One thing Eric Musselman set out to do this year was improve Nevada’s nonconference schedule. He may have outdone himself, especially when you look at his opening-night opponent.
The Wolf Pack head to Moraga, Calif., to take on 17th-ranked Saint Mary’s College. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. (94.5 FM) at tiny McKeon Pavilion
Beating the Gaels at home is a monumental task. The Gaels, coached by Randy Bennett, are 111-32 against nonconference foes in the last nine years, including 71-6 in the last eight years.
And, on top of that, SMC has all five starters back from last year’s team that went 29-6 and reached the third round of the NIT. A definite litmus test right out of the gate.
“I remember telling coach Bennett one time what dummy would schedule you for a nonconference game,” Musselman asked. “Guilty as charged.
“They are as good as any mid-major in the country. It will be a tremendous challenge. We will be a better team for it win, lose or draw.”
Musselman, after a scrimmage against a D-1 opponent in the Bay Area and an easy exhibition win over SF State, said he’s looking for improvement.
“We need to take better care of the basketball,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “It’s been a concern of our each game (scrimmage and exhibition). We are probably not going to be a finished product.”
Certainly each possession is critical when you’re playing on the road, and playing a nationally ranked opponent in what promises to be a raucous environment makes it tough.
Musselman pointed out SMC returns 97.8 minutes of logged playing time from last season.
“That is almost unheard of,” Musselman said.
“I’ve never had all my starters back before,” Bennett said. “It’s a good problem to have.”
Especially when you can shoot it like the Gaels, who shot 50.4 from the field, including 40 percent from beyond the arc.
“Their guards (Emmett Naar and Joe Rahon) are as good as any two guards we’ll see,” Musselman said. “They can both down 3s at an alarming rate. Their power forward (Evan Fitzner) can really shoot it. He will stretch the defense.”
Naar was at 42 percent last year, and Rahon, who played two years at Boston College, hit 40 percent from beyond the arc. Fitzner hit 41 percent of his 3s last year and was 47 percent overall.
And, if the Gaels want inside scoring, they will dump the ball into 6-9 Dane Pineau, who drained 67 percent from the field.
SMC shares the ball well. Out of their 951 baskets, 548 were assisted.
“I don’t know if there is a number (assists to baskets),” Bennett said. “The more shooters you have the more assists you’re going to get. We have some good shooters.”
Bennett said he wanted to see his team improve its offensive rebounding and defending the 3-point shot better. Nevada has some solid 3-point threats, including newcomers Marcus Marshall and Leland King II.
The veteran SMC coach is well aware of 6-8 sophomore Cameron Oliver, who averaged 13 points and 9.1 rebounds a game in leading the Pack to 24 wins last year.
“He’s really good,” Bennett said. “He is the real deal. I don’t know a lot about Nevada.”
Returnees D.J. Fenner, who averaged 13.7 a year ago, and point guard Lindsey Drew, figures to start today along with Marshall and J.C. Caroline. Newcomers King II (Brown) and true freshman Devearl Ramsey are also expected to see plenty of action. Ramsey had 12 points in the exhibition win over SF State.
“I don’t know much about them (the transfers),” Bennett said. “You can get some (video) clips, but you really don’t know where they are going to be plugged in.
“We were looking for a good team to play; looking for a good college basketball team.”