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Murray's Mailbag: Which team will win the Mountain West Tournament?

Trey Porter
Trey Porter battles for a rebound against UNLV earlier this season. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

One week from today we will know exactly where the Nevada basketball team is headed for the NCAA Tournament. But until then, all we have is speculation. So let's speculate by diving into this week's Monday Twitter Mailbag. 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).

First round: Colorado State beats Boise State; New Mexico beats Wyoming; Air Force beats San Jose State.

Quarterfinals: Nevada beats Colorado State; San Diego State beats UNLV; Fresno State beats Air Force; Utah State beats New Mexico.

Semifinals: Nevada beats San Diego State; Fresno State beats Utah State.

Final: Nevada beats Fresno State.

Feel free to watch the tournament, but that's what's going to happen.

He's not wearing a tie at the Mountain West Tournament. And he's only wearing a tie at the NCAA Tournament if he gets Big Brother'd into it.

Winning the MW Tournament would benefit Nevada because it would give the Wolf Pack a better seed in the NCAA Tournament, and seeding is important because the better seed you have the worse opponent you play. That being said, how Nevada plays in the MW Tournament doesn't matter come NCAA Tournament time. The Wolf Pack got crushed in the MW Tournament semifinal last year and got to the Sweet 16. It won the MW Tournament two years ago and was fairly easily dispatched in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. I don't really believe in momentum, and neither does Eric Musselman.

Fifty percent chance of a six seed and 50 percent chance of a seven seed in that scenario. Nevada's current computer mix has it most often being a seventh seed right now, so an additional loss won't help that case.

A four seems more or less out of the question, so probably a five.

Nevada set a program record for regular-season wins (28), set a program record for fewest losses in a regular season (three), won a third straight MW championship, hit a program-best fifth in the nation in the AP Top 25 and spent the entire season in the top 20. If that's not a success for a mid-major program, I don't know what success would look like.

Here is how Nevada's NCAA Tournament teams since 2000 have been ranked in the most important computer rankings.

* 2019: 23 in KenPom (+20.09); 19 SRS (17.50); 16 RPI; 20 Sagarin. Average: 19.5 (seed TBD)

* 2004: 20 in KenPom (+20.27); 24 SRS (14.91); 27 RPI; 21 Sagarin. Average: 23.0 (seed 10)

* 2018: 25 in KenPom (+18.39); 32 SRS (14.44); 17 RPI; 32 Sagarin. Average: 26.5 (seed 7)

* 2006: 37 in KenPom (+15.22); 52 SRS (10.16); 17 RPI; 43 Sagarin. Average: 37.3 (seed 5)

* 2007: 47 in KenPom (+16.09); 59 (10.58); 23 RPI; 40 Sagarin. Average: 42.3 (seed 7)

* 2005: 55 in KenPom (+12.11); 61 SRS (9.25); 28 RPI; 38 Sagarin. Average: 45.5 (seed 9)

* 2017: 54 in KenPom (+13.31); 62 SRS (10.49); 29 RPI; 88 Sagarin. Average: 58.3 (seed 12)

So, yes, these seeds don't really make much sense. That 2005-06 team (which lost to Montana in the first round as a fifth seed) certainly looks like it was over-seeded. It should have been closer to a seven seed. The win at Kansas that season appears to have carried a ton of weight because the only other non-conference teams Nevada beat that year with an above-.500 record were Pacific (24-8) and UNLV (17-13). Winning 14 straight games going into the NCAA Tournament had to help, too. But the WAC wasn't even all that good that season (only Utah State and Louisiana Tech won 20 games from the conference). The loss to Montana makes a lot more sense now.

Good question, and the answer is clearly the second half of the Nevada-Loyola Chicago Sweet 16 game. If the Wolf Pack wins that game, it almost certainly beats Kansas State in the Elite Eight and reaches the Final Four. Nevada might have a better team this season -- I'm not sure that's the case; it seems to be about the same in value just with different strengths -- but it's not going to get as easy a path to the Final Four as it got in 2018. As in ever. Nevada could play 100 more seasons and the path will never open up quite like it did last season. That path from the first round to the Final Four was against a 10 seed, a 2 seed, an 11 seed and a 9 seed. That's crazy! If the Wolf Pack replays that second half against Loyola Chicago, it most likely wins and Lawlor Events Center most likely has a Final Four banner hanging from the rafters.

