and spread the floor gives Nevada plenty of options in the backcourt. If Alford wants to increase the speed, he can insert McIntosh and Blackshear and Lucas to run a three-guard line. If there are injuries or a lack of production, McIntosh provides quality depth.
Senior Daniel Foster averaged just 13.8 minutes per game last season, but his experience and 6-foot-6 frame give Nevada a nice piece of depth. Robinson and Rolison are two freshmen who, without accelerated development, are not expected to get significant playing time, but could see some rehab work early in the season. Rolison is a 175-pound power forward, while Robinson is a 6-foot-4, 195-pound combo guard with the build of a college-ready player.
Barring injuries, Nevada’s backfield will be very good this season.
Depth is strength
For returning guard depth, the depth of the team as a whole is very good. There doesn’t seem to be any obvious weakness in the two depth. The small forward has Tre Coleman and Tyler Powell, a pair of tall and muscular defenders who shoot between 35 and 38 percent from three-point range. Power forward is Pope, a three-year junior at Tulane who averaged 6.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last season, and Nick Davidson, a sophomore who played just under 20 minutes as a freshman. redshirt.
Center has KJ Hymes returning after missing most of last season with injury, along with newcomers Coleman and Gardner. Coleman played sparingly at St. Francis before transferring to Clarendon College, while Gardner is a top 150 freshman and holds offers from several Division One programs. Both Coleman and Gardner are both 7-foot and will add size and rim protection.
Barring injuries, depth gives Nevada plenty of options in terms of lineups. Nevada can play one big man and four shooters; can go with two large; a small ball system with three guards and two forwards; or even subtracting minutes to save the starters’ legs to extend the season’s home run. Despite a good season overall, the end of a four-game losing streak may be the result of too many minutes for the top guys. Four players averaged 30-plus minutes per game and one averaged 25.
A combination of injuries and a lack of a bench has forced Alford to ride his starters, but with depth this year, that may not be much of an issue.
Nevada ranked 121st out of 352 DI programs in 3 percent last season, averaging 35.10 percent. The Wolf Pack returns three players who averaged 35 percent from behind the arc on at least 60 attempts.
Add McIntosh, who shot over 35 percent in his three years at Elon, and that gives Nevada four 3-point shooters to work with.
One (potential) weakness
The middle ground is one to keep an eye on. Hymes, even when productive, is an injury risk, having missed nine games in 2021-22 and all but four of last season. Behind him are Coleman, a young college student, and Gardner, a talented but inexperienced student.
In the Wolf Pack’s ideal world, Hymes stays healthy and Coleman and Gardner slowly improve. If Hymes misses overtime, will Coleman and Gardner be able to step up? Both being 7 feet tall is a huge ceiling boost for Nevada, but it will be important to see how polished they are and whether they are ready for consistent minutes.
Nevada tips off the regular season against the Sacramento State Hornets. The game is scheduled for Tuesday at 7pm at the Lawlor Events Centre.
The Hornets finished sixth in the Big Sky last season with a record of 14-18 overall and 7-11 in conference play.