Murray's Mailbag: Better Nevada basketball team -- 2004 or 2019?

Cody Martin
How would{ }Cody Martin and the 2018-19 Wolf Pack stack up against the 2003-04 Wolf Pack? (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

Saturday was a good day for the Wolf Pack. Nevada basketball routed the Pac-12's Utah on the road and Wolf Pack football outlasted Arkansas State in the Arizona Bowl in overtime, marking the first time both programs won a game on the same day since November 2012 (see below). Nevada women's basketball team also beat Hawaii in overtime later that day. It will go down as one of the more victorious days in Wolf Pack history. Now, let's get to your Monday Mailbag questions. Thanks, as always, for your inquiries.

After last year's Sweet 16 run, I compared the 2004 and 2018 Nevada basketball teams and ultimately came down in favor of 2004. It's premature to judge the 2004 team versus this year's 2019 team given the season is just one-third of the way over, but I'm leaning toward the 2019 team. Both KenPom and Basketball Reference favor the 2019 team over the 2004 team. It's worth noting the 2004 team did lose nine games, including to 11-19 Portland and 12-18 SMU (the other losses were against 20-win squads). There's no way this year's team loses nine games. It might not lose more than two or three, so this year's team will have the better overall résumé as long as it at least reaches the Sweet 16.

If you break down the teams, it's a great matchup. The teams played basically the exact number of possessions per game, so you can cross compare stats. 2019 Nevada is averaging 6.9 more points per game than 2004 while allow just 1.1 more points per game, so it's scoring margin is 5.8 points better than 2004 (albeit against a softer schedule). The teams break down like this.

PG: Todd Okeson ..... Cody Martin (I'll take 2019)

SG: Garry Hill-Thomas ..... Caleb Martin (I'll take 2019)

SF: Kirk Snyder ..... Jordan Caroline (push)

PF: Kevinn Pinkney ..... Tre'Shawn Thurman (I'll take 2004)

C: Nick Fazekas ..... Trey Porter (I'll take 2004)

Bench: Jermaine Washington, Marcelus Kemp, Kyle Shiloh, Sean Paul ..... Jazz Johnson, Jordan Brown, Corey Henson, Nisre Zouzoua (I'll take 2019)

Coaches: Trent Johnson, Mark Fox, David Carter, Josh Newman ...... Eric Musselman, Anthony Ruta, Gus Argenal, Brandon Dunson (I'll take 2019)

It's important to understand Fazekas, Kemp and Shiloh were freshmen still figuring things out rather than the caliber of players we saw from them when they were upperclassmen. It's also worth noting Brown (4.3 ppg, 53.7 FG%), a McDonald's All-American, is getting six fewer minutes per game on this 2019 than Sean Paul (3.4 ppg, 38.8 FG%) got on that 2004 team. Shows the talent difference between the rosters.

The 2004 team probably has the best player between the teams (Snyder), but the 2019 squad is the better overall shooting team, 3-point shooting team, gets to the free throw line more often, holds the opposition to a lower mark from the field and has a better assist-to-turnover rate. I also think it has better coaching, although both have great staffs. The 2004 team was better at rebounding and defending the three. That's about it. It did play great ball at the end of the season and also beat two top-10 teams (Kansas and Gonzaga). Nevada hasn't done that yet, but it should still get that chance. I'll take 2019 to beat 2004 in 60 percent of their matchups, but 2019 still has a lot more to prove. Until then, 2004 is the standard for Nevada basketball.

That whole thing is very weird. Based on play alone, Edgar Jones, the Wolf Pack's first true star, deserves a retired number. But so do some others, and their numbers aren't up there. The one obvious omission is Nick Fazekas, the team's all-time leading scorer. Fazekas, however, has not graduated, which is why the Wolf Pack has not retired his number.

But catch this: Jones also didn't graduate from Nevada. And, the kicker: An investigation into Jones' high-school transcripts got the entire athletic department put on one-year probation. ESPN shouting mouth Dick Vitale, then the coach at Detroit, has been fingered for alerting the NCAA to the potential violations, something Vitale has denied. So, to recap: Jones didn't graduate and got the school put on probation (one of only two times in school history that has happened) and had his number retired. Fazekas didn't graduate but also didn't get the school put on probation (he got it to the NCAA Tournament four straight seasons) and doesn't have his number retired. **Insert shrug emotion**

Others who could be considered for a retired jersey include: Marcelus Kemp, Ramon Sessions, JaVale McGee, Luke Babbitt, Johnny High, Deonte Burton. But it starts with Fazekas.

