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Murray's Mailbag: Which Mountain West schools spend the most money on basketball?

UNLV basketball
UNLV basketball has a big budget but not so many wins. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

This week's Monday Mailbag had a lot of Wolf Pack basketball questions, so we'll go deep on Nevada, which was swept at Utah State over the weekend. The Wolf Pack has one more regular-season game remaining (at home against Colorado State on Friday) before the all-important conference tournament, which Nevada must win to extend its NCAA Tournament streak to four straight berths (since last year didn't technically count). With the NIT trimming down to 16 teams this season, that's not an option for Nevada, either. So it will be boom or bust for the Wolf Pack next week in Las Vegas, although the CBI (if they're still playing that) could be an option. Let's get to your questions!

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

Fun Fact: That's a regulation 10-foot hoop. My dad is just 9-foot-1, so it looks like a smaller hoop.

The last update provided by the U.S. Department of Education came in fiscal year 2019. The numbers typically lag one season, but in this case you're looking at a lag of two as fiscal year 2020 numbers should have been available last summer. That being said, the order of the teams don't change all that much from one year to the next barring a major coaching change with an increased or decreased salary. You can check individual schools here, but I culled the annual men's basketball expenses for 10 of the 11 Mountain West schools (Air Force does not have to comply with public record requests, so the Falcons are not included). I'd also note these are self-reported numbers, so teams can use tricky accounting measures to alter the figures. But this is the best data we get on a yearly basis. With further ado:

1. UNLV, $5,795,483

2. San Diego State, $5,786,034

3. Nevada, $4,706,010

4. Colorado State, $4,415,218

5. Utah State, $4,250,996

6. New Mexico, $4,206,654

7. Boise State, $3,678,140

8. Fresno State, $3,642,878

9. Wyoming, $3,329,650

10. San Jose State, $2,035,793

Nevada launched itself from a lower-budget MW team to an upper-budget MW team during Eric Musselman's tenure. That's continued under Steve Alford, who is set to get a bump in salary from $500,000 this season to $1.15 million next year. UNLV continues to waste a lot of money. As noted in my last version of this story, the Rebels have the worst win-per-dollar ratio in the Mountain West since 2014. New Mexico used to be one of the upper-tier budgets in the conference but has backed off in recent years. It will be interesting to see the salary the school is working with for its next head coach after firing Dr. Paul Weir last week. Colorado State has high budgets in most of its sports. Sometimes it pays off; sometimes it doesn't. Boise State has invested more of late. It increased its budget by almost $1 million year-over-year from FY18 to FY19. The MW's average basketball budget has increased from $2.68 million per team to $4.19 million over a six-year period, an increase of 56.2 percent. And San Jose State still doesn't care about sports.

Grant Sherfield in Nevada wins this season: 20.2 ppg, 7.1 apg, 48.4 FG%, 46.2 3PT%

Grant Sherfield in Nevada losses this season: 14.6 ppg, 4.9 apg, 34.8 FG%, 23.9 3PT%

As Grant Sherfield goes, so goes Nevada. The Wolf Pack cannot beat top-rung Mountain West teams if Sherfield doesn't play well. That's a lot of responsibility for a sophomore, but those are the facts. And it's especially true if Nevada is without Zane Meeks (the Wolf Pack is 1-4 sans Meeks this season).

In terms of the future, Nevada is well set at wing (Desmond Cambridge/Addison Patterson/Tre Coleman), power forward (Zane Meeks/K.J Hymes/Nick Davidson) and center (Warren Washington/Will Baker). It's thinner at the play-making guard position after Sherfield, who is the only player on this year's roster who can consistently create his own shot (Patterson should be able to do some of that next year). So is an addition needed? Does improvement come organically from the development of Daniel Foster and addition of freshman Jalen Weaver? Or do you go get a transfer? That's an organizational decision. Nevada has already over-signed by two players, so I wouldn't be surprised if it adds another transfer who fits in the backcourt. That depends on how the staff feels about Foster and Weaver. If you do add a transfer guard, it's going to be hard for those guys to develop. I'd probably stick with the roster I have, but I don't like pushing guys off the roster via over-recruiting.

Let's keep it in context: This is the rebuilding year under Steve Alford. Nevada has essentially lost five starters in back-to-back seasons. The only returning starter from the last two years was Robby Robinson coming back this season, but he's only getting 12 minutes per game, so the roster was completely flipped over an 18-month period. And the Wolf Pack has done a good job of not bottoming out. It finished second in the Mountain West last season and will finish fifth this season. And it should only go up from there.

