Murray's Mailbag: What must Nevada basketball do to remain at the national level?

Steve Alford
Steve Alford is tasked with keeping Nevada at the national level. (Nick Beaton/Nevada athletics)

It's college football season but you all want to talk about basketball, so let's talk about basketball ... and a little football ... and a little Dodgers ... and a little Marvel .... and a little bluecheck mark in this week's Monday Twitter Mailbag. Thanks, as always, for your inquiries.

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

It's not so much about the increased budget as it is about the things that come with that budget being increased that are more tangible to recruits. So you're look at things like:

* Chartered flights: Nevada does a couple a season, but in a perfect world the Wolf Pack would charter a dozen or more flights per year, basically any flight that isn't directly into the city where the game is being played, which in the Mountain West is places like Air Force (Colorado Springs), Wyoming (Laramie), Utah State (Logan), Colorado State (Fort Collins) and Fresno State (Fresno). That's huge not for saving legs for the game but for missing as little school as possible.

* Non-conference money: The more money you have to spend on your non-conference, the better opponents you'll get, which will increase your strength of schedule and NET, which makes getting an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament more likely. Nevada's non-conference budget is pretty low. The Wolf Pack spent about $200,000 on in non-league schedule two years ago and about $400,000 last year. Getting that closer to $1 million would be huge in getting attractive home games.

* Assistant salary pool: The Wolf Pack's salary pool for assistant coaches went from roughly $313,000 last season to $506,900 for the upcoming year, so you're looking at an increase of nearly 62 percent. That's how you hire somebody like Craig Neal as your associate head coach. The big question is whether Nevada can continue that larger assistant pool as Alford's salary rises from $500,000 per season this season to $1.15 million in 2021. Paying big for assistants, who do a large chunk of the recruiting, is key.

* Branding: When people think of playing at Nevada, they still think of Las Vegas. The Wolf Pack's brand was strengthened a lot by Eric Musselman, but there's still a ways to go for Nevada to become a known brand in the recruiting world ala Gonzaga. Given UNLV's success in the 1980s and 1990s, it wouldn't be easy to become known as the basketball program in the state, but that's the goal.

Facilities: Nevada's facilities are actually pretty good but adding locker rooms in the practice facility (which is currently being done) and improving the team's locker room at Lawlor Events Center would be nice.

The Wolf Pack has the coaches, the arena, the fan support and the practice facilities to be a Top 25 kind of program. It's really hard to sustain at that level year in and year out for a decade, but addressing the things above would help, as would getting more support from the university so all of the financial strain doesn't fall on the fans and boosters to fund the program.

A couple of issues with the accuracy in this question. In 2010-11, the Mountain West only had three NCAA Tournament teams (SDSU, BYU and UNLV) rather than six. Perhaps you are talking about the 2012-13 season in which the MW received a conference-high five NCAA Tournament berths, but the MW only went 2-5 in the Big Dance that season, which basically showed it wasn't a "major" conference. There has been a steady decline since then. In 2012-13, the MW's average KenPom score per school was 72, an elite number and the best in conference history. Last year, that score was 166.9, the worst in the conference's 20 years. So what the hell happened? A few things.

1. The powers fell: San Diego State , UNLV and New Mexico basically turned to varying degrees of crap (SDSU has actually been decent in recent years, but crap sounds better for these purposes). SDSU, UNLV, New Mexico and Colorado State have the four largest budgets in the conference and they went a combined 36-36 in the MW last season and 64-65 overall. None finished in the top three of the MW. None made a postseason tournament. Colorado State and UNLV haven't made the NCAA Tournament since 2013. New Mexico hasn't since 2014. SDSU hasn't collapsed like those programs, but it has fallen from a Top 25 program to a NIT-caliber program. The MW's top-spending programs can't be mediocre like they've been.

2. The bottom is bad: In the MW's first 19 seasons combined, it had only one team that finished 315th or worse in KenPom. Last year, it had two in Wyoming and San Jose State. The Spartans are always horrible and drop on anchor on the conference, which hurts everybody's NET. SJSU's average KenPom during its six seasons in the MW is 290.5. The Spartans shouldn't be in the conference. They're a drag on everybody. Just playing them hurts your NET.

