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Murray's Mailbag: Will Nevada finish the season unbeaten?

Jazz Johnson
Jazz Johnson and the Wolf Pack are 10-0 this season. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

My wife and I saw The Nutcracker at the Pioneer Center on Saturday and the music and dancing were top notch, but I was taken by something else that happened on stage. After each dance routine, the ballerina or ballerino would go to the front of the stage and wait for the audience to applaud before taking a bow. And then they'd do a few more moves and another bow. And then at the end of the show they'd come out again and take another four bows. I write about sports for a living, so I mentally made the analogy to sports. Imagine a baseball player hitting a home run and as he crossed first base, he bows. Then he crosses second base and bows. Same after third base and home plate. Now, in sports, we would call that "hot-dogging." That player would get drilled in the head with a 95 mile per hour fastball during his next plate appearance. But in ballet, it is commonplace. Odd. I look forward to Yasiel Puig bowing after he hits every base following a home run next season. That'd be fun.

Onto your Monday Mailbag questions. 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).

We start with ballet, and Nick Beaton makes an astute point here. The Nutcracker announcer started the show by saying, "All dogs in the performance were donated by the SPCA; please support them," (or something like that). There was a dog in the first minute of the show and then zero dogs thereafter. Ripoff. I want my money back. I paid for multiple dogs.

OK. Enough ballet. Let's get to basketball.

Nevada got past its only Top 25 opponent this season by rallying to beat Arizona State. Before the game, I wrote Nevada would go 31-0 if it did beat the Sun Devils. I'll stick with that prediction. KenPom pegs the Wolf Pack going 29-2 and having a 12.5 percent chance of running the table. ESPN's BPI has Nevada going 28.3-2.7. TeamRankings has Nevada going 28.8-2.2. Odds are the Wolf Pack will lose a game, but Nevada's 10-0 start coupled with the Mountain West looking pretty poor has me believing the Wolf Pack can pull this thing off. Nevada can basically play "C"-level games against much of its remaining schedule and still pull out wins. They did so against Grand Canyon. They did so against Arizona State. This team has a pretty wide margin of error to secure victories given its talent, experience, versatility and coaching. And if it's hitting its three, forget about it. Nevada's going 31-0 this regular season, which means it also will be No. 1 in the nation at some point. No pressure or anything, but you can book it.

1. At San Diego State

2. At Utah State

3. At New Mexico

4. At Fresno State

5. At Utah

And Nevada is projected to win each of those games by at least six points, per RealTimeRPI.com. Like I said, 31-0.

I was not worried. Outside of last year's Mountain West Tournament game against San Diego State, the Wolf Pack shows up at some point in every game. It was just a matter of time against Arizona State. I figured the rally was coming at some point.

Also, good use of the word "Whammy." It reminded me of Press Your Luck, the greatest game show in game show history. I do love my Whammies, those little red devils.


No. I've never been a believer that a team entering the postseason in undefeated fashion hurts them (unless they over-exerted themselves physically in an effort to go undefeated). There's a ton of pressure on teams in the NCAA Tournament, and that pressure isn't different if a team is 34-0 or 33-1. If anything, an undefeated team would have more supreme confidence entering the tournament given it has never lost as a group.

I don't think so. It's nice to have scoring punch off the bench so if you do start slowly you have somebody to go to who can give you a spark. Johnson provides just that, plus he's playing with the game on the line late in contests. The finishing lineup is way more important than the starting lineup.

Pretty simple when it comes to the Arizona State and Grand Canyon games: no ball movement, bad shot selection and lots of turnovers. That's a triple whammy (Whammy!) of offensive issues that usually leads to your team not scoring. Against Arizona State, Nevada had eight turnovers in the first eight minutes and started the game 2-of-7. In its first nine possessions against Grand Canyon, it started 0-of-6, including 0-of-4 from three, and had three turnovers. Grand Canyon threw a surprise zone at Nevada, which kept it from going inside to Trey Porter, which is usually how the Wolf Pack likes to start games, so give credit to the Antelopes, but Nevada just hasn't started well offensively the last two games.

That has overshadowed to some degree how good Nevada has been on defense. The Wolf Pack is up to 31st in KenPom's defensive efficiency rankings. Once again, it has been great at defending the three (opponents are shooting just 28.3 percent beyond the arc) while avoiding fouls (opponents are shooting only 16.9 free throws per game). Nevada still doesn't create many turnovers, but it has been much better defensively this year than it was last season, which bodes well for March.

