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Murray's Mailbag: Worried about Nevada basketball? And American Gladiators

Trey Porter
Are Trey Porter, left, and Cody Martin high-fiving because American Gladiators is coming back to TV? (Nick Beaton/Nevada athletics)

It's Monday Mailbag time, and this thing is long, so let's just get to it. You mostly wanted to know about the Nevada basketball team, but I also got a question about American Gladiators, so we must start there. Thanks, as always, for the inquiries.

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

I was discussing with somebody at work last week about how American Gladiators should be brought back, but not with fancy new sets or graphics. Bring it back exactly how it looked in the 1990s. It was an amazing display of #Grit. The Nintendo game also was awesome. Here are my rankings of original Gladiator events (there were 19 of them if we're not counting The Eliminator). Each includes a link to a video of the event.

1. Powerball

2. Assault

3. Human Cannonball (this one is insane)

4. Atlasphere

5. Rocketball

6. Swingshot

7. The Wall

8. Joust

9. Whiplash

10. Hang Tough

11. Pyramid

12. Gauntlet

13. The Maze

14. Breakthrough & Conquer

15. Sky Track

16. Earthquake

17. Tug-O-War/Tilt

18. Hit & Run

19. Snapback

It's never good to lose a game, but I wouldn't be any more worried after the second loss than the first loss. As I wrote last week, Nevada already was more like a two-loss team than a one-loss team, per the advanced numbers. But 25-2 is still very good. Very, very good, in fact. The Wolf Pack has some weaknesses, but so does every team in the nation. If I was a Wolf Pack fan, I'd be pretty damn happy with the state of the team right now.

I asked Eric Musselman about this today and he noted the team's man offense was the biggest area of improvement, which he admitted was weird because Nevada's zone offense was an issue earlier this season. Now that the zone has been solved, the man offense has struggled a little. I'd also add rebounding, which has been average rather than a strength, as well as finding some more depth. The Wolf Pack is basically down to a six players right now, which isn't a great position to be in.

My take is more that Nevada brings out the best in San Diego State rather than San Diego State bringing out the worst in Nevada.

One thing you have to admire about Nevada is its consistency. It basically brings its every game. That has not been the case with SDSU since Steve Fisher retired. Instead, the Aztecs tend to pick and choose when to play hard and bring an A effort. When SDSU sees Nevada, the team that replaced it as the king of the conference, the Aztecs bring that energy and effort, and when it does that, it is as good or better than Nevada.

Musselman is 2-6 against SDSU, with a record of 5-3 or better against every other team in the conference. SDSU is clearly an issue for Nevada, as it should be when it plays hard. The Aztecs always have high-level talent, athleticism and length, and when you throw desire into the mix, it is an elite team on the West Coast. The head-scratching part is how SDSU loses to teams like Cal (which is 0-15 in the Pac-12), Brown (a 5-5 Ivy League team) and San Diego (which is 6-8 in the WCC). SDSU lost to all of those teams at home this season. That's crazy given its talent.

So, yes, Nevada does have a SDSU problem, but Wolf Pack fans would rather know their team is going to bring it basically every time it hits the court rather than get the on-and-off effort we've seen from SDSU, which has an equal (or you could argue higher) ceiling than the Wolf Pack but nowhere near the consistency.

That's an interesting question. I think the Wolf Pack would win pretty handily. Jordan Caroline is so strong and such a physical player, I'm not sure anybody in the WNBA could handle him. The level of quickness and athleticism between top male and female players isn't comparable. We should stop comparing male and female athletes and just appreciate both for their level of athleticism and skill separately.

I have Nevada taking victories over UNLV, Utah State, Air Force and San Diego State and winning out the regular season before losing in the conference tournament. Utah State and SDSU could certainly beat Nevada in their regular-season games, but the Wolf Pack should be favored in both. My final MW Tournament seeding predictions are:

1. Nevada

2. Utah State

3. Fresno State

4. San Diego State

5. UNLV

6. Boise State

7. Air Force

8. Colorado State

9. New Mexico

10. Wyoming

11. San Jose State

That would pair Nevada against the Colorado State-New Mexico winner in its first game followed by a matchup with the winner of the SDSU-UNLV game. Another MW Tournament semifinal with the Aztecs?