1) Nevada has played zero top-50 NET teams and two top-100 NET teams. The other AP top-10 teams have played: Duke (five and six, respectively), Michigan (four and five), Kansas (four and seven), Tennessee (three and five), Virginia (three and four), Gonzaga (five and eight), Michigan State (five and seven), Florida State (four and five), Virginia Tech (one and four).

So, on average (minus Nevada), AP top-10 teams have played 3.8 top-50 NET teams and 5.7 top-100 NET teams. Nevada is at zero and two. Six top-10 teams have played at least four top-50 teams. Nevada zero. Only Nevada and Virginia Tech haven't played at least three top-50 NET teams. Nevada has half as many top-100 NET opponents (two) as the second-lowest AP top 10 team (four). This is all to say it's fair for people to point out Nevada's schedule is not the same as every other team in the top 10.

Nevada's résumé is much more closely aligned with that of Houston, which is unbeaten and has played two top-50 NET teams and three top-100 NET teams (again, Nevada is zero and two). Still, Nevada is ranked sixth in the nation and Houston is 19th. That should show you the Wolf Pack is getting a ton of respect given who it has played and beaten thus far. If anything, Houston has a beef.

The Wolf Pack did try and add tougher games this year, but BYU, USC, Utah, Loyola Chicago and South Dakota State have all been disappointments and Arizona State has been its usual bipolar self, beating Kansas and losing to Princeton. Nevada could legitimately go through the entire season playing just one NCAA Tournament team (Arizona State, which isn't even a lock). The schedule evaluation is fair. Nevada has not played the caliber of opponents the other top-10 teams have. That doesn't mean Nevada isn't a top-10 worthy team. It's fair criticism, though.

2) Sure they will.

3) The gap in scheduling will only widen in conference play because the Mountain West is en route to its worst RPI ever. It sits 15th in the RPI behind even the Southern Conference. It's fair to say this is the MW's worst non-conference ever, and that's including what Nevada has done, which has been great.

I'm dubious. Utah State has not beaten an NCAA Tournament team this season (best win is over 9-6 Saint Mary's). Fresno State has not beaten an NCAA Tournament team this season (best win is over 9-4 Northwestern). Both have largely avoided bad losses (Fresno State just lost to Utah Valley, which is not great). But let's compare these teams to the 2016-17 Nevada team that got a 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That team wasn't getting an at-large bid despite going 28-7 and winning both the MW regular season and tournament titles (and that was a better MW than the one offered this season). Utah State and Fresno State would take 28-7 right now. That Wolf Pack team didn't beat an NCAA Tournament at-large team, much like this year's Utah State and Fresno State. Basically, Utah State and/or Fresno State would need to beat Nevada at least once to realistically have a shot at an at-large bid. Either that or go 16-2 in league play, finish the season around 27-6 with three losses to Nevada (including the MW Tournament) and hope for the best. If one of those teams does get an at-large bid, it means it probably beat Nevada, and Wolf Pack fans surely don't want that to happen.

I'll take the over. I'll take five. ESPN's latest Bracketology has those conferences with two each, so six total, although two of the teams – Utah State and San Francisco – are in the last four in, so that's tenuous. Nevada and Gonzaga are locks. If either loses in the conference tournament, that means all the Pac-12 has to do is get one at-large team and you're at the five from the MWC, WCC and Pac-12 in the NCAA Tournament. That should happen. Some combo of Nevada, Gonzaga, Arizona State, Oregon, Washington and Arizona should get the West Coast teams to at least five bids. Still, that's pretty pathetic. The Pac-12 should be putting in five teams a year by itself.

It won't happen in KenPom. It could happen in the AP Top 25. I'll set the mark at 21-0. If Nevada gets to 21-0, it is No. 1 in the nation. But that all depends on what other teams are doing. If the teams above Nevada keep winning, the Wolf Pack won't leap to No. 1. Duke, Kansas, Virginia, Tennessee and Michigan need to take two more losses each if Nevada is going to get to No. 1 in the Top 25.

I have Nevada going 31-0 this regular season, so I have the under.

It was good to see Nevada blow a team out again, and it was good to see Caleb Martin play so well after going through a slump of sorts (he was still highly productive during this "slump"). That being said, Utah is going to win 11 or 12 games this year. It's not a very good team. It's below Utah State and BYU in The Beehive State and might be below Utah Valley and Weber State, too. Nevada's non-conference foes have really let the Wolf Pack down.