No. That'd actually be impossible. The Wolf Pack's all-time leader for double-doubles is Pete Padgett with 72. Caroline is at 35. Even if he double-doubled every game for the rest of the season, he wouldn't reach 72. That being said, Caroline is putting himself in exclusive company. Assuming he doesn't get hurt, he's on pace to finish fifth in career scoring in Nevada history, fifth in career rebounds and fourth in double-doubles (he needs 25 more to pass Edgar Jones, so he's pretty much stuck at fourth there). Pretty special career for a guy who spent only three seasons at Nevada.

A few things:

(a) Coach Musselman has shown he prefers a short rotation (even with a deep team he's basically playing six guys)

(b) Coach Musselman has shown he prefers a small-ball lineup (it's easier to defend that way)

(c) Coach Musselman has shown he prefers experienced players (hence all those transfers)

(d) Coach Musselman is running an NBA offense and defense (and it takes a while for freshmen to grasp it)

(e) Jordan Brown is not currently in the circle of trust for late-game situations (but he could get there)

Modern basketball is about smaller lineups with more versatility and 3-point shooting ability. Nevada's closing lineup, the one Musselman trusts with games on the line, includes the Martin twins, Jazz Johnson, Jordan Caroline and Tre'Shawn Thurman, all players capable of switching on screens, shooting threes and defending multiple positions.

I've said all along I'd play Jordan Brown as much as possible during the regular season so he's at full capability in March. But I'm also not the coach of the team (Nevada would be 0-10 if I was) and I also said last week it's kind of foolhardy to question a team that's 10-0 and ranked seventh in the nation (like Nevada). Brown did play pretty well in his two brief stints last week against Arizona State and Grand Canyon. In 17 minutes, he had six points (on 3-of-5 shooting), three rebounds, two blocks a steal, an assist and made some key hustle plays. I'll note Trey Porter only got nine minutes against Grand Canyon, too. The Antelopes mostly sat in the zone, so Nevada went with its "Shooter Lineup." The Wolf Pack has a lot of really good players, so it's tough for a freshman to get heavy minutes. If Brown wanted heavy minutes and touches, he could have gone to Cal. I'm sure there's some frustration, but there will be lots of available minutes next season, and Brown could still play his way into 15- to 20-minute territory as he continues to progress this season.

Worried? I'm not sure about that. Coach Musselman said during an NCAA Tournament press conference last year depth is the most overrated thing in college basketball. I tend to agree. You're talking about playing two games every week. You can stretch the guys. Could this strategy wear down the Wolf Pack over time? Yes, it could. We might be seeing some impact on that already given how Nevada shot the three the last two games (it was 9-of-40; that's 22.5 percent). Tired legs likely played some part in that. Could all these minutes lead to injuries? They could. But I'd expect the bench to get more minutes as Nevada's schedule eases up.

I'll go in reverse: Porter's minutes are somewhat limited because Nevada likes to play small, in part so it can switch on defense. As for the zone, that really comes down to the 3-point shooting. Nevada is not as good at that this season as it was last year. The Wolf Pack is shooting 35.8 percent from three, which is not bad but is not as good as the 39.2 percent it shot last season. Nevada only has two true 3-point shooting threats in Caleb Martin (whose 3-point percentage is down from 40.3 percent to 32.9 percent) and Jazz Johnson, who is basically taking the minutes of the big men (Porter and Brown). If Nevada is going to be an inconsistent shooting team, it will be vulnerable to zone defenses. Also, it's not a good offensive rebounding team, and getting second-chance points against the zone is a big key given the gaps in the defensive scheme.

Nevada is basically 2-1 against the Pac-12 (wins over USC and Arizona State and a exhibition loss to Washington). Two players starting for Oregon (Ehab Amin and Kenny Wooten), which is probably the Pac-12's top team, are Nevada castoffs. Yes, the Wolf Pack would win the Pac-12, but it wouldn't go through conference play undefeated. I'd peg Nevada around 15-3 or 14-4. There's a lot less margin for error when you're playing at Arizona, at Oregon, at UCLA, at Arizona State, at Washington, etc. than at San Jose State, at Air Force, at Colorado State, at Wyoming, etc.

Tied in with the prior question, it's worth pointing out the Pac-12 ranks sixth in conference RPI (that's last among the power conferences), but the Mountain West is 14th. That's pretty bad. Nevada's non-conference opponents have mostly disappointed (especially Loyola-Chicago and USC) and the MW teams also have under-achieved. That's especially true for the traditional MW "powers" of UNLV, SDSU and New Mexico, which haven't been very powerful of late.

* UNLV has lost three in a row, the defeats coming to Valparaiso, Cincinnati and Illinois.

* SDSU got blown out by Duke and Iowa State and just lost to San Diego and a bad Cal team.