San Jose = 50 percent

Salt Lake = 25 percent

One of the other six locations = 25 percent

The unbalanced schedule isn't fair, but I wouldn't complain about it too much. Nevada played Wyoming and San Jose State once each and both teams were brutal. Utah State, which tied Nevada for the Mountain West title, got Boise State and UNLV once each. The Aggies probably beat both of those teams a second time, but they're more difficult challenges than Wyoming and San Jose State. I believe the MW's official line is its schedules are randomized (not rotated), but I've always believed they are set up so the expected best teams in the conference only play the expected worst teams in the conference once each to try and make things as fair as possible at the top. When a team projected to be bad (like Utah State, which was picked ninth in the preseason poll) ends up being good, it messes things up a little. UNLV got super lucky this year, playing Utah State and Fresno State only once each.

It would be the biggest series of upsets in NCAA history. It's also not happening. SJSU isn't even winning one game. If the Spartans win one game at the MW Tournament, I'll stop my "Kick SJSU Out Of The MW" campaign.

In order to do that, you need a 10-team tournament. The Mountain West has 11 teams. So that's kind of an issue. I'd be fine with kicking San Jose State into the sun right now to get to 10 teams, but I'm not a huge fan of the double bye. That would mean team Nos. 7-10 in your bracket have to win five games in five nights to win the conference tournament. That's a little much to ask to appease the top two teams with a double bye.

The last time I checked, five players take the court at a time, so an all-conference "team" should include only five players. The MW does a five-person first team, a five-person second team and a five-person third team. That's exactly how it should be done.

Poorly. That Nevada team would be Jazz Johnson, Corey Henson, Nisré Zouzoua, Jordan Brown and K.J. Hymes with Jalen Townsell and David Cunningham off the bench. Lindsey Drew never got healthy, Vincent Lee transferred midseason and Zach Wurm was dismissed, so that's thinned the roster. You basically have a seven-man team. That squad finishes ninth in the Mountain West ahead of only Wyoming and San Jose State (and I'm not sure it finishes ahead of the Cowboys, who had a first-team All-MW player in Justin James).

San Diego State's Jalen McDaniels, a sophomore, is turning pro, so I won't count him. The preseason 2019-20 All-MW team should include:

* Sam Merill, Utah State

* Neemias Queta, Utah State

* Nico Carvacho, Colorado State

* Jalen Harris, Nevada

* Derrick Alston, Boise State

I'd note, Queta could turn pro and Carvacho could transfer. Harris and Alston aren't as established as stars yet, but I like both.

Of course it is Murray State. My great-great-grandfather didn't found that school in 1922 just to show up to the tournament. The Racers are going deep. Murray State has arguably the best player in the country in Ja Morant, a sophomore who is averaging 24.6 points, 10 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game while making 50.3 percent of his shots. He's unstoppable. He dropped 29 points in Ohio Valley Tournament semifinal and 36 in the title game. He's dropping 40 on whichever sad No. 5 team has to face Murray State. The Racers are going Sweet 16, at minimum.

My dream matchup is Nevada vs. Murray State. I'm literally going to dream about that game tonight.

And here are your most accurate Bracketologists.

Current 11/12 seeds ranked from most dangerous to least dangerous: Florida, Texas, NC State, Murray State, New Mexico State, Clemson, Ohio State, TCU, Arizona State, Temple.

So, would I rather see a 26-5 Belmont team (which has 17 wins in Quad 4 games) in the tournament or a 16-15 Texas team (which has played 14 Quad 1 games) in the tournament? I'd rather see Texas despite the nearly .500 record. Texas would beat Belmont 65 percent of the time, and the committee's job is to find the best teams in the nation. Mid-majors do get jobbed in this process, though.

Nevada was up by 19 points with more than eight minutes to play. I probably would have put David Cunningham in then so he could score at least one bucket. The tough part is Nevada has seven seniors, so you would have had to limit one senior's minutes to give more minutes to David Cunningham, the walk-on fan favorite. But Musselman likes to pound teams. He very rarely gives minutes to walk-ons in blowouts. That's not his style. That said, Nevada walloping SDSU like it did might end up hurting the Wolf Pack's résumé. San Diego State is 133rd in the NET rankings, and if falls to 136 or lower, the Wolf Pack's loss at SDSU earlier this season turns into a dreaded Quad 3 defeat. It's all very complicated, but Nevada needs SDSU to look better on paper than it actually is to help the Wolf Pack's résumé.