I think he's trying to send a message to the NCAA Tournament selection committee that it's hard to be a mid-major and stack a 25-2 record. He's mostly talked about the travel and how draining it is. Nevada does not charter very often, although it has chartered home from its games at New Mexico, Wyoming and Colorado State this season and has used a private plane for Musselman to go to his son Matthew Musselman's prep games in the Bay Area, which was shown on Running with the Pack. The Wolf Pack has made great strides in this department over the years. It never used to charter. Traveling the MW isn't easy, but it is easier than the WAC days for sure.

The travel aspect is one of the greatest disadvantages of being a mid-major. Musselman has said before that his team at LSU (where he was an associate head coach) would charter home from every road game, which is a big benefit for three reasons: (a) You're back in your own bed the night of games; (b) You don't miss as much class; and (c) You don't have to tinker with your practice schedule the following day. Nevada, for example, didn't get back from the San Diego State game last week until around 1 p.m. Thursday, so players went from the airport to practice, which is scheduled around 2 p.m. That's not ideal.

In many respects, a Power 5 job is easier than a mid-major job. The pay is better. The travel is easier. The budget is bigger. The infrastructure is better. The facilities (are usually) better. But the competition also is stiffer since everybody has those things. I don't think Musselman's talk about life as a mid-major is a commentary on wanting to go to a Power 5 job, ASAP. It's more his messaging to the selection committee to put a little respect on Nevada's 25-2 record despite its comparatively soft strength of schedule. It's easy to look at game results, but most skip over what happened just to get to the game.

The odds would still be good. The NCAA would never say it, but it wants to sell tickets, too, and with so few good teams out West, I find it hard to believe the selection committee won't put Nevada in San Jose or Salt Lake in the first two rounds given how many tickets the Wolf Pack would gobble up.

I have a feeling a four seed is the ceiling, but I wouldn't completely rule out a three seed if everything breaks right. BracketMatrix has Nevada as the last five seed right now, and there's not a lot of games left to move up. Four seems like a realistic best-case scenario.

Yes, Nevada could play in San Jose and Anaheim. The Wolf Pack just has to be picked for San Jose and placed in the West Regional. That's in play.

I want to see Nevada play Gonzaga regardless of round. This is a matchup I've wanted to see since the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline returned for their senior seasons. It's a shame they couldn't figure something out for the regular season, but we could still get the game in the postseason. Fingers crossed.

Nevada is even more sleeper-ish than before since some are bailing off the bandwagon following a defeat. Look, the Wolf Pack making the Final Four is still a long shot. ESPN's BPI gives it a 4.6 percent chance of happening. It's really hard to make the Final Four, and Nevada is looking thinner and thinner as the season goes on. But it still has star power and unheard of experience. It could make a Final Four. It also could lose in the first round. The NCAA Tournament is unpredictable.

Duke versus Kentucky. The bluest of blue bloods.

Yes. Jazz Johnson can wear No. 22 until he graduates following next season. The No. 22 means a lot to Johnson, enough that he has the number tattooed on his left arm. Johnson's mom was born on the 22nd and his father wore No. 22 as a player, so it is meaningful for him to wear that number. But when he's done, No. 22 is done forever for the Wolf Pack.

Depends on the opponent. Against smaller teams like Fresno State, he could start. But against bigger teams like UNLV, the Wolf Pack could go with Tre'Shawn Thurman. It doesn't matter in the long run. Johnson is averaging the fourth-most minutes per game on the team (28.4), a number that is even high in conference play (29.6). He's going to be on the court for the majority of the game, and that's true regardless of whether he's hitting threes or not. Nevada needs him out there to stretch the floor, or at least given the illusion of floor stretching.

Musselman said the staff had a 50-50 vote on Monday on whether to start Johnson or Thurman versus UNLV. I think they'll stick with Johnson. Musselman also said there's a potential of Trey Porter coming off the bench so he can avoid early fouls.

It's not unusual for coaches to tinker with starting lineups. Nevada has only used four starting lineups this season, which I'm going to guess is below the average for a Top 25 team (and it's the lowest in the Musselman era).

