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Murray's Mailbag: Could Nevada basketball still get an NCAA Tournament at-large bid?

Loyola Marymount
Nevada huddles during its win over{ }Loyola Marymount. (Byrne Photo/Nevada athletics)

There were lots of questions this week, so let's get to them. 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).

Yes, there is a path, but it is pretty thin. The Wolf Pack had five marquee non-conference games coming into the season and probably had to win three of them and not take a bad loss to build an NCAA Tournament at-large résumé. The Wolf Pack has avoided the bad losses (and actually been dominant in those games), but it is 0-3 in the marquee games with losses to USC, Utah and Davidson, and while USC and Utah have been good this season, Davidson has not (the Wildcats are 4-5). So the Wolf Pack has missed some early opportunities. Alas, it has two more coming, a road game at BYU on Tuesday and a neutral-site game with Top 25-ish Saint Mary's before Christmas. Nevada needs to win both of those to have a realistic shot of an at-large bid. The Mountain West has been fine in non-conference play (four wins over Powers 5 opponents plus one over the Big East), so it will probably finish around 10th in NET at the end of the season. That's so-so. The good news is San Diego State and Utah State are both Top 25-caliber teams, so that will present Nevada with some chances to pick up Quad 1 wins (the Wolf Pack only plays Utah State once, which will limit Nevada's chances at a big win in conference to some degree). Nevada could really have used a win against Utah/USC/Davidson early this season, but it didn't get one, so it has to beat BYU, Saint Mary's and probably SDSU/Utah State once to stack some quality wins. If Nevada does all of those things and gets to the MW Tournament title game while going 23-10 overall and 12-6 in the MW, it has a chance to get an at-large bid. But those missed opportunities early in the season could end up being the Wolf Pack's demise in terms of at-large aspirations.

ESPN's latest Bracketology (released today) has San Diego State as a fifth seed and Utah State as an eighth seed (against No. 9 seed Arkansas and old friend Eric Musselman!), so they're both comfortably in right now, although a lot can change in one week's time let alone the three months we have until Selection Sunday. But the Mountain West is in a pretty solid spot in terms of getting multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament. Nevada and New Mexico are ranked 17th and 27th among "First Teams Out" in these rankings, so I don't see the MW getting three teams in via at-large bids. But if SDSU and Utah State are solidly in and a team like Nevada or New Mexico win the MW Tournament, there is a shot the MW gets three teams in, and the conference needs that to help build back some of those financially valuable NCAA Tournament credits it has lost in recent years.

Multiple teams is better than 50 percent, but three teams is probably 10 percent or less. The conference just hasn't done enough to date in non-league play to warrant three teams, but there are some important games left where the MW can raise its profile. The MW has actually had a good non-conference season based on SDSU's ascension. The bottom of the conference (SJSU, Wyoming, Air Force, UNLV) remains disappointing, but the top end has two elite team (SDSU and Utah State) and there are two really good teams (Nevada, New Mexico) behind them, so that's a pretty good result considering how much talent the conference lost in the offseason, including 10 of the 15 all-league players from last season, plus Utah State's Neemias Queta, who has been out with injury before his return this weekend.

TeamRankings.com gives Nevada a 17.5 percent chance. Barttorvik.com gives Nevada a 15.2 percent chance. Wolf Pack basically has a one in sixth chance, so it's probably not happening, but it wouldn't take some kind of a miracle for it to happen.

I would be excited as hell. Yes, the team has been beating up on average teams, but they've been dominant in those games and are starting to form an identity as a great 3-point shooting team that has flashed above-average defense at times. It's like a watered-down version of the 2018 Sweet 16 team. (I said watered-down, so don't get your hopes up for another Sweet 16 result). But this group is a high-volume 3-point attempt team that can bury opponents from beyond the arc. They aren't nearly as good at getting to the free throw line as the 2018 team was, but they can go on landslide runs with the 3-point ball. Yes, Nevada needs to do this against the better opponents on its schedule (it has lost to all three of the top-100 teams it has faced this season), but the Wolf Pack has shown nice growth and are becoming a lethal offensive team.

Better than 50-50 Nevada wins one of those games as long as it keeps shooting like this. It has a much better chance of beating BYU, which is 1-2 against the Mountain West (losses to San Diego State and Boise State and a win over UNLV). The Wolf Pack is a 7.5-point underdog to BYU and the line will be about the same against St. Mary's, but I like Nevada's chances of snaring at least one win among the two games.

