Murray's Mailbag: The last time Nevada football and hoops was good?

Nevada football
Nevada football is on the verge of a bowl appearance. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

It was a quiet weekend for the Wolf Pack, but that was the calm before the storm. Nevada will host its football senior night (Saturday); two men's basketball games, including the season opener (Tuesday); and a women's basketball game, the season opener (Wednesday); and its volleyball senior night (Thursday) this week. Lots of events coming up. Lots of questions from you. Let's tackle them in the Monday Twitter Mailbag. Thanks, as always, for the inquiries.

It depends how we are judging success. I think we can go two routes. We could call "success" reaching postseason play or we could call "success" winning conference championships.

Here are the athletic seasons in which Nevada football and Nevada men's basketball both made postseason events: 1978-79; 1983-84, 1996-97, 2005-06, 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09, 2009-10, 2011-12. That's a pretty good run from 2005-12 when Nevada made eight straight bowls and reached three NCAA tournaments, two NITs and two CBIs during that period.

Here are the athletic seasons Nevada football and Nevada men's basketball have both won conference championships:

* 1983-84: Football won the Big Sky and reached the semifinals of the D-IAA playoffs; basketball won the Big Sky Tournament and reached its first NCAA Tournament.

* 1996-97: Football won the Big West and Las Vegas Bowl; basketball won a share of the Big West's East Division and reached the second round of the NIT.

* 2005-06: Football won the WAC and Hawaii Bowl; basketball won the WAC and was a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament (lost in the first round)

So, while both teams have been postseason caliber nine times in the same season (a 10th occasion will happen this year), they've both been championship caliber only three times in the same season. It's pretty rare. And the last time both were great was 2005-06 when Nevada football ranked 27th in the final Top 25 and Nevada basketball ranked 20th in the final AP Top 25.

So, the answer to your first question is 2005-06. Your second question: Can Nevada support both programs if they're good? In 2005-06, football drew 15,076 fans per home game; basketball drew 8,371 fans per home game. Basketball was clearly favored. And while those aren't great numbers, we must note those are actual attendance numbers rather than distributed tickets, a figure announced these days.

Also, Reno/Sparks has exploded in population since then and the economy is fairly strong, so Northern Nevada has a better chance of supporting both teams today then it did more than a decade ago. Does the community have the capacity to support both programs if they're championship caliber? Absolutely. Will it? I have my reservations.

Most likely to least likely, among the Mountain West's bowl tie-ins.

1) Arizona Bowl

2) New Mexico Bowl

3) Hawaii Bowl

4) Potato Bowl

5) Las Vegas Bowl

There's also a decent chance Nevada goes to a different bowl than the five above since the MW will have more bowl-eligible teams than bowl spots.

Yes, but the chances are low. Nevada would need to win out, have Fresno State lose two more games (one of them to San Diego State) and have SDSU lose one more game (but not more than one and not to Fresno State). That would put these three teams in a 6-2 tie atop the conference, with each being 1-1 against each other. At which point, it'd go to the tiebreaker, which I doubt Nevada would win but have not put in the effort to research because it is a long shot. So, is it possible? Yes. It is likely? No.

1) Nevada football's most difficult remaining game is UNLV followed by San Jose followed by Colorado State, but all three teams are terrible. Two of those teams lost to FCS opponents and the one that didn't is UNLV, which is the only MW team without a conference victory and has lost by an average of 26.2 points per MW defeat.

2) Washington was the best opponent to visit Lawlor Events Center this season. Judging by the attendance, most fans missed that.

I'll take defense as the bigger concern. Nevada has capable 3-point shooters in Caleb Martin, Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua and Corey Henson, although it's an open question on how many minutes those last three guys will get. I think Cody Martin will improve from three, and Jordan Caroline should as well. Jordan Brown can hit a three. Nevada isn't going to be a great 3-point shooting team like last season, but can it make 35 percent of its threes? Sure it can. Johnson, Zouzoua and Henson are proven shooters who are knocking the rust off from a season ago. They'll make some threes.

The defense, on the other hand, has to improve a lot, and that might be difficult if Nevada plays two bigs. The Wolf Pack has basically switched all screens in Eric Musselman's first three seasons at Nevada because it had small, athletic players. You can't do that with a big on the court (let alone two), which means the Wolf Pack has to be better at total team defense. As noted in this story, only one of the last 40 Final Four teams was ranked outside of KenPom's top 50 defenses in their given year. Nevada has ranked 55 (in 2015-16), 101 (in 2016-17) and 108 (in 2017-18) in defense the last three years, with the arrow going the wrong way. Nevada should improve defensively, but will it be Final Four good? I'd be more concerned about that question than whether it can hit a three.

