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Murray's Mailbag: Why Nevada basketball fans are disappointed with schedule

Nevada basketball
Nevada basketball's non-conference schedule was released last week. (Justin Tafoya/Clarkson Creative Photography/Mountain West)

Friday marks the start of Nevada football training camp in what is one of the most anticipated seasons in program history, but we'll start this week's Monday Mailbag with the Wolf Pack basketball team's non-conference schedule, which left something to be desired among Nevada fans. Don't worry, we'll get to Nevada football and other topics as well, including Douglas High and Wolf Pack alum Krysta Palmer winning a bronze medal at the Tokyo Games. Thanks, as always, for the inquiries. Let get to the questions.

I am scheduled to talk to Nevada basketball coach Steve Alford on Tuesday about the Wolf Pack's non-conference schedule, which was released last week, so I will get more insight on the making of that schedule during our conversation and pass it along via a story to our readers. But, yes, Wolf Pack fans don't appear happy about the schedule, and I don't blame them.

Nevada's non-league schedule includes games against Eastern Washington; San Diego; Santa Clara; San Francisco; Washington; George Mason; South Dakota State; Pepperdine; North Texas; Texas Arlington; Minnesota-Duluth; Loyola Marymount; and Grand Canyon. That's not impressive for a team with aspirations of an NCAA Tournament at-large berth. As you mentioned, that severely thins the Wolf Pack's margin for error. Nevada will have to approach 26 or 27 wins to get an at-large bid, most likely, given the projected strength of schedule. It also will need the Mountain West to be strong to try and pick up some quality wins in conference.

While KenPom's advanced metrics are not the end-all, be-all, none of Nevada's 2021-22 non-conference foes ranked in the top 70 of those metrics last season. Beyond that, if you use each team's NET ranking from last season, the Wolf Pack's non-conference schedule this year includes one Quad 1 game, two Quad 2 games, seven Quad 3 games and two Quad 4 games. That's nine of Nevada's 12 non-league Division I foes projected in the Quad 3/4 area. That's bad. Of course, teams aren't the exact same year over year, but some of the stronger teams on Nevada's non-conference schedule —Grand Canyon, Eastern Washington, Pepperdine, North Texas — lost huge pieces this offseason, so I don't see those teams being better in 2021-22.

When you look at the schedules of Mountain West counterparts Colorado State, San Diego State, UNLV, Boise State, etc., the Wolf Pack's schedule just doesn't measure up. How much of that is because of the pandemic and pre-existing contracts (Nevada already had San Diego; Santa Clara; San Francisco; Texas Arlington; Grand Canyon on the schedule), I don't know. I doubt Coach Alford is thrilled with the schedule, although I'll find that out Tuesday. Nevada does play four non-league road games and three neutral-site games this season, which helps in the Quad rating system. But the quality of opponent is simply not up to par for a team with NCAA Tournament aspirations.

Does it impact recruiting? I don't think so. Most recruiting is done out of the transfer portal nowadays anyway. If Nevada played non-conference schedules like this year in and year out, that's one thing. But it's typically played strong non-conference slates, at least in the Eric Musselman era. This is Coach Alford's first true non-conference schedule at Nevada because the 2019-20 schedule that included USC and Utah at home and a game with St. Mary's at the Chase Center was put together by former Nevada assistant coach Anthony Ruta under Musselman. Last year's non-league schedule was cobbled together during COVID-19 and shouldn't count. Hopefully the non-league schedule gets better moving forward. And there's always a financial element. Nevada allocates roughly budgets $250,000 for its non-conference schedule, which isn't a big chunk of money and makes things a little more difficult.

I think fans will be excited to just to get back into Lawlor Events Center after last year's COVID-19 prohibitions on attending Nevada basketball games. For that reason, I'd put it at a 4. But the home slate of non-league games isn't very appealing. I had a fan on Twitter ask me which non-conference home game he should attend if he could only pick one. I couldn't come up with a standout game. You're picking from Eastern Washington, San Diego, Pepperdine, Minnesota-Duluth, Loyola Marymount and Grand Canyon. My guess is Grand Canyon ends up being the best of those teams, but is any fan thrilled to see Grand Canyon? I don't think so. Between this home schedule and the Nevada football team's home schedule — Idaho State, New Mexico State, Hawaii, San Jose State, Air Force and UNLV — there aren't a lot of marquee opponents coming to Reno in the Wolf Pack's revenue sports, which is a shame given how good Nevada football and men's basketball could be this season. One of the reasons that 2010 football season is so remembered is because of Nevada beating Cal and Boise State, both ranked teams when they visited Mackay Stadium, at home in front of sold-out crowds. If those wins were over Tulsa and Kansas — or Eastern Washington and Grand Canyon for our basketball purposes — there's just not as much appeal.