Nevada's last game of the regular season is at home against San Diego State, a game the Wolf Pack should certainly be worried about, but the game this weekend at Utah State also is one Nevada will be tested in. The Aggies have stuck with the Wolf Pack all regular season and are only half a game behind Nevada in the MW title race. Utah State gets San Diego State and Nevada at home this week and if it sweeps those games, it should win a share of the MW title at minimum, which is pretty crazy for a team predicted to finish ninth in the preseason poll. Nevada matches up well with Utah State given its athletic advantage (it beat the Aggies by 23 earlier this year), but the Spectrum is not an easy place to win, as the Wolf Pack has learned over the years. If Nevada is going to win a third straight outright MW regular-season title, it will have to earn it with games left against Utah State and SDSU.

I do think Utah State has to beat Nevada, either in the regular season or the MW Tournament, to get an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament. The Aggies have been in the "Last Four Out" column for the last month, but they simply don't have enough good wins: one Quad 1 and two Quad 2s. With that résumé, I'm surprised Utah State is even in the "Last Four Out" despite no bad losses.

85 percent. All Nevada has to do is beat UNLV and SDSU and it will close the season with a perfect home record for the second time in school history (it went 15-0 in 2003-04). Doing so also would match the longest home winning streak in school history at 16 games. SDSU could beat Nevada to spoil that. I can't see UNLV beating Nevada on Nick Fazekas Night.

Both ESPN and The Athletic have Nevada as a "lock" for the NCAA Tournament. Hypothetically if Nevada lost out the regular season and then lost in the first round of the MW Tournament could it miss the NCAA Tournament? I guess. In that scenario, the Wolf Pack would finish the season 25-7 with no conference titles and zero Quad 1 wins (and somewhere around four Quad 3 losses). That résumé should miss the tournament, but one or two more wins and Nevada should be a true lock.

No. Playing in loser-out games like the NCAA Tournament presents only ratchets up the pressure. The good news for Nevada is the Wolf Pack's core of Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline all have NCAA Tournament experience and performed on the biggest stage last season. Outside of the first round, Nevada also will be playing a level of competition it really hasn't seen this season, which brings even more pressure. I don't think the tournament is a time for a "sigh of relief."

Nevada drew 5,890 fans for its first home game of Musselman's tenure, a 76-73 win over Portland State. (The Wolf Pack struggled with a below-.500 Big Sky team, so if you ever get sad about Nevada losing a game this season, remember where this program was when Musselman took it over). Nevada's average attendance that year was 6,092, boosted by the CBI run. Nevada's average attendance this season is 10,845. Pretty impressive boost.

Given Lawlor Events Center's capacity is 11,536 and the largest crowd in school history is 11,841, I'll take the under. The season high this year is 11,257 fans, so it should beat that.

In the first game with Fresno State, Nevada played Trey Porter and Jordan Brown a combined 26 minutes. In the second game, it was nine. So, Nevada definitely decided to try and match up small with Fresno State, which led to the Bulldogs' lone big guy, 6-8 Nate Grimes) tallying 16 points (on 7-of-9 shooting) with 11 rebounds. Grimes also had 15 points (on 6-of-9) and 11 rebounds in the first game, so playing big didn't really slow him down. Porter's foul trouble played a part in Nevada going small Saturday, but Musselman's preferred lineup is the small-ball one. The lack of a Porter or Brown on the court also allowed Deshon Taylor to get to the rim at will. So, there's a trade-off there. Nevada hasn't always allowed the opposition to dictate its lineup, but it did happen to some degree against Fresno State.

I wouldn't say not having Porter/Brown on the court makes Nevada a worse version of last year's team, although that's an astute observation. Nevada is worse offensively in that scenario, but better defensively and I think it evens out. The good news is Nevada has the roster to play both small and big effectively, but this has basically been shrunk to a six-man team, which isn't great and is unexpected given all the offseason talk about how deep Nevada is and, "How will the Pack get minutes for everybody?"

Saturday's game at Utah State will be a Quad 1 game, but that will be the only one in the regular season barring something unforeseen. Nevada could pick up another Quad 1 game in the MW Tournament if it faces Utah State again. But the Wolf Pack's Quad 1 column is going to be light on Selection Sunday.