I would definitely give it at least one more year to see where the program goes. I don't want to give away too much of the column I'm writing later this week, but Jay Norvell's first two years at Nevada are basically identical to Brian Polian's first two years at Nevada. There's no risk in giving it one more year to see where the program is headed after losing 12 starters this offseason, including four all-conference defenders and your veteran quarterback.

I'm taking the under there. No way I'm projecting Nevada to win nine games next season. Seven or fewer seems more likely. Eight is good number if we're including a bowl. The Wolf Pack's non-conference schedule basically includes two FCS teams in Weber State and UTEP, which went 1-11 this season. Oregon is a tough one. Purdue at home is winnable, although it is the opener and Nevada will be breaking in a new quarterback (so will Purdue). The conference schedule is favorable, with Boise State falling off the slate. I'll say 2-2 in non-conference and 5-3 in conference for a 7-5 record heading into a bowl game. If Nevada gets to nine wins, then you can extend Norvell and feel great about it.

Wins: Weber State, UTEP, Hawaii, New Mexico, San Jose State, UNLV, Wyoming

Losses: Purdue, Oregon, Fresno State, San Diego State, Utah State

Record: 7-5, 5-3 MW, Potato Bowl

Benjamin "Ben" Putman (offensive MVP) and Justin Brent (defensive MVP). Not sure how you can quibble with that.

From a player perspective, it is finding a quarterback. Ty Gangi seemed to have a mixed response from fans, but he was highly productive and posted a 13-13 record as Nevada's starting quarterback, which is actually pretty good. Cody Fajardo, for example, was 21-22; Tyler Stewart was 11-11. Gangi was right in line with those guys. We've seen one extended game look at both Cristian Solano and Kaymen Cureton, and neither went well (but it's one game, I wouldn't judge a player off that). And Nevada has two young pups in Carson Strong, who redshirted as a freshman this season, and Austin Kirksey, who joins the team in January. Can one of those four provide solid quarterback play? Nobody truly knows. If they can't, and the Wolf Pack has to replace a large chunk of its defense, 2019 could be a grind. If one of those quarterbacks steps up and provides all-league play, Nevada could compete for a West Division title given the current states of UNLV, SJSU, Hawaii and SDSU, plus Fresno State will be breaking in a new quarterback.

From a coaching perspective, it is keeping the defensive duo of coordinator Jeff Casteel and secondary coach David Lockwood. Those two did a great job this season. I could see some Power 5 school trying to poach Casteel if it wants to run the 3-3-5. Nevada loses seven defensive starters, including Malik Reed, Korey Rush, Dameon Baber, Asauni Rufus, Lucas Weber, Nephi Sewell and Jomon Dotson. That's a lot of departed talent. If Nevada loses its coordinator, too, you're in for a rough 2019 defensively.

Not if a Power 5 school offers. Nevada paid Casteel $238,703 this season. That’s not even half of what an average Pac-12 defensive coordinator is paid. Twenty-three Pac-12 assistant coaches made more than Nevada's head coach this season. Let that sink in. The guy Nevada didn't hire as head coach (Beau Baldwin, the runner-up for the job) made $650,000 to be Cal's offensive coordinator this season. Jay Norvell made $500,000 to be Nevada's head coach. Let that sink in. The money just isn't there to keep coaches if the Power 5 offers.

I'll have a year-end grades review and a column on the 2018 season, but you could argue this was Nevada's best defense ever. I think most would finger the 2010 season in which Nevada had six future NFL players (Dontay Moch, Brandon Marshall, James-Michael Johnson, Duke Williams, Khalid Wooten, Isaiah Frey). The advanced metrics back this defense. ESPN's Football Power Index ranks this defense 45th in the nation with a rating of 60.3 (the higher the number the better with 100 being the max). The 2010 team ranked 64th in the nation with a rating of 48.7. This ESPN metric goes back to 2005. Nevada's best defense, per FPI, was the 2006 unit that ranked 33rd in the nation with a 64.3. Then comes 2018, then 2011 (a 50.6 rating) and then 2010. The 2006 team allowed just 19.2 points per game, 325.46 yards per game and led the NCAA with 37 takeaways. That was probably Nevada's best defense ever. But the 2018 is in the top three or four for sure, and you could make a case for No. 1.