* New Mexico has lost twice to rival NMSU and just dropped a 25-point decision to a down Saint Mary's team (after losing by 35 to New Mexico State).

Those teams are a combined 13-11 against Division I opponents this season. Woof! And in my "Disappointment Rankings," SDSU is the most disappointing, followed by New Mexico and UNLV.

That's not happening. Nevada needs the Mountain West so it can play FBS football. The best-case scenario is Gonzaga joining the MW, but the WCC is better than the MW right now anyway (seventh in the RPI compared to Nevada's 14th), so there's no reason for the Zags to leave the WCC and Nevada isn't leaving the MW.

I'll take the Martins, with the Jordans having the best chance of knocking them off given Caroline's toughness and finishing ability around the rim and Brown's size and post moves. They'd have trouble guarding the Martins, though. The Tres aren't bad, either, but I don't see them taking down either group.

The Wolf Pack freshman is from Phoenix, so presumably he made the trip so he could go home for the game against Grand Canyon on Sunday. He's still redshirting. But it's nice to take the redshirt freshmen on some trips. I'd probably take them on all of the trips just to get that travel experience, as long as it doesn't interfere with their acclimation to college academics.

This seems like two different questions, one about the six-game stretch and one about playing away from home.

For the first one: Lots of teams will have a harder six-game stretch. Yes, Nevada played six straight away from home, but only one of those games was against a top-100 NET team. The six games were against teams ranked 26, 114, 120, 123, 145 and 174 in NET. I'll just take Gonzaga, for example. The Zags are in the middle of a six-game stretch that includes contests with Duke, Tennessee, North Carolina, Creighton, Washington and North Dakota State. The NETs on those teams are 3, 5, 15, 43, 57 and 195. Four of those were away from home. Duke has a stretch later this season against Virginia, Louisville, NC State, North Carolina, Syracuse and Virginia Tech. That's four ranked teams and two teams (Louisville, NC State) who have been receiving votes for most of the season.

For the second question: Nevada does play way more road/neutral court games than a typical Top 25 team. I wrote about this last season. That being said, Gonzaga is a good comp again. Six of their non-conference games are away from home (two road, four neutral). Nevada has seven non-conference away games (three road, four neutral). Duke plays five non-conference away games, all on neutral sites. So, Nevada has been more willing to play true road games than other top-caliber teams. It just hasn't been able to land as many Quad 1 games. Last year, Nevada was rewarded by the selection committee for playing so many road games. Presumably, it also will be rewarded for doing so again this season.

I believe the AP is tasking me with ranking the 25 best teams in the nation, not to make statements about how teams schedule. I obviously bake into the equation where games are played and reward teams for leaving home. But Couch doesn't have Duke, Kansas or Tennessee in his Top 25, and you'd be insane to argue those teams are not among the 25 best in the nation.

Nevada agreed to play it? That's probably the easiest way of explaining how it ended up on the schedule. The Staples Center game was scheduled before the Grand Canyon game, so Nevada knew what it was getting into, even if it thought it would be playing an earlier game at Staples. The 9 p.m. start there didn't help things.

Yes, if Nevada is that high of a seed, it should be in Salt Lake/San Jose. Whether it is in Anaheim would depend on whether Nevada is put in the West Region, which it should be if it is a top two or three seed. How about we predict No. 1-seeded Gonzaga vs. No. 2-seeded Nevada in the Elite 8 in Anaheim with a Final Four berth on the line?

I imagine they'd be more focused on playing in the Final Four the following week, but the allure of "It's a Small World" is strong.

It was funny when Jerry Colangelo was on the ESPN broadcast saying "we" in reference to Grand Canyon. That was definitely not a neutral-court setting. And apparently Grand Canyon students get academic credits for attending basketball games. That's amazing.

And the Pioneer Center is getting more Twitter buzz than it ever has thanks to you, the readers. Too bad we can't get them the @PioneerCenter Twitter handle.

I actually think he's a lot more calm during halftime than most people would expect. I'm sure he's had his outbursts at times, but he knows he has a veteran team he doesn't need to yell at too often. And the Martin twins probably light up the room if need be.

There's no guarantee any Wolf Pack player is drafted after this season, which is why it's so remarkable Nevada is where it is. Usually you need multiple sure-thing pros to have a top-10 team. Nevada might be doing so without an NBA player on the roster, although there's a good chance one of Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline and/or Jordan Brown makes an NBA team at some stage in their careers. I'm coming around on Caroline as a potential NBA player. He obviously has a height issue, but he's just so tough and great at getting on the floor quicker than the competition. With the NBA moving away from a traditional big lineup, he could find a role if he proves to be a capable enough 3-point shooter. There's also a lot of luck involved in making an NBA roster, so you can't predict that. I still think Cameron Oliver has been the Wolf Pack's best NBA prospect in the Musselman era. He could still make it to the league, too.