Nevada should beat Boise State or Colorado State handily enough in the quarterfinal round to get Cunningham some run if it wants to, and the Wolf Pack should be limiting minutes as much as possible this week to save some legs for a potential MW title game, which would be a third game played in three nights. Cunningham is 0-of-4 this season, so he could use a basket. It is enviable how much Cunningham tries to play team ball in his limited minutes. Most walk-ons would be tossing up all kind of junk in those situations but he doesn't. Just four shot attempts in 16 total minutes this season for Cunningham.

Or even hit the rim! And they've actually been doing repair work on Lawlor's roof for parts of the last two years, hence the bat issue at times.

Jeremy Hemsley, the San Diego State guard who willingly became Public Enemy No. 1 on Saturday at Lawlor Events Center, was 3-for-3 overall (all from three) prior to trying to rev up the crowd to boo him. He went 3-of-8 after, including 0-of-3 from three. I don't think the boos impacted him all that much. He didn't change the way he played and was bound to cool off from three. He was actually a little emotional after the game because he knew that was the last time (as a senior) he'd get to play in front of a court that was jeering him so loudly. He really enjoyed it. And kudos to the Wolf Pack fans for their strong booing. That's the loudest I've heard Lawlor fans boo a player since they booed JaVale McGee for shooting too many threes against Houston in the 2008 CBI.

I've been asked this a few times in the Mailbag this year and Nevada's 2014 win over UNLV has been my gold standard for noise at Lawlor. Saturday's game against SDSU was in the top five, if not No. 1. As the kids say, it was lit.

Nevada did a coordinated wave once this season.

Also, a story: When I was in eighth grade, I won a trip with the top students from Pau Wa Lu Middle School (a real thing) to a Nevada basketball game. It was my first game at Lawlor. I bought a program and it was signed by coach Pat Foster, so I won a free dinner to a Mexican restaurant, which is what every 13-year-old clearly wants above all else. Late in the game, our P.E. teacher, who was chaperoning the event, said if anybody could get the arena, which was mostly open, to do the wave all the way around, our class would get out of stretching before our next P.E. session. I was able to get the wave going and the next day he waived our P.E. stretching in my honor. I was a legend that day at Pau Wa Lu, a god damn legend.

I obviously am not privy to individual students' academic progress, but I don't think Lindsey Drew would be eligible for a grad transfer this summer. Don't believe he's on track to graduate in May. I expect he'll be at Nevada next season no matter who the Wolf Pack's coach is.

Unless they graduate from Nevada, they'd have to transfer to a non-Division I school, so that ain't happening. They aren't sitting out another season to go to a different school.

Does beating Nevada take a part of a team's soul? No, I don't think so. You obviously have to expend a lot of energy to beat Nevada, so you might be left a little weak for the next game, but I don't think it saps a team from that point forward.

We do have the contract details. I literally have his contract in my desk. Musselman gets 25 percent of every dollar on ticket sales over the $1.431 million mark. Figuring out the ticket sales is the tough part. I've never been able to get those numbers in the past, and it's difficult to finger even if I did because Musselman's cut is only off the price of the tickets sold and does not include the mandatory donation that comes with buying season tickets (and that's the big chunk of money). But you're talking at least $100,000 and potentially up to $300,000 or so. That's on top of his $1 million salary. And on top of the $10,000 he gets for winning the MW and another $10,000 for making the NCAA Tournament. He's going to get $1.2 million or so this year, an investment that is clearly worth it. Of note: If Musselman leaves for another job before May 1, he'd forfeit that season-ticket bonus money.

Lindsey Drew probably soaks up Jazz Johnson and Corey Henson's minutes. Those two combined for 40.9 minutes per game. If Drew was healthy, you're probably looking at Drew getting 25 minutes a game and Johnson 16. I don't think it changes Nevada's record that much. Maybe the Wolf Pack goes 29-2 instead of 28-3, but Drew doesn't really solve Nevada's biggest issue, which is perimeter shooting. I think it's beneficial for everybody involved that he redshirted this season. He's going to be a big piece to next year's team, a bigger piece than he would have been had he been woven into the rotation midway through this season.