While Martin takes some high-risk shots, he is averaging a career-high 2.7 assists per game. He leads the team in offensive win shares and PER and is top five in true shooting percentage and offensive rating. His usage rate is basically the same as Caroline's. Nevada needs him to score, and he's done a better job over the last several games of driving rather than taking bad threes.

Gabe Sewell, who announced last week he was returning to Nevada for his senior season rather than transferring, loves defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. That's basically a unanimous feeling among Wolf Pack defensive players. If Casteel had been poached by a Power 5 school, I don't think Sewell would be at Nevada in 2019. Casteel also is Sewell's position coach, so the bond goes deep. Toss in some of Sewell's ties with long-time teammates like Hausia Sekona (both played prep ball in Utah), and I'd attribute his return to those two more than anything else. But kudos to Norvell and Nevada's player leadership committee for allowing Sewell to train with the Wolf Pack in winter conditioning after he put his name in the portal. If they shunned him, he probably would have departed.

There are so many national rankings in college baseball. Baseball America has one. D1 Baseball has one. USA Today has one. The NCBWA has one (that goes to 30 teams). Collegiate Baseball has one (that also goes to 30). It's not like football and basketball where there are two Top 25 polls. There are five in baseball. That means Nevada will likely pop into one of those top 25/30s at some point if it keeps winning at this rate.

12-1?

At 6-1, Nevada is off to its best start since 2015, but it also is ranked 143rd in the RPI because of its 231st-ranked strength of schedule. Nevada's opponents are 11-22 this season. The Wolf Pack's series with Washington State (now at Peccole!) won't help since Wazzu is 289th out of 299 D-I teams in RPI. So, Nevada must stack up a pretty undeniable record against that SOS. In some ways, it's similar to what Nevada basketball has faced this year.

Upper-body injury, but he's expected to be a part of the rotation this season. Nevada's pitching has been sensational, pitching to a 2.43 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. Between Ryan Anderson, Owen Sharts, Tyler Smith and Dalton Gomez, the Wolf Pack has good starting pitching depth, but like you said, you can never have too much depth in the starting rotation. Jackson, a freshman All-American, will be needed before the season ends, and he'll be a weekend starter if healthy. Jackson wore down pretty good at the end of last season, so getting a later start could keep him fresher longer, with the big games being played in May and June.

This is a question in reference to LSU grad transfer Daryl Edwards, who I wrote about here. I actually saw Edwards at the game, but per NCAA rules (as far as I know), it's illegal for media to talk to prospects when they're on official visits. At least that used to be a rule. I haven't read the NCAA handbook in a long time (or ever). So, I declined to take the risk and interview him, but given his situation -- a grad transfer who must petition for that season via a medical hardship, and a guy who didn't put up big numbers at LSU -- I'd find it hard to believe he doesn't go to Nevada if the Wolf Pack has offered.

I believe I said something along the lines, "The fans are never wrong and those refs were horrible." Or I said the exact opposite of that. I can't remember.

Wolf Pack fans obviously did not like the officiating against Fresno State, and neither did Caleb Martin. But here is how the game broke down:

* Nevada shot 31 free throws; Fresno State shot 10

* Fresno State's top scorer, Braxton Huggins, fouled out in just 18 minutes

* Fresno State was called for 26 fouls to Nevada's 16

* Nevada was in the bonus just 5:34 into the second half

* Nevada shot 24 3-pointers and Fresno State 26, so they were driving the lane at roughly the same rate

* Caleb Martin and Deshon Taylor both drove aggressively; Martin had 14 free throw attempts and Taylor six (both attempted seven 3-pointers)

How in the world would Wolf Pack fans be upset with the fans after that game? Yes, they were bad, but they were bad both ways, with Nevada shooting 21 more free throws, Fresno State being whistled 10 more times and Fresno State's best player fouling out in 18 minutes! If Nevada fans aren't happy those numbers, how are Fresno State fans supposed to feel? You could see both teams were desperate in that game and were playing physical. The refs let a lot of it go, but when they did blow the whistle, it benefited Nevada more than Fresno State.