Give me Ryan Radtke or give me death.

Nevada's recruiting class is basically done. Here it is. Only three scholarships left to give out. Sewell's departure didn't impact Nevada's recruiting.

I don't think so. Unlike his brother Nephi, Gabe, a senior-to-be, does not have a redshirt year available, so he'd either have to: (a) transfer to an FCS school or (b) graduate this summer and transfer to an FBS school as a grad transfer. I don't know his academic status, but I imagine he'll be lining up in the middle of the Nevada defense in 2019.

McLane Mannix? Because he wants to get a scholarship at another school and signing day is Dec. 19. If he waited until after Nevada's bowl game, which is Dec. 29, his options would have been thinned greatly.

I don't think so. Every play has the option to audible at the line of scrimmage, but a run-pass option is a play that can be either a run or pass after the snap depending on how the defense reacts. Not every play has that option, with read-pass options usually hinging on what one specific defender does post-snap.

I know a lot of people are breaking down the money and financial potential of both choices, but I would advise my younger brother this: Play the sport that you enjoy the most. He's going to be rich either way. If you pick a sport solely based on potential earnings, you're not going to excel at the highest level. Play what you love. Now, I'd pick baseball because I like having a functioning brain. But if he loves football more than baseball and doesn't mind risking his brain, he should pick that sport. Also, I'm not sold on him thriving in either because: (a) he's historically short for an NFL quarterback; and (b) he's lost a ton of baseball reps while playing two sports, and reps are essentially to excel in baseball. He's a raw prospect on the diamond. I'm not sure he's a star in either support. But I still love my little brother.

I don't see it. They're never mentioned in potential expansion locations, with Portland, Charlotte, Montreal, Austin/San Antonio and even Mexico City ahead of Vegas. Now, if Vegas can build a new stadium and have that ready for a team, it jumps up the line, but Vegas has a much better shot of getting an NBA team than an MLB team. In fact, I think it has an NBA team within the next 10 years (but not an MLB one).

Here is the new UNLV logo. Here is the Las Vegas Aviators logo. The Aviators logo is worse. By a lot. It's horrible. It needs to be redone. I'm ashamed to live in the same state where that logo was conceived.

I'll set the over/under at 3.5 staffers.

I don't watch the NFL, although it's funny to see NFL teams let their season go to hell rather than sign Colin Kaepernick. (I'm looking at you Washington Racial Slurs).

It sure as hell wouldn't include Harold Baines. What a travesty that was yesterday.

My ballot would include: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Scott Rolen, Manny Ramirez, Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay and Larry Walker. Give me all of the steroids!

I honestly don't know. It's stupid to schedule that far in advance because it's harder to know what type of team you have and what type of team your opponent will have. This is especially true for teams competing for College Football Playoff spots. But it's the way things have always been done and schools don't like to break with tradition. As such, there's probably a fear everybody will have their schedules filled up if you wait. And if you're a team like Nevada and Kansas State offers you $1 million to play five years from now, you kind of have to take it. But it'd make a lot more sense to do it like basketball where you have a better idea of what you're signing up for.

Sources tell me Nevada is trying to get into the 2020 NBA playoffs.

There are no odd questions. There are only dumb questions. And this is not one.

I don't think you'll see a sports franchise in the Reno Events Center in the near future. The RSCVA, which runs the Events Center, does not want to be in the sports business. There's a small chance the Reno Events Center gets a minor-league hockey team, but I wouldn't bank on it.

I'll take the crappy phone over the crappy computer. I'm looking forward to retiring one day just so I don't need to have a phone.

Nyeko cradled that free throw ball like it was an egg. It was beautiful.

I would check "Haven't Started." But thanks to Goddard School in Sparks, we are getting a "Parents Day Out" this Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. when they'll watch the kid so we can do some shopping. Also, we bought a $2,600 St. Bernard puppy for the kids this summer (plus a couple more thousand in other service, like a spay), so that takes care of most of the Christmas presents.

Don Quixote, which also is a book that's so long every time I start reading it I get sad knowing I do not have the discipline to get to the end (or even the middle). Those damn windmills get me every time.

I thought it was great, but that Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky definitely stole some songs from the Home Alone soundtrack. What a thief!

I'll actually take No. 2. I like the story line of the South Bend Shovel Slayer in Home Alone 1 better than the story line of Central park Bird Lady in Home Alone 2, but the battle scene in Home Alone 2 is way better. As always, it comes back to Home Alone with me. See y'all next week.

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