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Seven reasons Nevada basketball is a trendy pick for the 2021 preseason Top 25

Grant Sherfield
Grant Sherfield will lead a potentially potent Nevada basketball team next season. (Byrne Photo/Nevada athletics)

With college basketball's national championship game completed, we were inundated this week with "Way-Too-Early Top 25 lists" for next season! (If it's way-too-early, why are we releasing them? Because they get clicks!). While Nevada didn't make the lists offered by ESPN, CBS Sports, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, NCAA or Stadium, the Wolf Pack is getting some buzz as a potential preseason Top 25 team next season. Fox Sports' Aaron Torres — who once said hiring Steve Alford was dumb, doubled down on it and then tripled down on it five games into Alford's Wolf Pack tenure — has Nevada in his preseason Top 25,and these rankings have Nevada at No. 10. So there's some buzz. Here's a look at why Nevada is a potentially trendy pick for the 2021 preseason Top 25.

1. The entire starting five is back

Since the transfer portal became the hottest club in college basketball several years ago, it's rare to see a team return its entire starting five. But Nevada will be one of those exceptions in 2021-22 with Grant Sherfield (All-MW first team), Desmond Cambridge Jr. (All-MW third team), Warren Washington (double-digit scorer) and freshmen Tré Coleman and Daniel Foster all returning. That starting lineup is likely to change with some of Nevada's newcomers with at least one of those starters if not two shuffling back to a reserve role, which shows how much the roster talent is being upgraded. But the year-over-year cohesion is a good thing for Nevada as it returns the core of a squad that finished top-100 on KenPom.

2. Nevada has a bona fide star

Grant Sherfield is really good. The point guard transfer from Wichita State had a breakthrough sophomore season, averaging 18.6 points, 6.1 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game last season. He was a top-50 player in the college game, and it was only his second year of eligibility in a completely new system. Sherfield should be even better as a junior after gaining some experience this season and being surrounded by more talented players next year. Sherfield made substantial gains in his first season with the Wolf Pack, especially in his scoring efficiency, and is one of the best returning players in the West. He could challenge for an All-American spot if he continues to improve.

3. Former top-50 recruits join fray

While coaches are digging through the transfer portal right now to try and get some impact players, Nevada already landed two of those during the 2020-21 season with the additions of Oregon's Addison Patterson (signed in November) and Texas' Will Baker (signed in January). Patterson is a 6-foot-6 slashing wing player who was the No. 42 recruit in the 2019 class. His per-minute numbers during his freshman season at Oregon in 2019-20 were excellent. And Baker, a 7-foot center, was the No. 35 recruit in the 2019 class. He struggled more than Patterson in his minutes as a freshman at Texas, but both are elite talents who will be eligible for Nevada next season after practicing with the team this year. They'll boost that aforementioned starting five that's coming back and bring more NBA potential to the roster.

4. Steve Alford factor

While it shouldn't matter in Top 25 rankings, I believe having a brand-name coach does matter to a small degree in getting your team into the rankings. There's more belief what's being built is legit if Steve Alford is coaching your team rather than a more unknown brand. Alford's teams made an appearance in the Top 25 in 15 of the previous 20 seasons prior to him taking the Wolf Pack gig. He hasn't gotten Nevada into the Top 25 yet, but his history is having Top 25-caliber teams whether at Iowa (Top 25 six out of his eight seasons there), New Mexico (Top 25 three out of his six seasons) or UCLA (Top 25 all six of his seasons). He's been a Top 25 regular.

5. The offensive potential

Nevada's offense was better than expected last season as the Wolf Pack was breaking in five new starters after losing more than 80 percent of its scoring. But Nevada still had a potent scoring attack thanks to its ability to get to the free throw line and hit 3-pointers at a solid clip (35.4 percent). KenPom ranked Nevada's offense 72nd out of 357 Division I teams. Over the season's final 10 games, the Wolf Pack's offensive efficiency ranked 34th in the nation. With only one key player departing, that being Zane Meeks (9.0 ppg) to the transfer portal, Nevada should have a top-50 or better offense. And while the old saying is "defense wins championships," the Final Four teams last year ranked first (Gonzaga), second (Baylor), seventh (Houston) and 11th (UCLA) in KenPom offense. Offense is really important, too, and Nevada should have a potent one next year.

6. Best team in the Mountain West?

I put a question mark on this one, but as an AP Top 25 voter myself, I know first hand voters like to spread the wealth a little at the bottom of their Top 25. I mean, would you rather put a sixth SEC team on your ballot or make a little room for the best team in the Mountain West? Perhaps it's because I cover a mid-major conference, but I like to spread the wealth a little. The MW has had a preseason Top 25 team in two of the last three seasons, and either Nevada or Colorado State will be the preseason favorite to win the MW next season (SDSU has an outside chance if it lands a ton of quality transfers). Colorado State made the ESPN Top 25 at No. 21. The Rams also made NCAA.com's expanded 36-team list. I could see some voters deeming Nevada the best team in the MW and slipping the Wolf Pack onto the back of their ballot (I'll probably do that with Colorado State, which returns its starting five after reaching the NIT semifinals).

7. One more silver bullet

Our last reason is a prediction on the future. Nevada has one more scholarship to deploy this offseason, and it almost certainly will be spent on a transfer who will make an impact on the 2021-22 season. As currently constituted, Nevada probably isn't making my AP Top 25 preseason ballot, although there's a long way to go between now and when my ballot is due in October. The Wolf Pack should be able to land one more important piece to next year's roster, which could give them a little more hype going into the season (Robert Morris transfer AJ Bramah could have been that guy, but he'll be playing for Arizona State). If Nevada adds the right kind of player, a two-way guy who can knock down threes, I could be convinced to put the Wolf Pack onto my Top 25. At the very least, Nevada is going to get some preseason votes as things appear pointed in the right direction heading into Alford's third season at the helm.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMurray.


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