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Murray's Mailbag: How big are the shoes Nevada's Steve Alford is stepping into?

Steve Alford
Steve Alford brings a history of winning to a fan base that's expecting a lot. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

Nevada's 2018-19 athletic season is winding down so we had a nice potpourri of questions for this week's Monday Twitter Mailbag. Let's dive right in. Thanks, as always, for the questions.

(Note: If you're not seeing the tweets, it's probably because you're not using Google Chrome. Use Google Chrome).

Sounds like we're talking about filling big shoes here. Eric Musselman was probably the most popular coach in Nevada athletics history. Even Chris Ault had detractors. Same with Mark Fox. But everybody seemed to love Musselman ... until he left for Arkansas. The donors loved him, the students loved him, the long-time fans loved him, the borderline fans loved him and returned to Lawlor Events Center in droves. So, yes, Steve Alford has big shoes to fill, not only on the court where Musselman's teams went 110-34 overall, 52-17 in the Mountain West, won four conference titles, won a CBI, reached three NCAA Tournaments, spent 28 weeks in the Top 25, peaked at No. 5 in the nation and reached the second Sweet 16 in school history, but also off the court where Musselman's public relations, energy and enthusiasm hyped a community to record attendance levels. Alford does not have the same outward personality, but he can't try and be somebody he's not.

Look, Alford just had the job of replacing John Wooden at UCLA, a few decades later, of course. He's not going to be afraid to replace Eric Musselman at Nevada. That's one of the benefits of hiring a coach like Alford, who has accomplished more in his college career than not only Musselman but everybody in the MW combined. He'll be more than comfortable in his own shoes, and you're basically assured he's going to put a quality product on the court given his history (only two losing seasons in 24 years as a Division I head coach). The question is whether Alford and his players can connect to Northern Nevada the way Musselman and his players did.

That will be tough, and it will be made more difficult because simply winning conference championships and getting to the NCAA Tournament – which in itself would be a tremendous season – likely won't be enough to draw sellout crowds. That will be, in some ways, a sustaining of what was left behind rather than raising it to the next level. And does sustaining a high level draw major crowds with season-ticket prices being at record highs? I'm not sure it does. The Wolf Pack can have a fickle fan base, so there has to be some trepidation about a potential drop in excitement and attendance given the coaching change, which probably would have been the case even if Musselman remained given how much hype last year's team had entering the season. Nevada should draw well in Alford's first season just on curiosity alone, but sustaining crowds of 10,000-plus fans every game is the challenge.

Nevada will have to do a number of things to keep attendance at record highs, which is important given the financial commitment the Wolf Pack made to Alford (10 years, $11.6 million). Those things include: (a) putting good teams on the floor; (b) playing an exciting style; (c) getting better opponents into Lawlor Events Center; (d) marketing the team in ways that connect to the community; (e) improving the in-game experience (better halftime shows would help); and (f) having Alford and his family make the meaningful connections in the community that Musselman and his family did. Sometimes it's actually easier to win games than to pack at arena, which is what made Musselman special. He did both.

No matter who followed Musselman was going to step into a massive shoes. Alford has as good a chance as anybody Nevada could have hired to fill those shoes. The standard for Wolf Pack basketball is really high, on the court and in the stands. It will take a big effort to keep the Wolf Pack where the program is right now let alone elevate it to the next level. But Nevada clearly thinks Alford can do that given the record 10-year contract – twice as long as any other contract in school history – it handed him.

Of Nevada's three commitments under Alford, only Zane Meeks has shown to be an efficient 3-point shooter, and he'll be a freshman, so I'm not sure the Wolf Pack is loaded with 3-point shooters, although it should be better there this season than last year. With Jazz Johnson (45.2 percent from three last year), Jalen Harris (44.2 percent from three in his last season) and Lindsey Drew (39 percent from three in his last season) on the roster, there's solid shooting. If Nisré Zouzoua (36.8 percent from three at Bryant) can recapture his form, that'd be huge. Eric Parrish (32.4 percent from three at Akron) is a capable shooter, too.