Unlike in football where administration has a hand in scheduling, basketball scheduling is up to the coaches and their staff. Administration has a role in setting the budget for how much the program can spent in building its non-conference schedule. For Nevada basketball, it's typically $200,000 with 2018-19 being an exception (the Wolf Pack spent $400,000 that season on its non-conference schedule). I don't think the "risk of losing" line works when you look at schedules of Colorado State, which has Alabama, Mississippi State, Creighton, Saint Mary's and Colorado on the schedule; San Diego State, which has Arizona State, BYU, Georgetown and USC/St. Joseph's; and UNLV, which has UCLA, Cal, Michigan and Arizona/Wichita State. Other Mountain West schools have found a way to get good opponents in non-conference play. Again, I'll report back from my talk with Coach Alford to get his thoughts on the schedule, but it's hard to understand why Nevada can't get into better MTEs (multiple-team events), even when it was under Eric Musselman.

And I should point the reason fans are disappointed by the non-conference schedule is because of the 2021-22 team's potential. Nobody wants to see a great team, and Nevada could be great this season, miss an NCAA Tournament despite winning 25 or so games because the non-conference schedule was subpar. That'd be a tragic outcome.

6) Idaho State: An FCS team.

5) New Mexico State: Should be an FCS team.

4) Air Force: A great game for fans of 1940s football.

3) Hawaii: One of two revenge games for Nevada as Hawaii and San Jose State were the only teams to beat the Wolf Pack in 2020.

2) San Jose State: This game could determine who advances to the Mountain West championship game, just as it did last season.

1) UNLV: I'm interested to see the attendance in this game given the Fremont Cannon contest has had plummeting attendance in recent years.

Gonzaga plays UCLA, Duke, Alabama, Texas and Texas Tech, so that's four teams that will be in the preseason Top 25, plus Texas Tech, which has become a national-level program. Three of those aforementioned teams could be preseason top 10. Yet, I'll still take Gonzaga, which should be the preseason No. 1 (although I think they'll lose to UCLA). That is one of the good things about Nevada's non-conference schedule: The Wolf Pack is going to win a lot of games next season. Whether that's worth it on Selection Sunday will be determined in March. But it'd be a shock if Nevada didn't win at least 23 or 24 games.

I also saw that figure, and it seems low. But it adds perspective of how outsiders view Nevada. There's been a lot of talk of a double-digit-win season for the Wolf Pack in 2021, but if Vegas is putting the win total at 7.5, clearly everybody is not bought in. It's worth mentioning Nevada was 6-3 against the spread last season, so it over-achieved the Vegas expectations. I see that happening again this year. I'd set the over/under win total at 8.5, so there's money to be made there as long as COVID doesn't cancel any games (I'm curious how a COVID cancelation impacts those future bets). Only Boise State (nine) has a higher over/under win total among Mountain West teams. Who has the lowest win total projection in the Mountain West? That'd be UNLV at 1.5. Damn that's low.

That's the biggest question mark on the team. Almost all of these preseason accolades Nevada has racked up have come on the offensive side of the ball. But that's only half the game (or one-third of the game if you're a big special teams fan). I do think the Wolf Pack defense will be solid this season, the second under coordinator Brian Ward. The question is whether it will be championship great. The defensive line should be fine (although you'd like to see more consistent pass-rush pressure). The linebackers are solid (although you'd like to see more havoc plays). The big question is the secondary, which rarely faced competent quarterback play last season. Nevada's opponents in 2021 are much more adept at throwing the ball, so the defensive backfield, which was average last season, will be tested. In terms of 41-38 games, Nevada didn't score more than 37 points in any of its games last season and never allowed more than 31 in regulation. So I don't think you'll see too many 41-38 games, but Nevada's offense is going to have to carry the biggest load, and it should be that way given the talent on that side of the ball.

And I'll definitely take German chocolate cake over key lime pie. German chocolate cake might be a top-five dessert.