That being said, this team doesn't have a bona-fide strength. It is 106th in KenPom offense; 106th in KenPom defense; 113th in 3-point shooting; 158th in rebounding margin; 184th in turnover margin. It's a little above average across the board. The main weakness might be that there's no true strength. Inexperience has been a weakness. Shooting has been a weakness at times. Depth is a weakness. Getting offensive rebounds is a weakness. Not creating turnovers has been a weakness. Fouling too much has been a weakness. Despite all that, I believe Nevada is capable of beating the MW's top-four teams (SDSU, Boise State, Utah State, Colorado State) on any given night, but can it beat three of those teams on three straight nights to win the MW Tournament title? That's going to be much more difficult. Given the roster turnover, this has been a better-than-expected year for Nevada. If the Wolf Pack is still at this level next season, that's an issue. But I don't anticipate that. It should only go up from here.

AJ Bramah, a transfer from Robert Morris written about here, was expected to pick a school on March 20 but has since pushed that timeline back with a decision potentially coming in May. That's a long time away! I don't think he'll turn pro, but he has kept that open as an option (probably if he can't get ruled immediately eligible at his next school). Gonzaga and Loyola Chicago have made a push. Arkansas, via the stewardship of transfer-loving Eric Musselman, is in the mix, and schools like Nevada, Cincinnati, UConn, Wake Forest, Arizona, UNLV, San Diego State, Tennessee, St. Bonaventure, Western Kentucky and Washington have reached out. It's not going to be easy to beat out a team like Gonzaga or Arkansas, but Bramah's originally from San Leandro, Calif., which is 3.5 hours away from Reno. I'm not sure a favorite has emerged yet, as it's going to be a long process unless Bramah changes his timeline. Nevada doesn't have years-long ties to Bramah like it did with Grant Sherfield and Will Baker, which makes the Wolf Pack a long shot. But might as well give it a try. He's an impact player.

Like Top 25 ranking? I don't see myself putting Nevada in the preseason Top 25 even if it lands Bramah this offseason. But in terms of the MW rankings, it'd be third at worst. We'll have to see if anybody from the conference turns pro, but Colorado State returns everybody and should be the preseason No. 1 in the Mountain West. I'd put Nevada or Utah State second depending on whether Neemias Queta turns pro. But Nevada is going to be good next season, like 25 wins good.

He obviously would have helped in the first game, but Utah State was without its starting point guard, Rollie Worster, in that game and turned it over 16 times, so that's an even loss. It is interesting that Nevada is 1-4 without Meeks this season. He's an important players, and the Wolf Pack doesn't have great depth. It only goes six deep with quality players, so losing one of those six is troublesome.

As for best root vegetable besides potatoes and carrots, it's the onion for me with garlic second simply for what they can do to parmesan fries.

He has a knee injury that Nevada is worried about, which is why he's been termed "series to series and day to day." I wouldn't be surprised if a procedure is required this offseason. There's also a chance he's done for the year. "I don't know if we'll see Zane," Coach Alford said after the Utah State series. "His knee's brothering him, so I have no idea if Zane will be back or not." If Nevada's 18-day break between games didn't help Meeks get back to full health, it's unlikely Wolf Pack fans see a healthy Meeks again this season.

It's not impossible. You'd basically need Nevada to beat Utah State in the MW Tournament championship game with Boise State and Colorado State advancing to the semifinals. San Diego State is in, so it can lose in the quarterfinals and still be fine. Utah State probably needs to get to the title game. Nevada definitely needs to win the whole thing. Boise State has the second-best at-large résumé with Colorado State behind the Broncos. But the Rams and Aggies don't have much in the way of non-conference victories, so it'd behoove both to get to the title game. Even if the above scenario plays out, there's a good chance the MW does not get five teams in. After all, the league is ranked 10th in the RPI. Conferences that low don't get five teams in the tournament. But I wouldn't completely rule it out. It's a less than 1 percent likelihood. The most likely result is the Mountain West getting three teams into the Big Dance.

Yes. Nevada has never hired a coach with a better résumé or bigger name than Steve Alford. Second place on that list would be Eric Musselman, but Alford is by far the biggest name Nevada has hired in its history. That offseason, Alford's name was included in the searches at UNLV and more closely in the Arkansas search where Musselman landed to open Nevada's job. By the time Nevada's job opened, Alford was pretty quickly the top choice, as it was him and Trent Johnson in the end. Alford's 10-year contract wasn't a result of any competition for his services. It was more a decision by Nevada's administration to lock up a coach long term after losing Musselman following four seasons. The Wolf Pack wanted to send a message to its fans that the new coach would be in Reno for a long time.

As for your last questions, the swiftness of Musselman's turnaround is unprecedented in Wolf Pack history. Nevada went from three straight losing seasons and a 9-22 campaign the year prior to his hiring to 24 wins (and a CBI title), 28 wins (and an NCAA Tournament berth) and 29 wins (and a Sweet 16 appearance). Trent Johnson turning around Nevada might be equally impressive given the Wolf Pack had not won at that level in its history, but it also took him five years to get to the NCAA Tournament, so it was a longer build. Musselman's success was instantaneous.