But to get to your actual question, if Nevada doesn't retain Jordan Brown, it's going to have some issues in the post. The big-man depth chart is basically K.J. Hymes and Meeks, two slender freshmen. I anticipate Nevada adding at least one more big man even if Brown does return (could be a grad transfer or a prep), but losing Brown would completely change the outlook I'd have on the season. He's a huge piece. (And, yes, I'm assuming Drew is back at Nevada next year, which is why he's included above).

And I'll take bread pudding.

From all indications, he isn't going to take any official visits until finals are over, and finals end this week. So we could see some movement there shortly, although I still believe he'll remain at Nevada. It's the best fit, it's close to home and he wouldn't have to sit out a season under transfer rules.

Too early to tell right now. It really hinges on whether Steve Alford can keep Jordan Brown and Lindsey Drew. So far, the tallies are:

Nevada's Steve Alford

Kept: Jalen Harris, Jazz Johnson, Eric Parrish, Nisré Zouzoua, K.J. Hymes

Lost: Shamiel Stevenson, Mike Lewis II, Daryl Edwards

TBD: Jordan Brown, Lindsey Drew

UNLV's T. J. Otzelberger

Kept: Amauri Hardy, Bryce Hamilton, Cheickna Dembele, Trey Woodbury, Cheikh Diong

Lost: Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua

TBD: Tervell Beck, Shakur Juiston, Joel Ntambwe

There's still five important players in the portal when you combine the teams. I like the talent Alford has retained a little better than the talent Otzelberger has retained, and if Alford keeps Brown, Nevada wins hands down.

So far, he's only added Jeantal Cylla, a 6-foot-7 grad transfer from UNC-Wilmington who began his career at Florida Atlantic. He also got a visit from 7-3 Cal transfer Connor Vanover, who is down to Arkansas, Vanderbilt and a potential return to Cal. Meanwhile, Ibrahim Ali announced he was transferring out of Arkansas. So business as usual pretty much. And Musselman hasn't taken any Nevada recruits, unless he lands Kyree Walker. I am curious to see if Musselman can land the high-caliber high school players he's been offering since he landed at Arkansas. That will make or break his Razorbacks tenure. He's not winning big in the SEC with 80 percent transfers.

I have a 2019 recruiting page up here, although I am going to add a blurb tomorrow on Mahamadou Diawara, a 6-foot-10 forward Nevada offered in early May who could end up in this year's class. He's a bit of a mystery, but if you're looking for beefy front-court help, he checks that box.

With Alford being in favor of fewer uniforms, I'd guess you'll see a return to last names being on the back of the jerseys. That being said, a quick Internet search tells me New Mexico had some jerseys without names on their backs during the Alford era (UCLA did have names on their jerseys during the Alford era). But as long as they fire those camo jerseys into the sun, I'll be good.

It did not have an expiration date. The MW's television agreement is up after the 2019-20 season, so you'll see a new deal in place following next season, but I assume the Boise State home games will be bundled and sold separately with that money largely going to the Broncos like the current arrangement. The current deal pays Boise State about $2.8 million a year and the other 10 full members about $1 million to $1.1 million each. Could the MW play hardball with Boise State? It could, but I don't think it will. I envision Boise State getting a larger share of the TV money than the rest of the league even after the new agreement is reached. I also envision the rest of the MW not being happy about that.

Baseball playoffs tend to be a crapshoot, so it's hard to judge. The reason they play 162 games at the big-league level is to lengthen the sample size to figure out who really is the best. Anything can happen in a four-team, double-elimination college event. That being said, Fresno State (RPI of 48) and San Diego State (RPI of 56) are a clear level better than the rest of the league (nobody else has an RPI better than 115). I would be slightly surprised if Fresno State or San Diego State doesn't win the event, but not that surprised given how silly baseball is.

As for Cal basketball, Mark Fox didn't want to schedule Nevada when he was at Georgia but given the better geographical fit in Berkeley, given he'd get a standing ovation if he returned to Lawlor Events Center and given the fact Nevada helped jump-start his head-coaching career, I do think he owes the Wolf Pack a home-and-home series. Whether that happens, I don't know.