They're not all gone. As noted above, Nevada still hasn't beaten an NCAA Tournament/NIT-level team. They'll have to do that before you can completely buy in. But some of the preseason worries don't see as big of an issue, those being rebounding (Nevada has been fine there for the most part); depth (Zane Meeks and Nisre Zouzoua have been good off the bench);and star-level production (Jalen Harris and Jazz Johnson have been great). I still have concerns about Nevada's frontcourt against tall and skilled front lines (like USC), so those questions must be answered against teams like San Diego State and New Mexico, but the Wolf Pack has answered some of the big questions in a positive way so far.

Jordan Brown was a good and willing passer, so I think he'd fit fine in the system and he'd be able to draw some fouls in the post. He also could shoot a little, so I don't think he'd clog the lane. He'd be a good fit on this team. And I know everybody thinks last year's team was full of ball hogs and this year's team is 100 percent team first, but last year's team had an assist on 20.2 percent of its offensive possessions and this year's team has an assist on 21.2 percent of its offensive possessions. It's basically identical in terms of sharing.

San Diego State and Utah State are tier I of the Mountain West.

New Mexico and Nevada are tier II of the Mountain West.

Boise State, Fresno State and Colorado State are tier III of the Mountain West.

If Jordan Brown was still at Nevada, the Wolf Pack would jump to tier I. They wouldn't be the conference favorites, though. I'd still favor SDSU/Utah State.

I do find the hatred for last season's team amusing. Nevada went 29-5 overall; 15-3 in the MW; won the school's third straight regular-season MW title, trying a conference record; spent the entire season in the Top 25; peaked at a program-best fifth in the nation; went 24-1 to start the season; set a Lawlor Events Center record for attendance; was a perfect 15-0 at home; and got an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament. But they were showboating isolationists? Crazy talk. Yes, the team underachieved in the postseason as their bodies broke down. Yes, they didn't squeeze everything out of their potential. But they were 29-5 and spent the entire season in the Top 25! Nevada fans should take that every season. Last year's team was fine outside of the postseason. They just couldn't shoot the three-ball consistently and were completely worn down late in the season. Did the group take a lot of bad shots and play a lot of isolation ball? Yes, but so did the Sweet 16 team the year prior. This year's team is getting the most out of its parts, but if it continues to lose to high-level teams, I'm not sure fans will be quite so generous in the comparison of the two squads.

Utah State's win over LSU is the conference's best win so far. That's a huge win for the Aggies' résumé. San Diego State's win over Iowa is the second best. New Mexico's win over Wisconsin is the third best. The MW also has two wins over BYU (SDSU and Boise State) and one over Creighton (SDSU), which are solid results.

Nevada has been getting off to great starts, so why change the formula? Who starts a basketball game is super overrated. I look at total minutes played and who is on the court in crunch time. That shows you who the coaching staff trusts the most. The closing lineup is far more important than the opening lineup.

I've liked it. Coach Alford is giving his bench players minutes to add some value to the team. He's let his freshmen play through their mistakes. He's running a true nine-player rotation with each player getting at least 12 minutes per game. And he's not leaning too heavily on the starters. Jazz Johnson leads the team at 32.7 minutes per game, which would have ranked fourth on last year's team. That should save some legs for later in the season. Against Utah, Coach Alford did have his bench in at a crucial moment with about seven minutes to go when the Utes went on the game-winning run. But outside of that, playing the bench a good share of minutes hasn't backfired and you've seen growth from guys like Zane Meeks and Kane Milling. I could see that rotation getting a little tighter against the higher-level teams on Nevada's schedule, but Coach Alford seems determined to play his bench and give them opportunities to impact the game.

Neither. I think he'll be a good player long term. He's a good player now. But he could certainly be a guy who averages 15 points, eight rebounds and shoots 40 percent from three and be an all-conference player ala Wyoming's Hayden Dalton (who I nicknamed Baby Porzingis a couple of years ago). To be a first-team All-MW kind of guy, he'll have to improve his defense and his post game, which he has time to do. I'd guess third-team All-MW down the road.

You won't see that, but I guarantee BYU fans remember this and will be full-throated in their dislike of Coach Alford and his team.

Here is that tweet, which looks horrible in retrospect. (And it looked horrible when it was fired off). But, unfortunately, hot takes get rewarded more than quality journalism today, so there are a lot of hot-take artists out there. I'm not going to delve into worst premature takes, but I will say since Torres' tweet, Nevada has played 200 minutes of basketball and trailed for 74 seconds. That's a good response by the Wolf Pack to a bad take.