I'm cool with fans being mad at the refs and voicing their opinions during the game, but a lot were acting like the officials were robbing Nevada of a potential win. That wasn't the case. The game was close because Nevada wasn't defensive rebounding, was turning the ball over, couldn't keep Taylor out of the lane and saw its offense go flat in the second half. Very rarely do refs impact who wins a game, and in this specific case, Nevada benefited more from the officials than Fresno State did.

Hot take here: Dave Hall is a pretty good ref. That's why he gets NCAA Tournament games every year. Somebody has to be grading him well. That being said, he's the Beyoncé of MW refs because he craves the spotlight, which can get him in trouble quite often. If he curbs that desire, he's good. But then there are times he does this (see below). Going nose-to-nose with a coach isn't usually a great idea. If he can keep his ego in check, he's good.

They should get put in timeout. It works for my 4-year-old son.

There weren't that many hard fouls. Nobody is going to die on the court. Let them play. And Musselman said he was drained after the game. His exact quote: “I’m tired and we are tired."

I'll take kielbasa over linguiça.

Those people have been around for at least a decade. They know who Derrell Conner is. True Wolf Pack fans.

1. Highest-rated officials call the games

2. Officials can be phased out

3. Poop?

No LA Gear or FILA or Puma?

It has to be Nike. Zion Williamson is the biggest star to hit the NBA draft since LeBron James. I don't see how Nike lets him slip through its fingers. It helps that he plays for a Nike college like Duke.

I believe I've addressed this before, but the AP tries to have at least one Top 25 voter per state. I am the voter based in Nevada. I've voted in the football and basketball AP Top 25 every year since 2012 (one of only three people to do so). The top requirements are to cover college basketball and football, and then the AP will reach out to voters they believe will do a good job. I apparently have done a good enough job to vote for seven straight seasons.

It certainly can't hurt. That's been a nice PR series for the Wolf Pack. But I don't see any assistants getting D-I gigs next year like Johnny Jones did this offseason. Rex Walters could, of course, given his previous experience, and Gus Argenal could be a good head coach in time. This is a quality staff.

Per Musselman:

Jazz Johnson = Shoulder

Cody Martin = Bone bruise

Caleb Martin = Foot/ankle

Jordan Caroline = Achilles strain

Everybody = Mentally drained

Nevada isn't going to practice very long Monday and Tuesday (Caleb Martin isn't practicing either day), which should help rejuvenate them to some degree. Fun fact: Six MW players have logged at least 900 minutes this season. Three of those play for Nevada. The Martin twins and Caroline. That's a lot of minutes. Nevada has peaked late in the season every year under Musselman, so he knows what he's doing, but I wouldn't be shocked if all three of these guys are exhausted, and simply playing UNLV won't really help that. They're tough. They'll push through. But it's a concern.

None of them have a private plane.

It depends on how good the opposing team is. I mean, The Pit is usually tough but New Mexico isn't very good right now, so they've lost seven games at home this season. Generally speaking, I'd rank them:

1. Lawlor Events Center

2. Viejas Arena

3. The Pit

4. The Spectrum

5. Taco Bell Arena

6. Save Mart Center

7. Arena Auditorium

8. Thomas & Mack Center

9. Moby Arena

10. Cadet FieldHouse

11. The Events Center

I doubt it. The biggest donations from alums are Ramon Sessions and Don Weir, who both gave $1 million. I know Brock Marion gave some money a long time ago for a locker room renovation. Some of the offensive linemen, including Joel Bitonio, gave money recently for blocking sleds and stuff like that. Generally speaking, you don't see too many major donations from alums, but Nevada has done a better job of that over the last five years with the #ThisIsStillYourTeam campaign.

If it is up to Musselman, he will not wear a suit this season, but Big Brother might intervene for the NCAA Tournament. I say, "Rock the polos." Bob "Huggy Bear" Huggins wears PJs to NCAA Tournament games. Musselman and staff can wear polos.

He doesn't drink soda anymore. Soda is bad for you, and Musselman is more or less a health freak who works out an hour every morning. He has tried to quit it before, but it didn't stick. This season it stuck. Congrats to Musselman for ditching the aspartame.