As for the eight seniors thing, Cameron Oliver also would have been a senior this season had he stayed at Nevada. Now that would have been season-changing. The Wolf Pack could have gone 31-0 with him in the fold. I'd feel much more confident projecting Nevada as a Sweet 16/Elite 8 team if Nevada had Oliver's shot blocking/athleticism/rebounding/3-point shooting on the roster.

Even if Nevada was 30-1 right now (with or without Oliver), I don't think it'd be a two seed. Just not enough Quad 1 wins, and the Wolf Pack's personnel wouldn't change the fact it's schedule let it down.

And I'll take peeps over marshmallow peanuts regardless of color.

Nevada's Achilles' heel for me is the Wolf Pack's shooting, but not its free throw shooting. It's the team's 3-point shooting. Nevada makes 71.1 percent of its free throws, which is above the national average (by a small amount). The Wolf Pack could certainly lose a game because of its free throw shooting, but so could any team in the nation. The team's starting center (Trey Porter) is rarely on the court during the end of games, so I don't see him "losing a game" for Nevada. The one guy to watch is Jordan Caroline, who needs to be on the floor late in games but is shooting just 63.3 percent from the free throw line. The rest of Nevada's closing lineup is at 73.9 percent or higher, which is good.

They are absolutely allowed to go. The only players who can't travel are those redshirting due to transfers, so a guy like Jalen Harris. Since the NCAA covers travel for the Big Dance, there's no reason not to bring the redshirting freshmen (K.J. Hymes and Jalen Townsell). It'd be a nice reward for their work in practice.

Jordan Brown will certainly get more than the 10.4 minutes per game he received this season, but I don't think it's a lock he's playing 30 minutes per game next year, which I imagine most fans envision. Musselman pretty clearly favors a small-ball lineup, which will limit the minutes any big gets unless you're like a Cameron Oliver type who can hit enough threes to space the floor. I'd peg Brown for 20-25 minutes per game next season, a number that could increase depending on how Nevada deploys its final three scholarships. The Wolf Pack's 2019-20 depth chart looks as follows.

PG: Lindsey Drew/Jazz Johnson/JoJo Anderson

SG: Jalen Harris/Nisré Zouzoua/Daryl Edwards

SF: Eric Parrish/Jalen Townsell

PF: Shamiel Stevenson (eligible in December)

C: Jordan Brown/K.J. Hymes

Redshirting: Mike Lewis II

That's thin up front. If Nevada stands pat up front, Brown is going to have to play a good chunk of minutes. If the Wolf Pack adds a grad transfer big, there will be competition up there. Obviously Brown's production will dictate to some degree how many minutes he gets. The number will certainly be higher next year, but there's no lock it's 30-plus minutes a night.

No. He didn't get enough playing time to judge him. It's hard to establish yourself when you don't get playing time. He showed flashes and the potential for future success. The most disappointing story was probably that whole fire extinguisher thing or that night at The Pit.

Trey Porter is 38 points shy of 1,000 in his career.

Nevada has three scholarships remaining, so the roster isn't even close to being set.

The starting lineup is above, but that will change with the future additions.

I think you'll see a transfer from a scholarship player who is eligible to return. Happens every year, and there's a pretty obvious target on the roster, but I'm not going to speculate on a specific name unless a move is made.

Not that I know of. The only Wolf Pack recruit who took an official visit during a gameday this season that I know of was LSU's Daryl Edwards, who ended up committing. Nevada does most of its recruiting from April-June during the Division I transfer period, although it added mid-year guys Mike Lewis II and Shamiel Stevenson this winter without official visits.

He is leaning toward reclassifying to 2019. He'd be 19 when the season starts next year, so moving to 2019 makes a ton of sense. Also, it seems like Memphis is the strong front-runner to land Walker.

I feel like previous years' numbers are inflated. An example would be the 11,841 fans announced for the 2017 UNLV game (the arena only holds 11,536 fans). That's why it's best not to inflate numbers because it makes it difficult to ever catch them in the future.

I don't know if they cut down nets, but you are allowed to cut down nets on the road. It's not illegal. Just need to bring yourself a ladder to the festivities.

I don't think it's that big of an issue. The area is used for team video, venue video (replays and stuff) and national television video. Since cameras are now as large as those operating them (that wasn't the case when Lawlor Events Center was built in 1983), a little extra space was needed, so that section was blocked off. Additional construction to remedy that would cost more than any additional revenue that would come in.