They have been super dominant. Nevada has basically been wiping teams out. But Aaron made clear in a later tweet, he was referring more to the total atmosphere at Lawlor Events Center. I would agree the vibe isn't the same. Nevada is averaging 8,275 fans per home game this season compared to 10,852 last year. Those 2,577 missing fans make a difference on the atmosphere, although Nevada's attendance will rise with the team playing better and some marquee conference games coming up. But Lawlor isn't rocking quite like it has in years past.

He is second on the team in scoring (0.5 points behind Jazz Johnson), tied first in assists and first in rebounds, so there's a good chance that happens. And it would be the first in Nevada's Division I era (1969-70). I went back to 1970, and it's never happened before. Nobody has actually been all that close to accomplishing it, either. It may have happened in the pre-Division I days (although I doubt it), but we can safely say it would be a first in the Wolf Pack's D-I era.

I'll go 25 percent chance. It's very hard to get a triple-double, and Harris has never had more than eight assists in a game, but Nevada is playing him at point guard quite a bit, so it's possible. Against Santa Clara, he had a 16-point, 11-rebound, eight-assist game, so he was close there. He's had at least 13-5-5 in five of his eight full games this season, so he can clearly fill the stat sheet. I wouldn't be surprised if he got Nevada's first triple-double since Johnny High in 1979. He seems more likely than Lindsey Drew to accomplish that now given how much time he's handling the ball. But he's only had one career game with 10-plus rebounds and zero with 10-plus assists, so doing both in the same game and scoring in double-digits won't be easy.

He might as well given the rules. It makes sense to test and waters and get some feedback. And if I'm building a team from scratch, I'd pick Harris over Sam Merrill because of defensive value. Both are great players, but Harris is more versatile than Merrill. The advanced numbers place Harris as the third-most-valuable player in the MW this season behind Utah State's Justin Bean and SDSU's Malachi Flynn. Jazz Johnson is fifth and Lindsey Drew is ninth. Harris' early-season injury cost him at least one spot in those rankings.

Both Martin twins are currently on assignment with the G League's Greensboro Swarm. Cody Martin is averaging 18.4 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists and two steals per game while shooting 58.7 percent from the field, including 40 percent from three. Caleb Martin is averaging 17.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks per game while shooting 43.1 percent from the field, including 28.3 percent from three. It's not a shock but are in the G League. It's better to be getting consistent minutes than sitting on the bench. I imagine both will be called up at some point. Cody Martin, in particular, should be getting some minutes in the NBA. Jordan Caroline is on the South Bay Lakers' roster (that's a G league team) but is rehabbing foot surgery and hasn't played in a game this season. Unlike the Martins, he is not on an NBA contract, so it's unlikely he gets called up to the big-league team. As for Harris, he certainly has NBA potential. He has the athleticism, the versatility, the defensive acumen and the basketball IQ to play at the next level. Both like the Martins, he'll be advanced in age and doesn't have the benefit of being a top-100 recruit out of high school, which does still matter to some degree.

Either a transfer or pocketed for the 2021 class, I'd guess, since Nevada only has one available scholarship in that class. I'd pocket it or use on a one-year grad transfer, so you can use it in the 2021 class.

He got an X-ray after the Air Force game and is probably best listed as questionable against BYU. I think he'll play.

I wouldn't call it a strength yet, but it certainly hasn't been a weakness, which I thought it would be coming into the season. Nevada ranks 239th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (23.7 percent) and 63rd in defensive rebounding percentage (77.6 percent). I prefer rebounding rate over rebounding margin. I don't think Nevada is going to be a good offensive rebounding team this season, but if the Wolf Pack stays in the top 75 in defensive rebounding rate, that'd be huge.

I don't think it will have a huge impact on in-game decisions or game plan changes, honestly, but it is a cool feature. Nevada can only use those stats in-game for Mountain West contests, so it got its first crack at them at Air Force. Nevada's "analytics guy" is Kory Alford. Yes, most teams have an analytics-oriented person on the staff, and Steve Alford has cited analytics several times this season on the macro level, so he buys into them.

Here is an in-depth breakdown of Ohio that will get you caught up on the Bobcats. I'm leaning toward picking Ohio, but I'd also like to see who on Nevada is suspended from the UNLV brawl before making my pick.