It would not be a bad thing if the zone was run well and against the right opponent (namely one that doesn't shoot the ball well). That being said, Musselman has admitted he's never coached a zone, so it would take some time to develop. As I've noted before, Musselman's dad, Bill, loved to run a zone, so his son has his manuals on how to do so. He's just never used them. Zones tend to slow the game down and limit the number of turnovers you can force defensively. Nevada wants to play fast and use its depth, length and athleticism to force turnovers. So, it's not a perfect fit, but if it the man-to-man isn't working and the zone helps Nevada get stops, I can see the Wolf Pack using it. Musselman is an open-minded coach who doesn't adhere to one system. He bends his systems to suit his players' strengths.

Without institutional support, it will be difficult but not impossible. Fans have largely done their part by buying so many season tickets and joining the Starting Five booster club, but that also has partially been a shift of money away from football and toward men's basketball, so while it's helpful, it is far from solving the athletic department's financial issues. Football has to draw well, too, for Nevada to be able to pay Musselman (and even Jay Norvell, who makes zilch). Either the school will have to step up and help (unlikely) or big boosters will have to foot a large chunk of the money if Musselman's value rises to the $2.5 million range (he currently makes $1 million in base salary and probably somewhere in the range of $300,000 to $500,000 in bonuses, most of which comes from ticket revenue).

When I saw the Kansas job opened, I immediately thought of this because Norvell is a Midwest guy and Kansas isn't going to be able to land any of the top candidates out there. That being said, I don't think Norvell gets a Power 5 job this offseason. He has to do more building before the big dogs come hunting.

Nevada has nine 8 p.m. tipoffs this season and the reason, in a word, is "television." The better a team is, the more it is on TV. The more it is on TV, the later its games will start (speaking of West Coast teams here since TV needs late-night programming). Just ask Boise State football how this works. It might neuter attendance a little and certainly will limit the number of East Coast eyes seeing the Wolf Pack, but if you want that TV money, you give up the ability to set most of your start times.

I don't have to guess. Nevada is a 12.5-point favorite. And the Wolf Pack should be a double-digit favorite in 18-20 games. (Nevada was a double-digit favorite in 15 games last season).

Nevada does not go undefeated overall, but it does go undefeated at home.

I always assume a Wolf Pack player will play until he does not. That's kind of standard operating procedure after covering this team the last three years. So, I expect the Jordans (Caroline and Brown) to play against BYU. As for Drew, who is recovering from a torn Achilles, that's a different story. He obviously isn't playing Tuesday or in November and likely not in December, per Eric Musselman, who said Drew has begun dunking but is not doing team drills and that it likely won't be until January until he is cleared and makes a decision on whether he'll play this season. Barring injuries to currently active players, I don't think Drew will play this season.

It is Lindsey Drew's decision, and I think it would be wisest for him to sit out this season.

Jordan Caroline played his freshman and junior seasons with regular hair and his sophomore season with blonde (or orange) highlights. His PER (Player Efficiency Rating) with regular hair was 18.8 as a freshman and 21.5 as a junior, which averages out to 20.15. It was 19.6 with the dyed hair as a sophomore. His win shares/40 minutes was .122 and .170 with regular hair (average of .146) and .156 with dyed hair. Looks pretty negligible. Seems like he's a good player regardless of hair style.

With Wolf Pack DE Korey Rush (broken foot) out for the rest of the regular season, you'll see more of Sam Hammond (former walk-on from Yerington turned scholarship player), Kaleb Meder (a JC transfer who was a starter at the beginning of the season) and Kameron Toomer (linebacker turned defensive end). Also exists the option of moving Malik Reed back to defensive end on a more full-time basis if Nevada feels comfortable with his backup at linebacker becoming a starter.

I asked Jay Norvell about this today and he said he would look for opportunities to play young guys if the score presents a chance to do so. (Reminder players can play up to four games but still use the year as a redshirt). Top candidates to see the field include freshman QB Carson Strong; QB Kaymen Cureton; freshman LB Giovanni Miranda, who was hurt earlier this season and would have played as a freshman; and JuCo OL transfer Moses Landis, who has returned to practice and could be cleared soon. Landis probably would have started on the offensive line, if healthy.

I would like to say neither. Can I say neither? I can't say neither? Then I'll say UNLV. The Rebels will have a new football facility and a new NFL stadium in 2020. It also has a local base to recruit from. It also has the allure of playing in a world famous city. UNLV football should be good in the near future. The right coach could do great things there. But people have been saying that for a long time.