As for whether Nevada's defensive success can continue next year, I'm bearish. The Wolf Pack is losing a ton of talent and is basically without a safety depth chart while losing two All-MW pass rushers. Casteel is an excellent coach. If he can keep this Wolf Pack defense at this level for next year, he deserves the Broyles Award for the nation's top assistant coach. It will be nearly impossible to do.

No Group of 5 school is ever getting into a four-team College Football Playoff.

It's cool to get the highest seed possible, but Nevada should be rooting for San Jose (or Salt Lake City) in the first two rounds and a West Regional in Anaheim even if that means it is a two seed (rather than a one seed) or a three seed (rather than a two seed). Playing close to home is more important than what seed Nevada has. Wolf Pack fans could basically turn those venues into Lawlor Events Center given the fact they're drivable.

The big reason Elijah Cooks and Justin Brent were added to the basketball team last season was because Nevada needed practice bodies. It's a lot deeper this season and doesn't have the same need. So while I wouldn't rule it out, the issue isn't as pressing for the Wolf Pack, and I imagine Brent wants to prep for Nevada football's pro day as he aims to try and get onto an NFL rookie camp roster.

Ben "Mother Bleeping" Putman.

Nov. 17, 2012. Nevada football won at New Mexico, 31-24. Nevada basketball beat Green Bay, 71-69, on a game-winner from Deonte Burton.

It is a "Whatever Team Is Winning At The Highest Level" school. So, right now, it's a basketball school.

If you crunched the numbers and used real odds, I'm guessing Nevada football beating Oregon would have a higher likelihood. If I had to bet my life on it, I'm taking Nevada basketball to go undefeated, especially since quarterback Justin Herbert is returning for the Ducks.

Hope UCLA doesn't offer him the job. And also hope USC doesn't fire Andy Enfield and offer him the job. And also hope the FBI doesn't fire Sean Miller and Arizona offers him the job. That's basically all it can do short of doubling his salary up to the $2.5 million range, which I don't think is realistic. I know some fans have bemoaned Nevada taking so many transfers, but that could eventually keep Coach Musselman in Nevada since UCLA (for sure) and USC and Arizona (most likely) don't want to build a team using the transfer model. But if UCLA or USC offers Coach Musselman, I don't see him turning the job down like he did with Cal, which was obviously a wise decision.

I think he'll receive a new contract, but the only thing in that contract that matters is the buyout, which I doubt goes above his current $1 million tag, which is basically nothing for a Power 5 school (and was negotiated to be so low for a reason). Just enjoy the season. Nevada is undefeated and ranked sixth in the nation. Don't worry about next year. Leave that to the Wolf Pack administration tasked with keeping him in Northern Nevada (or getting a lot of blow back from Wolf Pack fans).

Whenever a revenue-sport coach gets fired, it's a busy day. That's why you must plan ahead. For example, I already have three stories written up on UCLA hiring Coach Musselman (one with the news of the hiring, one with the top candidates for Nevada's job and one with a Wolf Pack hiring FAQ). That makes it a little less busy, but big coaching changes are the most hectic days because readers are thirsting for information and you have to be ready to provide the refreshments.

Five years ago, Nevada was in the middle of its second straight losing season in a string of three consecutive years below .500. I would not have guessed it would have been sixth in the nation at that point. I would have guessed it would be a middle-tier MW program. I would have been wrong.

Five years from now? It all depends on how long Nevada can retain Musselman, but the Wolf Pack job is much more attractive now than it was five years ago. It has a practice facility, and it now has two separate eras of being a Top 25 team in the last 15 seasons, so coaches know they can win big in Reno. If Nevada retains Musselman, it will be remain a Top 25 team. Even if it doesn't, it should remain one of the top teams in the MW with the right hire.

Non-conference play is not factored into the all-league basketball voting. I think that's stupid. I don't get why you'd discount half of the season, and arguably the more important half of the season given how it impacts the conference's standing nationally. But the MW awards are based only on conference play. So nothing that has happened to date will matter. With that said, your MW player of the year favorite is Jordan Caroline (Nevada), with Caleb Martin (Nevada), Deshon Taylor (Fresno State), Justin James (Wyoming) and Sam Merrill (Utah State) joining him on the all-league first team.

They charter some, but it's only a couple per season (I think it was four last year). The majority of the flights are commercial, and Salt Lake City is a tough one because only Delta provides a direct service out of Reno, so if there's an issue there isn't another plane you can jump on (which you can do with Southwest). Reno's airport isn't great for direct flights, but don't say that out loud or you might get an email from the airport, which I have before.