3. Scheduling: The MW's scheduling was worrisome enough the conference put together a rubric its teams had to follow. It's not good when the conference has to tell teams how to effectively schedule or else there will be punishments.

For the MW to get back to sending three-plus teams to the NCAA Tournament -- something it hasn't done since 2014-15 -- Colorado State, UNLV and New Mexico have to get better, Nevada, SDSU, Boise State and Utah State must retain their level from recent seasons and SJSU needs to be dispatched. Wyoming and Air Force are usually going to struggle, but there's no excuse for anybody else in the conference to be sub-175 in KenPom.

Take the deal with the most money. I know there's a line of thought out there the MW shouldn't completely hand over its kickoff times to ESPN or else it will be playing too many night games, which will compromise attendance. Well, my research shows there isn't much difference in attendance for days games or night games at Mackay Stadium. (In fact, night game attendances tend to be higher). Schools won't make up the lost revenue in a kickoff-friendly TV deal via attendance increases with more day games. The Las Vegas Review-Journal had a good story on the MW's upcoming TV deal. In short, it says if ESPN+ is interested in buying the MW content for its digital platform, the conference could double its TV deal. If ESPN+ is not interested, the MW could take a 50 percent deduction from the current deal. You're talking about the difference between $2.2 million per year per school versus $550,000 per year per school. That's a major difference. Get the deal with the best money.

Interesting question. Some programs deem themselves "too good" for tournaments like the CBI. With Nevada coming off three straight NCAA tournaments, the Wolf Pack could believe it is above the CBI at this stage, but I would play in any postseason tournament offered since most of Nevada's roster would be coming back for the 2020-21 season (the Wolf Pack has only four seniors). It's always good to get postseason experience when possible. Just don't hang first-round CBI banners at Lawlor.

And I'll take York mints over Alpine and Andes over both.

He's exceptionally confident in what he does and how he does it. "At 54, almost 55 years of age, almost 29 years in the business, we have the blueprint," he said during our interview last week. An interesting way to compare Alford's personality to Eric Musselman's personality is Musselman is a pro coach in college. He was bred at the pro level. Meanwhile, Alford is a pro at being a college coach. He's been doing it for so long that there's nothing he hasn't experienced at this stage. He has spent three decades in the business, and he's always portraying a California cool demeanor with the way he dresses, his self-confidence, the way he talks and even his manicured and precise hair. There's a charisma there that I think works with recruits. He deeply believes in himself and his process and is always giving off that impression. It seems scripted to a degree, whereas Musselman was a little more unkempt, a little more rough around the edges.

There's been some confusion with Jordan Caroline signing with the Lakers. It was basically a training camp invite. Also, the NBA doesn't have 13-man rosters. It has 15-man rosters. Teams can keep a minimum of 13 players and a maximum of 15. Nobody keeps only 13. They all keep 15. And the Lakers have already signed 14 players to guaranteed contracts with their general manager saying the 15th spot will be saved for a buyout player. So, unless Rob Pelinka changes his line of thinking, Caroline will not be on the active 15-man roster. But the Lakers do have one of its two two-way contract spots open (Zach Norvell has already signed into the first space). Caroline will basically be one of five players in the 20-man training camp aiming for that second two-way contract, which would basically mean he'd play on the Lakers' G League team the entire season (two-way players can spend no more than 45 days at the NBA level).

The Lakers did just pick up Kostas Antetokoumpo (brother of league MVP Giannis) off waivers, so perhaps he'll slot into that second two-way spot. Competition for that spot will be heavy. Caroline initially signed an Exhibit 10 contract with Los Angeles, so if the Lakers do waive him, they can give him up to a $50,000 bonus over the typical G League salary to keep him on their G League roster. Either way, Caroline appears to be headed to playing for the South Bay Lakers this season, either on a two-way deal or a regular deal. The two-way would be much preferred by Caroline because it is more financially lucrative and could allow for some cameos at the NBA level.

Cody Martin = 90 percent

Jordan Caroline = 20 percent

Cameron Oliver = 20 percent

Caleb Martin = 10 percent

Only if he brings back this hairstyle.