It is odd. Two No. 4 seeds and three No. 2 seeds have won the College Football Playoff, which I think is more flukiness than anything else. It helps make the case for an expanded playoff. If the No. 4 seeds are winning the thing, who is to say a No. 5 seed wouldn't? You can have one bad week in college football and be eliminated from title contention. In college basketball, Duke lost to Stephen F. Austin at home and Kentucky lost to Evansville at home. Those were horrible losses, but it doesn't eliminate either team from title contention.

Yes, you're wrong. They're undefeated and won the national title in runaway fashion last season. Yes, the ACC is bad. But the Tigers clearly deserve a spot in the playoff. There's no argument to put a two-loss team ahead of Clemson.

I think you're talking about "most devastating" loss rather than "worst" loss. Worst would be like losing to New Mexico State in 2008 or Idaho State in 2017. In terms of most devastating, I'd go:

1. The 1990 Division I-AA championship game (Nevada would literally have been the national champs with a win)

2. The 2010 Hawaii game (Nevada would have been 14-0 and probably top five in the nation if you flip that game)

3. The 1991 Division I-AA quarterfinal to Youngstown State (Nevada was 12-0, No. 1 in the nation and probably would have won the national title if not for the missed short field goal at the end of this game; alas, Youngstown State won the title)

Teams that can win the Super Bowl.

1. Baltimore Ravens (although the offense has looked so-so against high-level defenses the last two games)

2. New Orleans Saints (they kind of needed home-field advantage, which now they are unlikely to get)

3. Kansas City Chiefs (very dangerous now that Patrick Mahomes is healthy)

4. San Francisco 49ers (down two spots from where I would typically put them just to upset 49ers fans)

5. Seattle Seahawks (only plus-20 in scoring margin; they're overrated)

6. New England Patriots (the offense is bad)

7. Green Bay Packers (as much as I love Aaron Rodgers, I just don't have a good feeling about this team)

And, yes, Hugh you are invited to my World Famous Super Bowl Party, including magic squares and free jello shots, if the 49ers make it to the big game.

He's no longer one of the 10 best quarterbacks in the NFL, but he can still win a Super Bowl with the kind of defense the Patriots have. It's fair to point out Brady doesn't have a lot of weapons around him. He really misses Rob Gronkowski, and the Patriots probably wish they didn't release Antonio Brown. So is he done being an elite quarterback? Yes. Is he done winning championships? I wouldn't go that far. The AFC East is still bad and his defense is great. Even last year, Brady was average (at best) in the Super Bowl and won the title (he went 21-of-35 for 262 yards, zero touchdowns, one interception, 13 team points).

For the record, my top-10 quarterbacks in the world right now are: 1. Patrick Mahomes, 2. Russell Wilson, 3. Lamar Jackson, 4. Aaron Rodgers, 5. Drew Brees, 6. Deshaun Watson, 7. Dak Prescott, 8. Matt Stafford, 9. Kirk Cousins, 10. Colin Kaepernick (just to upset some of you).

Since 49ers fans seem so eager for NFL power rankings since their team is good, I also would like to offer my 2020 NL West power rankings since those fans are presumably support the Giants.

1. Dodgers

2. Diamondbacks

3. Padres

4. Rockies

5. Giants

1. Chandlers Steakhouse

2. Barbacoa Grill

3. The Basque Market

4. Bittercreek Alehouse

5. Sandbar Patio Bar & Grill (would be higher in the summer)

The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl was the best option. It's drivable (about six hours from Reno). It's after Christmas and New Year's Day. And it's on a Friday, so fans could take the day off and stay in the City of Trees over the weekend. That being said, I don't think Nevada is going to sell a ton of tickets.

I think the 5A, if it happens, is the dumbest thing to ever hit Nevada high school athletics. It's unnecessary and doesn't solve any issues. Nevada has two big cities. It doesn't need five classifications of football. The top Northern schools would move to the 5A and there would be no Northern 4A, so it'd be the exact same scenario as we've seen the last decade. And, no, I don't think Northern Nevada has a chance to compete for state titles at the 5A level in football against Bishop Gorman and the like. It can do so in other sports.

Colorado State coach Mike Bobo got fired because he went 3-9 last season, 4-8 this season, couldn't beat any of the Rams' rivals and wasn't packing a new stadium. He's already landed as South Carolina's offensive coordinator making $1 million a year. Life is still good. Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford stepped down citing heart-related health issues and a desire to spend more time with family. He could move back to Reno, where he lived after his Cal tenure ended.

I like the Army uniforms better than the Navy ones, but I must root for the Navy since my dad served in that branch of the military.