Neither the Nike nor the Adidas contract included actual money. It's basically a gift card for free apparel. Nike's deal gave Nevada $400,000 a year in apparel. Adidas' deal gives Nevada about $900,000 a year in apparel (we don't know the full details because of the contract includes redactions). Not many athletic directors are going to turn down that better deal. Plus, there are monetary bonuses in the Adidas contract for on-field performance (Nevada got $10,000 for the bowl win) that the Nike deal didn't possess.

As for uniforms, the Adidas football ones basically look the same as the Nike football ones. The basketball ones have been hit and miss (the camo unis destroyed my eye sockets), but I think they've mostly been well done. It was obvious this offseason Adidas was blowing all other apparel contracts out of the water with their offers as the company scooped up several schools this offseason to get back into the college game. Bottom line: The bigger gift card talks.

My review: I don't care about uniforms as much as the average person.

Who said I wasn't going to Fresno? In fact, I just got an email from the Fresno Tourism Association that reads, "In appreciation of your service to the City of Fresno, and in appreciation of the goodwill you have brought the San Joaquin Valley, and in appreciation of the positive information about our city you have disseminate both via social media and on, we are offering you a private flight for six to the Fresno Yosemite International Airport in addition to a two-night stay at our finest two-star hotel for the Nevada Wolf Pack basketball game against Fresno State Bulldogs on Jan. 12 at the SaveMart Center." I just might take that deal.

Three of the team's nine non-conference home games are sold out. The rest have limited tickets. I don't think they'll all sell out, but they'll all be close. If you want to go to a game, you should get your tickets now and not risk it.

Attendance figures drive me crazy. Why can't everybody just announce actual attendance and tickets distributed so we have an apples to apples comparison? Probably because the actual attendance figures are embarrassing. The Arizona Bowl, for example, announced 32,368 fans when it was maybe one-fourth of that.

In regard to your question: Most stadiums have standing-room only seats, so it can go above the listed capacity, which usually only counts actual seats. It's more tricky when a sellout is announced below the listed capacity, which is usually the case at Lawlor Events Center. In that case, the Wolf Pack reserves something like 1,300 free tickets for students. So, Nevada could sell out all of its seats but still have less than the 11,536 capacity if the students don't use all of their tickets. Also, in the Akron game, for example, Nevada sold out single-game tickets but was trying to get fans to buy three-game mini-packages that included the Akron game. So, Nevada technically had more seats available to sell but wasn't making them available in a single-game manner. Complicating matters is the fact there's a thought Lawlor doesn't actually have 11,536 seats (they haven't been counted in a long time), so that number could be off.

See above: It's a combo of (1) Not filling the student section; (2) Holding back some tickets for mini-packs; and (3) Lawlor perhaps not really seating 11,536. Nevada has only announced three games above 11,536 in its history, but it has announced many more sellouts than that. One of those was the February 2017 game against UNLV -- the Big Mike Buffer game -- which was announced at 11,841, which is 305 more people than listed seats. Attendance numbers are weird.

We lose. That's what happens. We lose. It doesn't matter who is taking the shot. We don't make it, and we lose.

I'll accept it. (And I did check: The last game of the regular season is in fact at home, against MW nemesis San Diego State no less, so feel free to storm).

I have not spoken to him and do not know his current status. I wrote a column on him in 2013 when he was inducted into the International Hall of Fame (that story is here). I wrote in it: "Mainly constricted to watching television at his home in southwest Reno, depression had set in for Lane. After the visit to New York and seeing how the boxing world views him, Lane’s disposition had changed." Generally speaking, it's been rough since his debilitating stroke in March 2002.

“It kills me that I can’t tell him things and it kills me that I can’t ask him things,” Lane's son, Terry, told me for that column. “I would give everything I have if I could just have an hour-long adult conversation with my dad. There are so many things I want to ask him and I’m sure there are so many things that he wants to tell me.”

Fact check: Paul Weir might think I don't believe in America, but he never said he hated me. In fact, we texted shortly after last year's MW Tournament and are cool. We both like sweaters. I also wouldn't mind living in Canada if we're talking Vancouver or Toronto. Not sure about the rest of the country.

Your magic underwear is about as valuable as the first-round CBI banners that hang from Lawlor's rafters.

I don't know anything about skiing. I've been once in my life.

Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots!

Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots!

And it was only graceful if you count two trips to the emergency room graceful. Some advice on this New Year's Even: Don't drink and attempt to surf an escalator next to a gigantic water fountain. It will probably end up poorly.

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