Eric Beavers was way before my time, but his 39 wins for Nevada from 1983-86 are the most of any Wolf Pack quarterback. You can't go wrong with Chris Vargas, either. But my answer will be Carson Strong when it's all said and one. I think he's going to be a solid NFL quarterback, and the only other Wolf Pack player who can say that is Colin Kaepernick, who's not on your list of options.

Yes, I would consider it an issue. The Wolf Pack has had four known arrests in the last 10 months, and they're not minor violations. You're talking about two felonies (one that included two charges and the other than included six counts). One arrest was the result of an FBI sting for child solicitation and the other a result of a month-long investigation by a Regional Narcotics Unit that included schedule I drugs, the most severe drugs. And then you can throw in two DUIs, including one from a player who fell asleep at the wheel while driving, crossed traffic and hit a car with five passengers, per the California Highway Patrol. It's a miracle nobody died in that accident, and thank goodness for that.

That quartet doesn't even include a Nevada player who was arrested on an underage DUI charge in 2019 who had previously run over somebody in a crosswalk and killed that person while he was in high school (the mother of that victim was still grieving that death when she saw that news pop up). This is all too much. Nevada football's moto is "Respect. Accountability. Hustle." The Wolf Pack needs a little more accountability when it comes to keeping its players from making bad decisions. If you want to try and fix these issues, you make a zero-tolerance policy with DUIs. You get one, you're off the team. Simple as that. Same applies to felony arrests.

When NSN asked Jay Norvell about the second of those felony charges, he said: "We spend constant hours mentoring and prefacing our players of what they can and cannot do. Our players know exactly what they can and cannot do. And so it's always disappointing when somebody falls short. We're all human. You know, I go to church on Sundays and we all us fall short, and it's not any of us to judge. I'm not in position to do that. But we're in charge of our team. Our kids know exactly what's expected of them." Apparently that message is not resonating, so I do think more severe measures for significant arrests is needed.

He was a finalist for the Bowling Green job in 2019, so there's been some interest. He was fine at Nevada. Nothing great, but not an embarrassment. He did recruit good kids who didn't get in trouble off the field and who excelled in the classroom, not that fans really care about that stuff (they can say they do, but they'd pick winning over good kids and good grades 10 out of 10 times). In four seasons at Nevada, Polian went 23-27 with two bowl appearances. He still has great name recognition, is a staffer for a top-10 national program and is only 46 years old. If he wanted an FCS job (which is technically the Division I level), he could get one quickly. The FBS level will be more difficult. My gut tells me he will be a Division I head coach again, perhaps at that FCS level. It depends on what he wants to do with his career. He makes more as a special teams coach at Notre Dame than he'd make as an FCS head coach (or FBS head coach at some schools). But I imagine the itch to run a program again remains. I'd like to see him get another job to see how a more mature Polian would fare at a program with better infrastructure than Nevada offered when he ran the program from 2013-16. It's never easy replacing a legend like Polian did following in Chris Ault's footsteps. It was a tough job to walk into.

Can I count Krysta Palmer as a two-sport athlete because she was an international-level athlete in trampoline before winning an Olympic bronze medal in diving? Or even Glenn Burke, who was a major-league baseball player who was briefly on the Wolf Pack basketball team. But if you mean athletes who played multiple sports for Nevada, I'd go Chris Singleton at No. 1. He had a solid big-league baseball career (played six years and hit .273) after coming to Nevada as a football wide receiver, where he still ranks in the Wolf Pack record books. I'd also throw in Erick Streelman (baseball/football), Corey Jackson (football/basketball) and Val York (basketball/baseball). Pete Padgett was drafted in two sports (basketball/baseball) but played only one at Nevada. Same with Colin Kaepernick (football/baseball).

It was a fun trade deadline because contending teams didn't try and win trades by extracting the most "future value" out of them. The Nationals will probably get more WAR our of the four players they got from the Dodgers (Keibert Ruiz, Josiah Gray, Donovan Casey, Gerardo Carrillo) than vice versa, but the Dodgers won the trade deadline by landing Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, the two best players to be traded last week. So the Dodgers are the clear winners. They basically paid the same price for Scherzer and Turner as the Blue Jays paid the Twins to get 1.5 season of Jose Berrios. That could end up being the worst trade given the Blue Jays are unlikely to make the playoffs this year and dealt two top-100 prospects (Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson) for 45 stars from a No. 3 pitcher.