I don't have intel on the specific territories, but I believe Angus McClure recruits Northern California, Matt Mumme recruits Texas, Jeff Casteel recruits Arizona (or he did), Timmy Chang recruits Las Vegas and everybody else recruits Southern California, with Eric Scott doing a lot of great work there. Norvell will do an in-home visit with all of the Wolf Pack's verbal commitments, and Nevada tries to send multiple coaches to all of those visits.

With no inside information at the moment, I'll say Nevada or UC Davis. I know the Wolf Pack would take him, but I have not spoken with Dixon or anybody in his camp to get intel on his current line of thinking. Nevada would be a good fit, though, as the Wolf Pack has only two scholarship running backs and needs an heir to the Toa Taua/Devonte Lee duo.

Yes. That's completely normal. After the season ends, Nevada does in-home visits with committed players to shore them up before the December signing period.

Gold medal for Anthony Resnick (aka The Res, although he prefers to be The Rez with a "z," but he isn't reading this, so The Res is fine).

Silver medal for me.

Bronze medal for Shannon Kelly.

And my event of expertise would be the javelin throw.

The next question was about ranking NSN team members from most likely to miss a flight to least likely to miss a flight. The question was since deleted, but here was the answer.

1. Julian Del Guadio

2. Alex Margulies

3. Shannon Kelly

4. Jenna Holland

5. Kenzie Margiott

6. The Res

7. Bryan Samudio

8. Chris Murray

The only flight I've ever missed (and I've flown 200-plus times) was when I got hit by an old lady on the freeway in Denver in a snowstorm. I called the police to file an accident report, waited an hour for them to arrive, returned my rental car, had to fill out a lot of paperwork on the damaged car there, took the 45 minutes required to get through security at Denver and I still made it to the gate five minutes before my plane was supposed to leave. Unfortunately, they had closed the gate and given my seat away, so I still "missed my flight." And it was on Super Bowl Sunday, so I missed the Seattle-New England game that ended with Pete Carroll throwing the ball at the goal line. But that shows you how early I show up for flight. I had a ton of stuff go wrong and still made it before the scheduled departure.

1. Home Alone

2. Home Alone 2

3. Christmas Vacation

4. Just Friends

5. Jingle All the Way

6. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

7. Trapped in Paradise (really underrated)

8. Frosty the Snowman

9. A Christmas Story

10. Elf

Last. Christmas with the Kranks

And, no, Die Hard is not a Christmas movie. Die Hard came out in theaters July 12. Christmas movies aren't released in the summer.

Watching Home Alone and Home Alone 2 117 times every December. No more and no less. Exactly 117 times.

We'll stop here to hand out the award for The Most Random Question Of The Year. I've never done The Marijuana before, but I've long been a proponent of legalized The Marijuana. Alcohol abuse is far more devastating than use of The Marijuana. Our country's opioid addiction is partially a result of this stigma on The Marijuana. I don't think college and pro sports will be a big proponent for The Marijuana, but the NFL should take the lead in legalizing The Marijuana rather than forcing players to pop pills to cope with the pain associated with playing the brutal game. Thank you for your question regarding The Marijuana.

If Ethan Henderson was Arkansas' "reliable reliever of the game," I wonder who played the role of JOE KELLY?!?!?!?, who is Kingsford-level lighter fluid. Gosh darn-it JOE KELLY?!?!?!? Why can't I get you out of my mind?

And, yes, chestnuts are real things. The are, and I quote, "a large, soft, sweet-tasting nut enclosed in a beautiful, hard mahogany-looking shell." Sounds delicious. Who doesn't like large, beautiful nuts?

I would just say working at the Reno Gazette-Journal for six years as a page designer/copy editor impacted me the most because I got to watch how other reporters went about the job, so I saw how to do it right and how to do it wrong. Between Steve Sneddon, Joe Santoro, Chad Hartley and Dan Hinxman, I was fortunate to work some very good professionals early in my career.

Let's get real: All of these top players are getting money. I did find it funny the NCAA basically fined James Wiseman when he isn't even getting paid (legally).

I do not know.

I start the Mailbag with the most interesting sports-related question and then I usually stick with that same topic (so in this case Nevada/Mountain West basketball) and then move to pro sports and then move to non-sports related questions, which are usually the best questions I get. But it's pretty random. I don't spent a lot of time ordering them in any specific way. And with that, you have asked the last question of this week's Mailbag. See y'all next week!

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