Unrelated, I've had some people ask about potentially renovating Lawlor to add sky boxes, which would bring in a ton of cash in the abstract. That would require a mountain of construction money and would require the removal of a couple thousand seats where the boxes would be put in. It might create more revenue if you priced the boxes at a really high rate, but that's a ton of investment in what would likely be a revenue-neutral move over the next 5-10 years when you include the loan needed to do such a renovation.

That's not happening. That would require turning a lot of big-money seats into a free student section. Plus, having the students behind the hoop when the opponents shoot second-half free throws is important. JUMBO! JACK!

Gonzaga would beat Nevada about 80 percent of the time, so there's a path for the Wolf Pack to beat the Zags but it's not wide. Gonzaga is in my group of six favorites to win the national title with Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Michigan State and Kentucky.

Not illegal. You could set up a fundraiser to raise money and then donate that sum to Nevada with the caveat it must go straight to a Musselman contract. That being said, $100,000 isn't much. If UCLA (or a similar program) wants Eric Musselman, UCLA (or a similar program) is almost certainly going to get Eric Musselman.

If you missed it, LSU coach Will Wade was wiretapped and could be out of a job soon. LSU did not approach Musselman when the job was open two years ago when it hired Wade. That was a little surprising given Musselman was the associate head coach for the Tigers for a season. But Musselman has a much higher profile than he had two seasons ago. Last week, I ranked in my Mailbag the jobs across the nation better than Nevada, and LSU made the cut. That's probably a job you make the jump for. Great recruiting area, tons of money, a $15 million practice facility, pretty good university support, familiarity with the area, wife is from the south. It checks the boxes.

It's hard to tell when we don't know which jobs are open, but the odds of Musselman being Nevada's head coach next season are higher than the odds of Musselman not being Nevada's head coach next season.

HaHa! That's funny. Every time Nevada plays on CBS Sports Network, the game tends to run long or go into overtime to pre-empt the start of the Wolf Pack game. Good news is CBS Sports Network puts the feed online for free until the game goes over the air, but it is annoying when Wichita State and Tulane are battling into the seventh overtime.

As noted above, you can stream the game from CBS Sports' website to your screen via an Apple TV when the game before runs long. It's not convenient, but it's an available option.

Nevada gets about $1.1 million per season from the MW's television deal with ESPN and CBS Sports Network. The contracts run through the 2019-20 season. I think Nevada will take $1.1 million a year even if it means fans who don't attend the game in person might miss the first couple minutes of action if the prior game runs long.

Line is 0.5 times. I'll take the under.

Not that I know of.

From Nevada:

"Current University students with a valid student ID can enter a lottery for student tickets for the NCAA Tournament. Ten (10) students will be chosen from the lottery to purchase up to two (2) tickets each ($66 each). The deadline to enter the lottery is also 5 p.m. on March 13 and students will be notified if they are selected no later than Sunday, March 17. Those selected will have until 5 p.m. on Monday, March 18 to complete purchase of the tickets. Tickets are non-transferable and must be picked up in person at the NCAA Tournament venue. To register, go to NevadaWolfPack.com/MarchMadness"

Safety and the interior offensive line. I have no idea who is going to play safety for Nevada in 2019. That's a gigantic question mark.

I give you a 50-50 shot of winning your league.

Guardians of the Galaxy for sure, but I did enjoy Captain Marvel's '90s music. Nirvana's "Come As You Are" probably cost a ton, although Disney can afford it. I'd also note Captain Marvel is probably the worst Marvel movie other than Iron Man 2. It wasn't bad but was more meh than wow. I'll take grunge as the men's team's genre because the squad is largely built on defense. I'll take Kidz Bop for the women's basketball team because its roster is so young.

1. Cobra Skulls

2. Aaron Rodgers

3. Most likely Nevada makes the NCAA Regionals but not the NCAA Championships

4. Zero percent

Believe it or not, Nevada used to have a juggling club.

Fans of all teams are insufferable. Except for you, Dear Reader. You aren't annoying at all.

It is the player of the year (POY) award and Sam Merrill was the best player during the conference season in the Mountain West. It's barely even debatable. But you can have multiple great players in the same league as the MW did this season.

Chickaletta eats it.

Wolfie. Duh. And with that, I must depart to try and move up the sexy rankings. See ya next week!

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