The Padres were the biggest losers as San Diego fans thought they had Scherzer, per a Ken Rosenthal report, only to lose him to the rival Dodgers. I liked that the Braves didn't throw in the towel despite losing Ronald Acuna to a torn ACL. They made some nice moves to stay in the race. The Yankees added three good players in Joey Gallo, Anthony Rizzo and Andrew Heaney, so they're winners. And the White Sox trades give Chicago an amazing bullpen, which is always key in the playoffs. The Mets are losers for not being able to get any starting pitching beyond Rich Hill, plus not signing Kumar Rocker, the No. 9 pick in the draft while seeing Jacob deGrom shelved for at least a couple more weeks with a forearm strain. The Rockies also are losers for not trading free-agents-to-be Trevor Story, Jon Gray and Daniel Bard. Nobody has any idea what Colorado is doing.

And we should mention the Cubs as losers since their owners have no desire to try and win games after trading Yu Darvish in the offseason and Kris Bryant, Craig Kimbrel, Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo at the deadline. It must suck to be a fan of a team whose owners care more about creating money to donate to failed political races than investing into their team. To be fair, trading all of those guys was the correct move at the deadline, but the fact Chicago put itself in this position and only got one World Series berth out of the primes of Bryant, Baez, Rizzo, Willson Contreras, etc., because their owners are cheap should sting.

The Pistons were 20-52 last season. Cade Cunningham is a good prospect and should make an All-Star Game or two in his career, but he's not improving the Pistons by 32 games. That roster remains really poor. Detroit will be in line for another top-five draft pick next season.

Josh Hall's put-back to send Nevada to the 2018 Sweet 16. Anthony Martinez's kick that gave the Wolf Pack an overtime win over Boise State in 2010. The general scene leading up to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco that season. Watching California Chrome run for the Triple Crown at the 2014 Belmont Stakes. Covering games at Notre Dame Stadium, Kyle Field (Texas A&M's Stadium), the Rose Bowl, the Dean Smith Center and Pauley Pavilion were all cool, too.

New FieldTurf costs around $750,000 to install. Nevada football did its practice field for $500,000 in 2014 but hasn't done Mackay Stadium's turf since 2010, so it's due for a new playing surface (those things last 8-10 years). The key to FieldTurf is it's basically a one-time expense. You pay for it and it's low maintenance. That's not the case with grass, whose installation cost is probably 70 percent that of FieldTurf but has way more financial upkeep in a climate like Northern Nevada. Grass surfaces typically last twice as long as FieldTurf (more like 20 years rather than 10), so that's a plus. But I don't see Nevada going to a natural grass field given the extreme heat and snow-laden winters that make upkeep difficult.

The Big 12 has to add at least two teams and more likely four, but would an American Athletic Conference or Mountain West school join the Big 12 when it looks like it's on the brink of collapsing? That's the big question. If the Big 12 could talk four of Boise State, BYU, San Diego State, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF into joining the conference, that'd be a great move and stabilize a shaky situation. But ESPN, according to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, is apparently trying to destabilize the Big 12, surely in an effort to make the conference go away so ESPN doesn't have to continue to pay big bucks to a Big 12 sans Texas and Oklahoma.

It's a tricky situation for the Big 12, which isn't nearly as attractive to Group of 5 schools without Texas and Oklahoma. Boise State would have jumped at the opportunity to go to the Big 12 last month. This month? I'm not so sure. It'd need assurances the Big 12 will continue to exist, which only happens if it can pick off a handful of the top MW and AAC schools. But there's a downside to just adding teams. The Big 12 estimates a TV payout of $12 million per school after Texas and Oklahoma leave. If it adds teams to the conference that aren't worth $12 million per year in media rights, it's going to water down the payouts to the remaining Big 12 schools. But if it doesn't add any teams, it could collapse if one or two more teams are poached away. So it must add some teams even if that waters down the TV revenue per school.

In terms of the Mountain West, it'd love to have North Dakota State's football program. The other options you listed aren't very appealing. The MW doesn't have any ready-made football programs to add to its membership other than North Dakota State, and then you'd have to deal with the Bison's other programs, which aren't great. Commissioner Craig Thompson has his work cut out for him. He should be shooting for adding Big 12 schools rather than FCS schools. I'll address which Big 12 schools would be most likely to join the MW in a Mailbag leftover question later this week.

I'll take Ohio State over Wisconsin, Both sides have won their division in four of the last six non-COVID seasons.