All that has to happen for Nevada to make the MW Tournament is for there not be a sweep in this weekend's San Jose State-Air Force series. More on that here. But the odds are probably in the 70 percent range Nevada makes the tournament. In terms of attendance, Nevada last hosted the MW baseball tournament in 2015 and drew 1,019 fans for its first game and didn't announce an attendance for its second game. The weather was horrible for those contests, so we might not be able to read too much off them. With Fresno State and San Diego State (two drive-able options) being in the tournament field, you could see decent attendance figures if Nevada makes the event, but I doubt you'll see an actual attendance above 1,000 or so.

Nevada has purchased new scoreboards for its baseball and softball programs and has them in its possession, but they won't go in until next season. The baseball scoreboard was slated to go up this season but it didn't happen.

I imagine Nevada would be interested, but the Wolf Pack would have to be one of the top 16 teams in the field to host a Regional. The odds of that are low. Nevada went 41-15 during the 2015 season and didn't even make the event. The Wolf Pack would have to go 47-8 or something ridiculous to get a top-16 seed to host a Regional, and that's nearly impossible to do in baseball. If Nevada did get a Regional, I would guess it would want to host at Peccole Park for the home-field advantage even though Greater Nevada Field is a better park. The odds GNF is even available under this scenario is low given the Triple-A schedule would be set well in advance of Nevada knowing it was hosting a Regional.

Per Baseball Reference, the only Wolf Pack alums drafted by the Dodgers were Brent Husted (1997) and Dave Anderson (1981). As for Giants, you have George Maldonado (1971), Ed Plank (1973), Mike Wallace (1980), James Stassi (1982), Petie Roach (1992), Chris Singleton (1993), Kevin Lake (1994) and Matt Wells (1997). In terms of actually playing for one of those teams, Plank pitched for the Giants from 1978-79 and Shawn Barton pitched for them from 1995-96. Glenn Burke played for the Dodgers from 1976-78. That's it. Burke is known for being the first MLB player to come out as gay to teammates during his pro career and the first to publicly acknowledge it. "They can't ever say now that a gay man can't play in the majors, because I'm a gay man and I made it," he once said. He also invented the high-five with Dusty Baker. Burke died from AIDS-related causes in 1995.

Favorite local band? Rage Against the Machine. They started here right?

I'm going to get this question every week until I die, aren't I?

I've outlined this before. Basically all the rumors you've heard aren't accurate. The team just forgot how to shoot, and never really shot well to start with. Nevada began the season 24-1 and finished 5-4. In those four losses, Nevada made 24-of-96 3-pointers (25 percent). In those five wins, Nevada made 54-of-123 3-pointers (43.9 percent). Sometimes it really is as simple as, "When you make shots you win; when you miss shots you lose."

There was some friction, which I've also out-lined before, but there's some friction on pretty much every team, and last year's friction wasn't what killed the team. Not being able to make 3-pointers did that.

Can't go wrong with Chris Ault. He had the rare combination of being: (a) a good talent developer; (b) a person of high character; (c) somebody who treats all of their athletes equally and fairly; (d) a teacher of life lessons through sport; and (e) a winner. Ault exemplified all of those qualities more than any coach I've covered. And he thinks Fred Gatlin should be in the Wolf Pack Hall of Fame, too, so bonus points there.

The Wolf Pack has an eight-week summer conditioning program run by strength coach Jordon Simmons but on-field coaches are not allowed to participate in those sessions. The team's captains also hold informal practices, but those again are off-limits to the team's coaches. So it is largely up to the players to organize practices and work out together during the summer. This is why Nevada head coach Jay Norvell said whichever quarterback takes control of the team this offseason will have a leg up on the starting job. "We need a guy to take charge," he said. "We need somebody who earns the right to be our quarterback every single day by he way they work, and the summer is a big part of that. How our guys work in the summer and how they work together running our captains practices and throwing the ball every day, whoever emerges out of that group should be a strong player."