Boston College grad transfer Johncarlos Reyes is expected to arrive at Nevada sometime in August, so he'll probably miss Nevada's second summer session, which runs from July 15-Aug. 15. But he'll still have September and October to get up to speed.

It's not just Malik Reed. It's also Korey Rush, who was a first-team All-MW pick last season. Those two combined for 111 tackles, 28 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries last season. Rush's absence was noticeable in the defensive collapse against UNLV. As for replacing those two, I'd finger two players in particular. Dominic Peterson on the defensive front. He could have an eight-sack, 12-TFL season. And then Gabe Sewell, who is moving from inside linebacker to outside linebacker and will blitz more often. Pass rush is my second-biggest concern for this year's defense behind the play of the secondary. Nevada signed two highly rated pass-rushers in the 2019 recruiting class in East Texas teammates Breylon Garcia and Javasia Brunson. They were the fifth and sixth highest-rated players in the class. Nevada could use some immediate pass rushing from them.

Nevada could make a bowl with Cristian Solano at quarterback. It could make a bowl with Malik Henry at quarterback. I also believe it could make a bowl with Carson Strong at quarterback. The question for me is which quarterback gives Nevada the best chance of winning nine games/winning a MW West Division title. That is the quarterback I would roll with. And I believe Henry and/or Strong is the answer to that question. I'd go with the high-upside option, and if Henry is checking off all the boxes from a leadership/work ethic/study habits/ability to get into the right plays standpoint, I would go with him. Only the coaching staff, which sees Henry every day, knows if he's checking those boxes. If he's not checking those boxes, go with somebody else.

I asked Coach Norvell about that last week and here's what he had to say: "Really all I can say is we'll have new uniforms and that really has to do with Adidas and us not being able to use the ones we had last year. We will have new uniforms. We will have some surprises along the way. I just feel like it's fun to do that with your team. Recruits like to see new things happen. We'll have some different combinations throughout the year. I think it will be something that our fan base will be proud of and our former players will be proud of."

I then asked him if he gets to designed the uniforms.

"I have a lot of suggestions like in everything, but our players are involved in everything that we do," he said. "I feel really good about our leadership, so we always ask them about what we think and what they want. We try to accommodate them and sometimes financially we can't act on every idea that comes into place but we do our best."

We could see the new uniforms during MW media days, which begin tomorrow in Henderson. Usually each team has helmets and uniforms on hand there.

Not Clay Helton. I'll go with Kliff Kingsbury, who is fired by the Arizona Cardinals after four seasons but gets the USC job because he's so darn handsome.

Here's an interesting thing: The members of Montreux Golf & Country Club will vote after this year's event whether to extend the tournament on its course, and while those things are usually rubber-stamp situations, I don't know if the vote will pass this year. The members basically have to give up their course for 10 days, with construction going on for more than a month before the event starts. Given our winters, the course is already unusable for six months as is, so while giving up the course for 10 days doesn't seem like a big deal, it is for some members. If the members vote against continuing the Barracuda at Montreux, I'm curious if Northern Nevada could retain the tournament on another course (my guess is probably not). Edgewood makes some sense, although it already hosts the American Century Championship two weeks prior to the Barracuda, so that might be tough. Edgewood did host the 1985 U.S. Senior Open, so it's a high-level course. Nothing else in Northern Nevada would be a fit if Montreux votes against hosting the PGA Tour stop.

Dating to last season, John Daly has been cut or withdrew in six straight events at the PGA Tour level. Dating to 2015, he's been cut or withdrew in 19 of his last 21 Tour starts. He's also been cut in four of his last five starts at Montreux (he did tie for fifth in 2005). So the odds are he doesn't make the cut. I'll give him a 15 percent chance of making it.

Yes. The nets at Greater Nevada Field should be extended pronto. At the first game in Aces' history, I was tasked with writing a story on the fan who caught the first foul ball. That foul ball was a scorcher into the crowd that hit a little girl and required a visit to the on-site REMSA room. It was scary. I hope stadiums around the country don't wait until a serious injury or death before making the change. I won't sit my kids in any location where they're not behind a net or in the grass at Greater Nevada Field. It's just too risky.