There's no cheering on press row, even when Yasiel Puig hits a key homer in Game 4 of the World Series.

You and I both know college players are already getting paid at the big schools.

The light show was a devious plan to get Wolf Pack fans to download Nevada's app. I imagine the Russians will hack this app next election cycle. Putin is a big Pack fan.

I'm torn. On one hand, the Dodgers bring in an insane amount revenue, and it'd be nice to see that money spent on improving the roster.

On the other hand, I don't want to see the Dodgers had out a 10-year, $350 million contract to a player who has had one great year, two more All-Star-caliber years, one more above-average year and three forgettable years. I especially don't want that to happen if it means not being able to retain Corey Seager, Walker Buehler and Cody Bellinger in the future.

I won't know how to feel if the Dodgers sign him (I still think he lands with the Phillies), but I wouldn't be too mad to see Los Angeles add an All-Star-caliber player with all of its revenue. It's what you're supposed to do as a big-market team.

This Thursday with the Phillies for 10 years, $326 million, two opt-outs. The Phillies are basically bidding against themselves right now.

Dodgers will get to the World Series again, and lose again. Clayton Kershaw is broken.

The idea pre-dated me, but I think the credit goes to our general manger, Amie Chapman, our sports director, Bryan Samudio, and our executive producer, Alex Margulies. It's unprecedented for a market this size to have a sports-only local channel with a daily hour-long local sports show. It just doesn't happen in markets this size, so credit them for their vision for making this a reality and for recruiting me to produce content for a website to go with the channel.

As for tackling the content with a big family, I advise you do not take time away from your family to consume our content. Family is more important. I do advise, however, that you take time out of work to consume our content. In the grand scheme of things, work is not that important. Nobody has ever said, "I wish I worked more," while lying on their death bed. Family and NSN content take precedent over work, in that order.

And it is "Whose" rather than "Who's."

That song plays at the start of the second half, right?

Funny thing is I got a question from an older lady earlier this season asking what the name of the song was, presumably because she liked the beat. I sent her the unedited version of the song and she said, "That's not it." It very much was it, just with the original lyrics, which includes a cuss every third word or so. They should unleash that beast at some point this season.

Nevada does show replays on the scoreboard, but I've noticed it is almost exclusively when the refs have made a bad call against the Wolf Pack rather than Nevada getting a break with a whistle. I'm sure there is plenty of ad-sponsored content that must run on the board, too, which limits the replay time, but the board does have its share of replays of controversial calls and big dunks throughout the game. If you don't see a replay of a play, assume it is because showing that replay wouldn't benefit Nevada.

It's demeaning to "real journalists." A "hot take" is commentary with a primary purpose of attracting attention (i.e. "LeBron doesn't have the clutch gene" even though his shooting percentage in late-and-clutch situations is better than Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant). If you're not talented enough to get pageviews or followers through good journalism, you revert to "hot takes," and sometimes you make a lot of money doing so (see Skip Bayless).

I don't think it will happen (10 percent?), but it needs to. Since moving to the MW in 2013, SJSU hasn't had a winning record in football, men's basketball, women's basketball or baseball (the four marquee sports). It brings nothing to the conference and hasn't followed through with promised facility improvements. Six years is enough time to prove you belong in a conference. SJSU has shown it does not belong. You never want to kick a department out of your conference, but it's time.

On the boys side, Bishop Gorman is ranked 19th in the nation, so I don't see a state title in the future of either school. Maybe a first-round win, but that will be tough, too.

On the girls side, Centennial is ranked 15th in the nation, so good luck with that, too.

Wingstop. Hopefully that was the "ONE right answer."

A question I've never found a solution for despite my efforts. (Its Facebook page said in April 2016 it might open a place in South Lake Tahoe, but that hasn't happened to my knowledge). Ernie's was the best burger in town hands down, and the shakes were pretty good, too. A couple of years ago, it mysteriously disappeared and was replace by Original Thai, which is good but is not as good as Ernie's, which perfectly mixed Texas toast, bacon bits and scrumptious meat. Yes, I used the word scrumptious. Ernie's was scrumptious. I no longer get to eat that scrumptious-ness, which makes me sad. I'm going to go cry now.

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