I personally like Daiyan Henley at receiver for the Wolf Pack. He did catch three touchdowns in limited time as a true freshman, and I'd agree that while Nevada's depth at receiver is solid, it's a little light in numbers. The Wolf Pack has Kaleb Fossum, Romeo Doubs, Elijah Cooks, Brendan O'Leary-Orange, Ben Putman, Dominic Christian, Cole Turner and Melquan Stovall, so there are eight solid receivers in the mix. Four of those guys are seniors, so there's a chance you see Henley back over at receiver for his senior season since I don't see him as a starter at safety. Nevada is thin at safety, so I understand why he was moved. But unlike the other players moved from offense to defense over the years (Kaymen Cureton, Austin Arnold, Tyson Williams, Maliek Broady, Lucas Weber, Isaiah Hamilton), I believe Henley could have been a high-level offensive performer.

Unlike NCAA Regionals in baseball and softball, the top seeds do not get to host. It's put up to a bid and then cities supply their offers. The NCAA has selected locations for golf regionals through the 2022 season, with the closest location to Reno during that period being at San Diego in 2020. So the Wolf Pack and City of Reno would have to partner to try and land a Regional, which I don't see happening. It would be nice, though, for Nevada to host a regular-season event. It hasn't done that for several years (the women and men both hosted a tournament in 2011), with Northern Nevada's tricky weather being an obvious obstacle.

I don't believe there's a set amount of players who will get "called up" to the NBA draft combine, but given Caroline was a late add to the G League camp it's highly unlikely he gets the combine invite. Since the Martin twins both participated in the combine last year, their odds are way higher. Per research by Syracuse.com, an average of 43 of the NBA’s 60 draft picks participated in the NBA combine over the last five years. Last year, that number was 49. Since 2014, 11 college players who did not secure combine invitations were drafted. That's 2.2 per draft. So, basically, if you don't go to the combine, you're not getting drafted. Since the Martin twins took place in last year's combine, perhaps they hit the threshold to qualify for "attending the combine," but their stock took a clear step back returning for their senior seasons. I'll guess one Martin twin gets bumped into the combine. The fun thing is finding out which one.

Not that I know of. Here's the backstory on the transfer of Camariah King, who was slated to be Nevada's top returning scorer prior to her transfer.

We'd all be flamingos.

(And I'm aware those are actually the flamingo's ankles that bend backwards and not their knees).

I got in up to my quad, but that's as far as I went. It was cold. Very cold.

The air temperature reached 69 degrees.

The water temperature reached about 45 degrees (aka Freeze Your Balls Off temps).

Sand Harbor is my favorite because of the ease, but it does get crowded. Round Hill Pines second. Commons Beach third.

It's hard to beat Sand Harbor in terms of pure beauty/parking/amenities. The only thing it lacks is jet ski rentals, but I'll take Sand Harbor if all things are equal.

I don't recall many people asking more than two questions a week and I do respond to every question that isn't a repeat, so I don't think it's a big issue.

At this point, all that matters for the Dodgers is what happens in the playoffs, and to a larger degree, what happens in the World Series. The Dodgers are going to win the NL West and are most likely going to reach the World Series again, but anything short of a championship will be a disappointment, which is sad but true because the Dodgers have accomplished a ton over the last five seasons, but not enough to call this era a success without a World Series title. That being said, going to Fenway Park would be cool. I've never been there before.

1. The Lion King

2. Joker

3. The Last Black Man in San Francisco

4. Frozen 2

5. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

And even though it is going to be horrible, I'll throw Sonic the Hedgehog in there, too.

Mt. Rushmore of stand-up comedians.

* Dave Chappelle

* Louie CK (separating art from artist here)

* Richard Pryor

* John Mulaney

Honorable mentions to George Carlin, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Lewis Black, Eddie Murphy, Wanda Sykes and Anthony Jeselnik.

Mt. Rushmore of comedic actors.

* Jim Carrey

* John Candy

* Robin Williams

* Bill Murray

Honorable mentions to Melissa McCarthy, Bill Hader, Eddie Murphy, Chris Farley, John Goodman, Charlie Day, Zach Galifianakis and Mel Brooks.

Few things are better than making others laugh. See y'all next week.

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