I don't see Nevada hiring Dr. Paul Weir as an assistant coach. While he was on Coach Alford's staff at Iowa for two seasons from 2005-07, Coach Alford downplayed that link to a degree before this year's games against the Lobos, saying Weir was more from Rick Pitino's tree via Marvin Menzies. Not that there's any bad blood there or anything. Coach Alford does like to hire people he has strong personal relationships with, so Weir would qualify, but I'd guess that doesn't happen even if Nevada has an opening down the road.

As for New Mexico, that needs to be a home run hire for the Lobos. The Mountain West needs New Mexico to be better than its been the last half-decade. The Lobos are 55-76 in conference games the last seven seasons. Given the fan base and facilities, New Mexico should be one of the MW's top schools year in and year out. I've seen Frank Martin's name thrown out there. I'm not sure about that. I like Tim Miles, although he's more of a rebuilder than somebody who puts you over the top. New Mexico needs rebuilding. Damon Stoudamire could be a nice fit. He's done a solid job at Pacific. Casey Alexander from Belmont (he's 50-9 there). Maybe Irvine's Russell Turner. Darian DeVries at Drake. Former Nevada assistant Dennis Gates, who has turned around Cleveland State. New Mexico's a good job. It should land a good candidate.

I don't believe Utah State standout Justin Bean was ever enrolled at Nevada, but he did a two-year LDS Church Mission in Reno from 2015-17 that included covering UNR's campus. I didn't hear Doug Gottlieb's story on the broadcast, so I'm not sure what he said. But enrolling as a full-time student at UNR would have started his clock, so I doubt that happened. Bean, from Moore, Okla., was lightly recruited out of high school and was going to walk on at Utah following his mission. But his dad, Gordon, who was a great player at Idaho State in the 1980s, sent video of his son's high school highlights to then-Utah State assistant Spencer Nelson in 2017. That year, Nelson met with Bean at a Subway restaurant in Reno when the Aggies played at Nevada in February 2017. That paved the way for Bean to join the Aggies as a preferred walk-on, and he's become one of the Mountain West's best players the last two seasons (he redshirted in 2017-18 and played sparingly in 2018-19). Cool story with a Reno link.

I've only had coffee twice in my life (if we don't count eating tiramisu), and I didn't have coffee until I was 36. The first time I had coffee was the Diablo Coffee at The Steakhouse at Harrah's, which includes liquor and fire. I also had it when my wife and I went to the big island in Hawaii in the summer of 2019. We did a tour at Hula Daddy, which had the world's highest-ranked coffee in 2018. So I tried it then. It was fine. I'm just not a coffee guy. I like hot chocolate.

In terms of dunking, I'm 5-foot-10 (odd since my dad is 9-foot-1), so I can't dunk on a regular rim. But I do remember dunking over my son on the lowered rims at Pah Rah Park a few years ago. He was about 4 years old. And he scraped his arm on the court. But in the immortal words of Jack Parkman, don't stand on the tracks when the train's coming through.

Last year's SEC: average KenPom rank of 72.7, top team at No. 29, one in the top 30, six in the 50, 11 in the top 100

This year's SEC: average KenPom rank of 57.5, top team at No. 8, five in the top 30, six in the top 50, 13 in the top 100

The SEC is not down. The SEC is up. The SEC is a top-three conference, and Eric Musselman's Arkansas bunch is going to finish second in the league and get a top-five NCAA Tournament seed (probably top four). Arkansas is legitimately good. But getting to the NCAA Tournament is not a big accomplishment in the SEC like it is in the Mountain West. It's about winning when you get there, which means much work is left to be done by the Razorbacks. But things are lined up really well right now for Coach Musselman's team.

I don't have any specific names for you, but both are important, obviously. It's more crucial to hire a strong cornerbacks coach because the wide receiver spot is so loaded for 2021. I could probably coach those guys to multiple All-MW honors next season (note to Jay Norvell: I will accept the position for low six figures). At receiver, Romeo Doubs, Elijah Cooks, Tory Horton, Melquan Stovall, Just Lockhart and Jamaal Bell is as good as you'll get on the West Coast. Plus, Coach Norvell spends a lot of time with the receivers given his background coaching that position, so that group should be fine next season. Nevada only has one above-average cornerback right now in Berdale Robins, so that's a position that must be coached up. It's the biggest positional weakness on the team. It's also important that at least one of those two assistant jobs is filled with a coach who has strong recruiting ties to Los Angeles to replace the loss of Eric Scott to San Jose State.

As for the best Bill Murray movies, I'll do a top 10.

10. Kingpin

9. Scrooged

8. The Grand Budapest Hotel

7. Zombieland

6. The Jungle Book

5. Moonrise Kingdom

4. Caddyshack

3. Rushmore

2. Ghostbusters

1. Groundhog Day

I haven't seen Stripes, Lost in Translation or The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, so I reserve the right to add those in the future.

