Joe Santoro: Nevada Wolf Pack has more players fighting for same minutes
May 17, 2018
Sports fodder for a Friday morning …
The Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball program has enough players for three teams. The Wolf Pack currently has 20 players, 19 of which are eligible to play this coming season. Of those 20, no less than 15 are on scholarship, two over the NCAA limit. There's no question the Wolf Pack has more talent on its roster right now than it has ever had in the program's history. Slice and dice this Pack team into three separate teams and all three might finish in the top five or six of the Mountain West this year. Think of the Wolf Pack as the basketball version of the TLC television show Sister Wives. But instead of one man collecting wives, Pack coach Eric Musselman is collecting scholarship players.
Which two scholarship players will disappear by the time this season starts in November? Will it be Caleb and Cody Martin, who will graduate this weekend and are taking part in the NBA draft process? Will one or more of the incoming freshmen (Vincent Lee, K.J. Hymes, Jordan Brown) ultimately take their talents elsewhere? Will Josh Hall, who has two years of eligibility remaining, look at the bloated roster and decide he's better off somewhere else? Will Jordan Caroline, who's being pushed out of the Pack paint, want to go play his senior year in his home state of Illinois? What about the four players (Jazz Johnson, Tre'Shawn Thurman, Corey Henson, Nisre Zouzoua) who sat out last season and the incoming seniors (Trey Porter, Ehab Amin)? Will all of those players actually be on the team this year? And where does injured point guard Lindsey Drew figure in all of this? Could he leave Nevada, sit out a year while he recovers from his Achilles injury and then go play his senior year somewhere else in 2019-20? Anything is possible with Musselman's Wolf Pack.
About the only thing we do know about the 2018-19 Wolf Pack is it will look a whole lot different than the 2017-18 Wolf Pack. While that sounds exciting and interesting, it's also a bit scary if you're a Wolf Pack fan. If it ain't broke, after all, why fix it? But Musselman, as usual, is going to do something bold and a bit risky this year. He's taking a Sweet 16 team and basically changing almost everything about it, from the way the roster looks and thinks ("It's going to have the look of a NBA roster," Musselman said this week) to the way the team plays. Caroline is moving from the paint to small forward. Porter and Brown, who are both 6-foot-10 or 6-11, depending on which roster you see, will be in the paint blocking shots, rebounding and, at times, playing with their back to the basket. Last year the only time the Pack put its back to the basket was when it was racing to the other end of the court to play defense. "We have a lot of things we need to tinker with and explore," Musselman said this week.
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The Pack roster, as it stood on Thursday, has 14 scholarship players who all think they deserve a big chunk of the 200 available minutes each game. That's basically 14.3 minutes a game for each player. Do you think Cody and Caleb Martin will be happy with 14.3 minutes a game? What about Jordan Caroline and Lindsey Drew? Do you think Josh Hall spent the last two years being patient and playing a reserve role just so he could play 14.3 minutes a game as a junior? What about McDonald's All American Jordan Brown? McDonald's All Americans don't play just 14.3 minutes a game at a mid-major school. You might think the problem of too much talent on a roster isn't a problem at all. But if you think that, you probably never had the task of trying to keep 14 college basketball players happy.
What, exactly, are the five Wolf Pack walk-ons thinking? Are John Jones, Jalen Townsell, David Cunningham, Zach Wurm and Isaiah Rhymes just looking for a way to get into Final Four games for free? Musselman barely played his walk-ons the first three seasons he was at Nevada and that was when assistant coach Anthony Ruta was his second or third man off the bench most games. Now that his bench is deeper than most NBA rosters, a third of the scholarship players might not step on the floor all that often. Even Charley Tooley, a walk-on fan favorite the last two seasons until the Pack gave him a scholarship late last season, saw the writing on the wall and has left the program.
It's always almost next to impossible to figure out what Musselman is truly thinking. What he says in front of microphones and television cameras is all but meaningless. It sounds good. He says it with a smile or a joke. But it doesn't really mean anything. This is a guy, after all, who said last year a bench is overrated. So what does he do this off-season? He goes out and acquires enough talent for three benches. "There is way too much made about substitutions in college," Musselman said after a Pack game at Lawlor Events Center just last January. "Maybe it's because of the coaches I've been around, whether its Hubie Brown, Mike Fratello, my dad (Bill Musselman) and Tom Thibodeau. Not big substitution guys." Well, Musselman had better turn into a big substitution guy with this Pack roster. He needs to be the biggest substitution guy in the history of college basketball if he wants to keep this team happy.
The only thing even remotely as important as minutes for college basketball players is the amount of shots taken on the court. The Pack took roughly 59 shots a game last year as a team. Caleb and Cody Martin combined to take 24 of those shots a game in the games they played. Jordan Caroline took 13 shots game. Josh Hall and Lindsey Drew combined to take 11 of those shots in the games they played. That's 48 of the 59 shots returning to the roster this year, leaving just 11 shots a game for the nine new players. Do you think the Martins, Caroline, Hall and Drew should see a decrease in their shots? Should a McDonald's All-American like Jordan Brown take roughly 1.2 shots a game? It's going to be interesting.