On the downside, UNLV does face a big challenge in building a fan base. The Vegas Golden Knights have stolen some of its fan base, the Raiders will steal even more of it and the future NBA team team that will reside in Las Vegas (it will happen eventually) will steal even more. It's not going to be easy for the Rebels to build a fan base even if they win in football as the sports money is now being split among pro teams.

I have four Group of 5 teams on my ballot this week. The are four Group of 5 teams in the Top 25. They are:

* Central Florida, which I ranked 11th and is 11th in the Top 25

* Utah State, which I ranked 16th and is 14th in the Top 25

* Fresno State, which I ranked 17th and is 16th in the Top 25

* Cincinnati, which I ranked 22nd and is 25th in the Top 25

I'm right in line with all of those rankings. And it would be nice if those teams beat somebody. They have combined for zero wins over top-30 Sagarin teams and rank 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th in strength of schedule among the currently ranked Top 25 teams.

The offensive line has been better in pass protection than in run blocking, so I'd pin it mostly on the line. But, Nevada is averaging 4.71 yards per rush, up from 4.22 yards per rush last season, so there has been progress.

Hopefully we get to see it. The one advantage Nevada has on basically every preseason top-10 team (like Duke, Kentucky, Kansas) is experienced. The Wolf Pack is one of the most experienced college basketball teams ever. The average age of its rotation players is 22.5 years old. That's super experienced. Duke has way more talent but nowhere near the experience. How important is experience? It's pretty valuable. Nevada doesn't keep its composure and beat Texas and Cincinnati in last year's NCAA Tournament without that experience. Both Kansas and Kentucky would be about 5-point favorites over Nevada on a neutral court, but the Wolf Pack wouldn't be overwhelming underdogs.

I am not scheduled to cover any Nevada basketball road games right now, but Nevada Sports Net should have somebody at all of the non-conference road games, so we will have coverage on the TV station and online.

1. Not Chris Ault

2. No

3. No

4. Me

5. Yes

I did not think much of it initially until I attended the Oregon State game with some friends who don't attend many Wolf Pack events. The inability to bring a purse to the game was a big deal to them. A big deal! I do think it's had an impact. It might be a deal-breaker for some, and with Nevada courting as many fans as possible, you don't want to install more deal-breakers. But it's also pretty common at big events (games, concerts, etc.) that purses aren't allowed. It's a wave of the future for safety reasons.

This is a reference to Omar Thielemans, a 6-foot-7 wing from Belgium who signed with Arizona but announced before he played a game with the Wildcats he was transferring. Thielemans said he had a great meeting with Nevada last Friday. He could transfer as early as December, which would make him eligible halfway through next season. Barring something unforeseen, Nevada is flush out of scholarships for this season (unless a Darien Williams situation happens and a player gets dismissed from the team, opening a scholarship).

The scholarship situation doesn't rule the Wolf Pack out of the Thielemans sweepstakes. Nevada could place him at TMCC or somewhere else for the second semester of this season (or have him or somebody else walk-on in the second semester). There are ways of getting it done.

But if you're curious why I don't report on every little detail in recruiting, it's because there have literally been hundreds of little details about Nevada's 2019 recruiting class over the last several months and so far the Wolf Pack has one commitment. And even some of the Wolf Pack's commitments (Kenny Wooten, Shawntrez Davis, Arlando Cook, Shawn Smith, Sam Williams, etc.) never make it to school or play in a game. That's not to say these nuggets aren't important, and Nevada should obviously be pouring a ton of energy into recruiting as it does, but reporting on recruiting is a ton of work bearing little fruit in the end.

Zero percent. Nevada has already signed off on the Adidas deal. Adidas has not finalized its side of things yet.

No major donor has come along yet. Nevada's best hope is UNR president Marc Johnson giving a big concession. Johnson is wrapping up his presidency at UNR and obviously wants to leave a few legacy buildings. He's done that with a $48 million student fitness center, a $91 million engineering building, a $36 million University Arts Building and the $65 million Great Basin Hall, among other things. If he wants an athletics facility legacy building, this would be it. But, it's still a long way from reality.

Depends on whether Oregon QB Justin Herbert returns to school next season. If he does, the spread is in the 20s. If he doesn't, it could still be in the 20s. Nevada doesn't cover. Total is 75.5. Oregon wears some shade of yellow.

It died along with the dog Frisbee show and ZOOperstars.

Kevin Hart is one of the most annoying people in the world.

I prefer he ends up with the Giants.

MLB managers have a minimal impact on their teams, especially when compared to NFL and NBA head coaches. As such, I'm fine with him returning. He just has to iron out his in-game decisions, largely the bullpen management. It's not a strength, and that stuff is magnified in the playoffs.

This isn't a question, but it is indeed a very busy week in Wolf Pack land. Enjoy it!

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