No. Arkansas would be favored by 7 or 8 points. The Razorbacks return six of their top seven scorers from an NIT team and have three transfers who are eligible to play this season. Nevada would win some head-to-head matchups, but Arkansas has the better roster.

I don't expect any Wolf Pack football players to win national awards. I don't think a Nevada football player has ever won a national award. (Chris Ault did win the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year in 1991). I'll give Toa Taua a 2 percent chance of being named an All-American. It's really hard to win All-American honors in football. Since 2000, only Colin Kaepernick, Vai Taua, Dontay Moch, Brett Roy and Stefphon Jefferson have earned All-American honors. That's five players in 19 seasons. I do expect three or four players to win first- or second-team All-MW honors.

Utah State's star center, Neemias Queta, injured his left knee at a FIBA tournament in Portugal over the weekend and didn't return to the game. He couldn't put weight on the injured leg, although there hasn't been an official announcement on the severity of the injury. Hopefully it's just a sprain and not a full tear. Queta was probably the biggest reason Utah State overachieved last season. If he is out for the 2019-20 year, it knocks Utah State out of the preseason Top 25 and removes the team from being the clear consensus to win the conference.

I would still put Utah State at No. 1 in my preseason MW rankings. I don't think losing Queta for the season would take them from consensus No. 1 to middle of the pack. But it would put the Aggies on a more even playing field with Nevada, New Mexico, San Diego State and Boise State. The Aggies would go from an 85 percent chance of winning the conference to more like a 35 percent chance.

It's more likely Jay Norvell wins his first Mountain West championship. It's exceptionally difficult to get into the American Century Championship unless you have a tie to NBC, which telecasts the event and promotes its people.

I am most excited for Thor: Love and Thunder. Thor and Loki are among my five favorite characters in the Marvel Universe, although I doubt I'll watch the Loki show. I'm more a Marvel movie guy than a Marvel show guy, so I doubt I'll get Disney+, either, since we already have Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. I can only handle so many streaming options. We don't watch that much TV anyway (we just started watching Stranger Things, so we're behind the curve). I'll also take Thor for the best graphic among those 11. My final hot take is Marvel is in a slump and will soon be over-saturated. None of Marvel's last three movies (Captain Marvel, Avengers: End Game, Spider-Man: Far From Home) have been great. Captain Marvel was average, End Game was half great and half average and Spider-Man was so-so. Marvel needs to return to the "Thor: Ragnarok/Black Panther/Spider-Man: Homecoming/Infinity War/Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" level of production. Those were great.

What sport are we talking about here?

The football center, Sean Krepsz, was the team's Basalite Big Blocker of the Year and an All-MW honorable mention selection. He was a strength. That position is a major question mark following his graduation.

The basketball center, Trey Porter, was Nevada's fourth-most-valuable player on a per-minute basis last season, so I wouldn't have called him an Achilles heel, either. The Wolf Pack's center position this season will likely be a step back compared to the combo of Porter and Jordan Brown. If Porter was a more featured player last season, he could have averaged 14 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks per game, which he essentially did the year prior at Old Dominion. He was a key to Nevada's defensive improvement, which was easy to overlook given him relatively pedestrian counting offensive numbers (he did shoot 60.1 percent from the field).

A blast from the past! West was a preseason All-MW pick entering his senior season, which Nevada had to work very hard to get him qualified for via an NCAA waiver request. Eric Musselman had just taken over at Nevada and said this of West before the start of the year: “One of the premier rebounders in college basketball, AJ is a double-double threat every night he steps on the floor. A player that opponents have to game plan for every night.” That being said, it was pretty clear the coach-player partnership was going to be rough given how much Musselman demands of players and given how difficult West was to coach (David Carter even had issues with him from a work ethic standpoint). West had lots of interests and basketball wasn't always at the top of the list. Throw in the addition of Cameron Oliver and people around the program knew Oliver would cut into West's minutes and that would lead to some issues. West quit midseason and moved on to his music career, which you can see a snippet of below.