Only four sets of parents/kids have reached the Wolf Pack Hall of Fame. They are Walter and Gary Powers; Jalal and Kamy Keshmiri; Jim and Brittany Puzey; and Sonny and Bill Allen, although Sonny didn't play for Nevada. He just coached the Wolf Pack. And I'd toss in Matt and Kayla Williams to make a top five. In terms of pure athletic accomplishment, the Keshmiris have to rank first, although Jim Puzey made it to Triple-A baseball and Brittany could be the best player in Wolf Pack softball history. But Jalal Keshmiri competed in the Olympics in the shot put and Kamy won three national championships in the discus. So they're No. 1.

You are correct. UNLV is 6-0-2 in the Silver State series with the teams splitting those two ties. Nevada won via tie in 2016-17 because it possessed the Fremont Cannon at the time, thanks to Brian Polian's last game at Nevada, a 45-10 win in Las Vegas. All-time, UNLV has scored 222 points to Nevada's 141. While the Wolf Pack has been strong in the two revenue sports (football and men's basketball), UNLV has dominated much of the rest. Nevada is currently up 6-3 this season, which is a pattern we typically see. The Wolf Pack is roughly even in the fall and winter sports and gets blown out in the spring sports (baseball, softball, tennis, golf, track and field). Nevada faces an uphill climb in tennis and golf given the climates of the two schools, so it must win the series in baseball, softball and track and field more regularly to capture more Silver State Series. Those are the sports Nevada should target if winning the Triple-S is important to the school. But I'm guessing fans on both sides value football and men's basketball wins more than Silver State Series trophies.

College basketball since there are so many more teams (357 compared to 130) and so many more games (up to 40 a season rather than 14) to keep track of. We are lucky that the AP sends us a list of Top 25 results each week, but, today, for example, 18 of the Top 25 teams lost, so there are a lot of changes from one week to the next. In a typical football week, maybe six ranked teams lose and you just have to tinker a little. One pros of the college basketball poll is it's due Mondays at 7 a.m. Football is due Sundays at 8 a.m. At least with basketball I get Sunday morning off, although I have to get up a little earlier on Mondays (6 a.m.). But, generally, I like the college basketball poll more because we have more results so we have a better feel for how good each team is. That can be difficult in football with such small sample sizse and not a lot of of power conference crossover games.

It will probably widen the gap. Schools with larger alumni and donor bases as well as schools in larger metropolitan areas will have advantages. I don't think that's a good reason to not move forward with Name, Image and Likeness. These athletes should be able to profit off their names. And it could give forward-thinking Group of 5 schools the opportunity to use it in recruiting pitches. "Come to our campus, be a star as a freshman and get some sponsorships rather than going to a Pac-12 school and getting buried on the depth chart for a couple of years." It's like the transfer market to a degree. You can either complain about losing transfers to bigger schools or you can understand it's the future and try and make it a competitive advantage that plays in your favor. Smart schools will be proactive and create alliances that help increase marketing opportunities for its athletes. If UNLV plays this right, it could be a nice competitive advantage for the Rebels given the size of the community they play in.

Nothing yet, and I haven't put in any public records requests on that. I usually wait until the season is over. I'll check on that after the Mountain West Tournament. Nevada still owes games to Texas Arlington, Santa Clara, San Francisco and Dayton, among Division I opponents, plus University of St. Katherine and Huntington University, if those are going to be made up. If all those are played, that's six out of the 12 non-league games. I could see the Cayman Islands Classic still being played by Nevada (COVID regulations permitting), just a year later. Maybe it's a good thing that tournament didn't happen this year for the Wolf Pack because the other seven teams in the field were mostly duds. Only Mississippi (13-10) and Western Kentucky (17-5) have had decent years. Miami is 7-15, Kansas State is 7-19, Northern Iowa is 9-15, La Salle is 9-15 and Oregon State is 13-11. I imagine Nevada's non-league slate will be more juiced up in 2021-22 given the Wolf Pack's more impressive roster next season.

As for the mustache, I've only seen my dad without it once after he lost a Lions bet. I'm more of a beard guy. I've only shaved that once in the last six years, doing so after Christmas this year. If I wasn't bald, I'd probably go without facial hair my often. But I am bald, so I need to compensate.

I did pull a lot of landscaping duty when I was a kid thanks to my dad. Living on 2 acres in Gardnerville, I picked so many damn weeds in my childhood. Ben Stiller's character in Happy Gilmore is one of the five most underrated movie villains of all time.

Time for me to go relieve my childhood and pick some weeds. See y'all next week!

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. He writes a weekly Monday Mailbag despite it giving him a headache and it taking several hours to write. But people seem to like it, so he does it anyway. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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