Nevada basketball has plenty of 'statement win' chances in non-conference play

Jalen Harris
Jalen Harris and the Wolf Pack have some quality games on the non-conference schedule. (Nick Beaton/Nevada athletics)

The Quadrant system dogged the Nevada basketball team last season.

The Wolf Pack racked up an impressive 28-3 regular-season record and spent basically the entire year in the top 10, but it didn't have a Quad 1 non-conference win. And after losing in the Mountain West Tournament semifinal, Nevada was hammered by the NCAA Tournament selection committee, getting a No. 7 seed despite having a 29-4 mark heading into the Big Dance.

The outside expectations for this year's iteration of the Wolf Pack aren't nearly as high, but the goal of every quality mid-major is to put together a good enough non-conference schedule to potentially get an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. Nevada released its 12-game non-conference schedule Tuesday and it has put together a slate, largely built by former coach Eric Musselman and staff, that's good enough for an at-large berth if everything goes right.

Here is Nevada's full non-conference slate, but it's probably more telling to break down the games into the Quadrant system. You can never predict exactly how a team will turn out, so these are just projections, but here is my guess on where each of these non-league games will fit in the all-important Quadrant system. But first, a quick reminder of how the Quadrant system, which rewards teams for playing road and neutral-site games, breaks down.

Quadrant 1: Home 1-30 NET, Neutral 1-50 NET, Away 1-75 NET

Quadrant 2: Home 31-75, Neutral 51-100, Away 76-135

Quadrant 3: Home 76-160, Neutral 101-200, Away 135-240

Quadrant 4: Home 161-353, Neutral 201-353, Away 241-353

Wolf Pack non-conference quad projections

Quad 1

at Davidson: This game has the best potential of being a Quad 1 game for two reasons: (1) It's on the road, so Davidson's NET can go all the way up to 75 while remaining a Quad 1 game; and (2) Davidson should be pretty good this year. The Wildcats were 81st in the NET rankings last year, so it just missed that top-75 cutoff. But Davidson is returning all five starters and its top six scorers from a 24-win team. I'd be shocked if this wasn't a Quad 1 game.

vs. Saint Mary's (neutral site): As a neutral-site game, Saint Mary's has to post a NET in the top 50 for this to fit into the Quad 1 category. The Gaels finished 35th in NET last season and loses only one rotation player off last season's team, so Saint Mary's shouldn't drop any from last year's NCAA Tournament squad that went 22-12. It's fair to believe this will also end up a Quad 1 game at season's end.

at BYU: BYU finished 89th in NET last season, which would have made this a Quad 2 game. This is one of Nevada's two road games in non-conference play, so it only requires a top-75 NET from BYU for it to be Quad 1. Despite having a first-year head coach, I think the Cougars will get that done. BYU returns seven of its top eight scorers from last season, including star Yoeli Childs, and added impact grad transfer Jake Toolson. This is a quality road game.

vs. Paradise Jam (game 3 foe TBD): This one is pure projection since we don't know who the Pack will play. For this to be a Quad 1 game, Nevada will almost certainly have to win its first two Paradise Jam contests to get to the championship game. If it does so, it will probably face Cincinnati, which finished 24th in NET last year and returns its top three scorers. This game could go anywhere from Quad 1 to Quad 4 based on the opponent. To some degree, Nevada can dictate this being a quality game by reaching the title game.

Quad 2

vs. USC: The Pac-12 was garbage last year, which killed Nevada, which beat Arizona State, Utah and USC and got little for that as each was a Quad 2 win. Nevada will need USC to be a top-75 NET team for this to be a Quad 2 game. It is questionable whether that happens. The Trojans were 87th in NET last year and returns just two of their top seven scorers from last season, but transfers Quinton Adlesh and Daniel Utomi are added to a top-10 recruiting class, so the talent will be there.

Quad 3

vs. Utah: Yes, Utah is a Pac-12 team, but the Utes finished 97th in the NET ranking last season and would have to be in the top 75 this year for this to be a Quad 2 game. I don't see that happening as Utah lost three of its top four scorers and four of its top six. Larry Krystkowiak is a good coach, but this is a super young team (15 of Utah's 17 players are freshmen or sophomores), so I don't see how this turns out to be better than a Quad 3 contest.

vs. Paradise Jam (game 2 foe TBD): Nevada will play either Valparaiso or Grand Canyon in this slot. I'm guessing it will be Grand Canyon (Nevada and GCU should win their openers). That would put this on the edge of Quad 2 and 3 territory. The Antelopes were 104th in NET last season, which would have made this a Quad 3 game, and GCU lost three of its top five scorers from last year's 2-14 team. If the opponent is Valparaiso, this is a Quad 3 game in the best-case scenario.

vs. Loyola Marymount: The Lions went 22-12 last season but only mustered a 141 NET, so this is a Quad 3 game at best with a real possibility of it being a Quad 4 game. LMU returns four of its top five scorers from last season, with its leading scorer being the one who departure, so this team should remain solid enough to stay in the Quad 3 bracket.

vs. Texas-Arlington: The Mavericks posted a NET of 160 last season, which would have qualified on the nose for a Quad 3 game. Texas-Arlington closed the season strong, going 12-6 in Sun Belt play, good for second place in the conference, and returns most of its core from last season, including four of its top five scorers, so I'll guess this one stays in the Quad 3 category.

Quad 4

vs. Santa Clara: Of the three games projected in this category, this contest has the best shot of jumping a tier. Santa Clara posted a NET of 184. With this being a home game for Nevada, the Broncos must post a top-160 NET to get into the Quad 3 class. Santa Clara's top five scorers return from last year's 16-15 team and Herb Sendek is a good coach, so this one could rise a tier from my projection.

vs. Fordham (neutral site): Nevada's opening game in the Paradise Jam is against a Fordham team that went 12-20 last season, including a 3-15 mark in conference play (14th in the 14-team Atlantic 10). Fordham was 245th in NET last season and would have to move into the top 200 to jump into the Quad 3 category. I don't see that happening after leading scorer Nick Honor transferred to Clemson.

vs. Texas Southern: The Tigers had a tremendous 2018-19 season, going 24-14 and beating three Power 5 schools, but it still only pulled in a NET of 205, which would have made this a Quad 4 game. And with Texas Southern losing its top five scorers from last season, this will almost certainly remain a Quad 4 game.

Final analysis

So, there you have it. Of Nevada's 12 non-conference games, I'm projecting four Quad 1s, one Quad 2, four Quad 3s and three Quad 4s. Having seven of your 12 non-conference games being in the Quad 3/4 category isn't great, but Nevada has some legitimately juicy opportunities. The Wolf Pack should have three Quad 1 games, at minimum, this season, each of which being very winnable. Nevada obviously has to win those contests to pick up some crucial NET cred, but the Wolf Pack enters this season with a more favorable slate of opportunities than it had last season. Now, Nevada's opponents need to uphold their end of the bargain, and the Wolf Pack needs to score some victories in those contests.

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