Our main news site looked at that question in 2015 and several law enforcement officials declined to put a number on that figure (full story here). An article out of Florida says: "According to deputies, it costs roughly $3,400 an hour to send 10 deputies to a school bomb threat. That's on top of the nearly $700 an hour it costs to send up the helicopter. Add up all the numbers and just one bomb threat lasting two hours could end up costing you more than $8,000." Another one out of Georgia says "the amount is usually between $1,000 and $3,000." So it's probably not a huge number, but it's still a waste of money.

As noted here, I won't be in attendance at the MW football media days but we'll have two people there. And while it does seem like a #HotTake question to ask a conference commissioner why a team exists in its conference, I think it's a legitimate inquiry for Craig Thompson. SJSU has not had a winning record in men's basketball, women's basketball, football or baseball in its six years in the conference; hasn't followed through on promised facility improvements; has run afoul of the NCAA; and has the second fewest MW titles since joining the league in 2013, ahead of only Wyoming. It's not a MW-caliber athletic department. I'd be curious to hear Thompson's response.

Pretty concerned. At the macro level, the Dodgers' bullpen isn't that bad. It ranks ninth in the big leagues in ERA (4.07) and has the second-best batting average against of any bullpen (.221). Those are good numbers. But the bullpen is still the Dodgers' clear weakness. Outside of Kenley Jansen, there's nobody in the bullpen you trust, and even he's had his blowups in the postseason. The bullpen will be strengthened when Kenta Maeda and Ross Stripling move there in the postseason, but it still needs to be upgraded with an eighth-inning man and a lefty. Currently, it's a soft-contact, low-strikeout group, and that doesn't tend to work in the playoffs. You want swing-and-miss stuff against elite competition.

I expect the Dodgers to get both an eighth-inning reliever and lefty specialist without trading any of their top four prospects (Gavin Lux, Dustin May, Will Smith, Keibert Ruiz). The Dodgers have made a number of deadline moves under Andrew Freidman while giving up minimal value in the prospects they've traded. They've landed players like Yu Darvish, Manny Machado and Rich Hill without losing much, which makes it interesting to me the two best players the Dodgers have traded under Freidman were both given up in relatively under-the-radar moves for relief pitchers (Yordan Alvarez to the Astros for Josh Fields and Oneil Cruz, now a top-100 prospect, to the Pirates for Tony Watson). Hopefully it doesn't cost as much this time around.

I had not had this horrible thought before. Could I celebrate a World Series championship if the main reason the Dodgers won the title was because of Giants legend Madison Bumgarner? Let's imagine he wins World Series MVP, taking home three victories in the series, while Clayton Kershaw gets ripped in his two starts. Bumgarner gets carried off the field after a complete-game shutout in a Game 7 victory over the Yankees, him being the key reason the Dodgers snap their 31-year World Series drought. Could I celebrate that? Ultimately I think I could because it has been so long since the Dodgers won a title (I was 6 the last time it happened), but it would be bittersweet. Part of the reason I want the Dodgers to win one is so Kershaw can get some postseason validation, but if he's not the reason the Dodgers win, and his longtime rival is the reason they are victorious, I would feel a little melancholy.

The good news is the Dodgers won't be trading for Bumgarner. I'm not sure he'd even make the Dodgers' postseason rotation, although he'd be a nice eighth-inning guy.

If you change your Twitter handle, you lose verification, which I did when I went from the RGJ to NSN (this is probably why Steve Alford's Twitter handle remains @UCLACoachAlford). I haven't gotten the blue checkmark back since, although that could change in the near future. In the end, the blue checkmark does not define me. I am a man of the people, so I need not have a blue checkmark to prove my worth.

It was a concern of mine when I was recruited for this position and we talked about it in the pre-hiring interview, but I have not had anybody tell me what I can and cannot write since moving here in September.

I believe the only items that were on YouTube were promos for the channel. I would love to get an Nevada Sports Net app and get our NSN Daily show on to podcast platforms. I'm guessing a lot of people miss our content simply because we are not very mobile friendly right now. An app and podcast are both goals, although I'm not sure how immediate we'll be in reaching those goals. They appear to be a little lower down the list of priorities given the cost of building an app. But that would help our reach and reader accessibility tremendously.

To be fair, I don't mention the air races, either. See ya'll next week.

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