Nope, but Krysta Palmer could be one of three Wolf Pack athletes to win a medal in the Tokyo Games, which would be crazy impressive considering Nevada had just two Olympic medal winners in its entire history prior to the Tokyo Games (and one of those athletes, Limin Liu, won her medal before competing for the Wolf Pack). In addition to Palmer winning bronze in the 3-meter springboard, JaVale McGee should win a medal with Team USA basketball and Australian soccer player Aivi Luik battles Team USA in the bronze-medal game. Luik played for the Wolf Pack from 2005-06, although the Nevada soccer Twitter account hasn't sent out even one message in support of Luik, which is odd given how much social media love Palmer has gotten from the Wolf Pack, and deservedly so.

It's an amazing story, and I was thankful to be the first to tell it in January 2015 when I featured Palmer's backstory. In that story six years ago, her coach Jian Li You told me, "She's more talented than any diver I've had during my 19 years here. I've never had a diver come to me that I think can beat the Chinese. But I told her, 'You're the first one where I can see that possibility.'" And Palmer nearly did that, finishing just five points behind silver medalist, Han Wang, from China (China also took the gold-medal spot). Also in that story, Palmer said she almost took up diving at age 12 when shifting from gymnastics to trampoline, but, "I didn't like it at all. The whole head-first thing was not for me. I said, 'Mom and dad, I don't want to do this anymore.'" It's crazy how life works, but Palmer has a fighting spirit that has translated to an Olympic medal. One of my favorite stats from these Olympics is the fact Team USA's other 3-meter diver at the Olympics was Hailey Hernandez, who is 18. Palmer hadn't even started diving until two years after that, at age 20. I'm sure there are other stories of athletes starting their sport late before winning an Olympic medal, but none spring to the top of my head. It was cool to see Rune Glifberg make his Olympic debut this year in skateboarding at age 46. Glifberg lost to Tony Hawk in the first X Games in 1995 and is still at the top of his sport 26 years later. This is why the Olympics are so cool. So many athletes, so many great stories.

It differs by country. For the U.S., a gold is worth $37,500; a silver $22,500; and a bronze $15,000 plus benefits like health insurance. So Palmer earned $15,000, which is a good chunk of money for these amateur athletes. Singapore offers $1 million dollars for a gold ($738,000 in U.S. currency). Taiwan is $716,000 U.S.; Indonesia $346,000 U.S.; and Bangladesh $300,000 U.S. For American athletes, the key is capitalized on the marketing opportunities directly after winning a medal because you can quickly slip out of mind if you don't cash in with sponsors quickly, which is something I learned from David Wise's back-to-back gold-medal wins in the ski halfpipe.

Yes. It should qualify for the 2022 Qatar World Cup, the last World Cup with 32 teams before expanding to 48 teams in 2026. From CONCACAF, I'll take Mexico, the U.S., Costa Rica and El Salvador to make the 2022 World Cup with Canada as a potential spoiler.

Virginia Tech was picked to finish third in the seven-team Coastal Division in the preseason American Coast Conference poll. Six of the seven teams in the ACC Coastal got a first-place vote, including the Hokies, so it's pretty open with North Carolina projected on top, but the odds Virginia Tech wins the whole thing, including beating Clemson in the conference title game, is less than 1 percent. Virginia Tech does have a Nevada link as former Wolf Pack defensive line coach Bill Teerlinck and former Nevada defensive lineman Korey Rush are both on the Hokies' staff. Virginia Tech's best home game in 2021 is versus Notre Dame on Oct. 9. I'd attend that one. Congrats to your wife on starting her degree!

The Reed High alum would not have been selected for Team USA. She has struggled to crack the starting lineup in the WNBA (36 starts in 89 games, with six starts in 55 games her last two years in the league). Williams has dual citizenship through her mother to France, so she was eligible to join that team, which entered the Olympics ranked fifth in the world by FIBA, so it's not exactly easy to make that roster. France went 1-2 in group play with Williams averaging 10.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 4.3 steals and 1.0 blocks per game while shooting 35.3 percent from the field, including 27.2 percent from three. It's that offense efficiency that has held Williams back from being an elite WNBA player, but she's still the best basketball player to come out of Northern Nevada, men's or women's. She could have won an Olympic medal in the high jump if she stuck with that sport coming out of high school.

A tomahawk steak from Butcher Boy, which has been our go-to family gathering meat for the last few months. It's expensive but worth the price. In fact, I'm going to head out to Butcher Boy right now to get me a tomahawk steak. 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 crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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