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A comparison of Eric Musselman’s Nevada Wolf Pack and Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV Running Rebels

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A look at 2 MBB coaches in the state of Nevada who enjoyed quite a bit of success.

Colorado State v Nevada Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

Both teams from the silver state were on the road this past Saturday. While UNLV was getting abused by the Aztec in San Diego, the Nevada Wolf Pack, was feasting on the Aggies at the Spectrum. Although short handed because of the loss of Lindsay Drew the Pack went into Logan like they hadn’t got a win in a long time. They pressed, pressured, pushed and shot their way to victory in Logan.

It is somewhat of a role reversal for the two Nevada Universities. UNLV under Tarkanian owned the Wolf Pack and pretty much everyone else on the West Coast. While UNLV continues to rebuild under Marvin Menzies; Nevada is well on its way to joining Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, Arizona, and UCLA as a perennial member of the vaunted top 20 club.

“They’re the most talented team in the league,” USU head coach Tim Duryea said. “The other thing that really impresses you with their players is how high their basketball IQ is. They are not only the most talented team in the league, they’re the smartest team in the league.”

The University of Nevada is a premier learning institution, with a great medical school, law school, and engineering school, but it also seems like the University of Nevada is also an institution of higher learning for its basketball players.

Their professor is coach Musselman. He is the scholar of hoop. He brings in first year players and instructs them in desire, defensive technique, pride, sacrifice for team, boxing out, never being out hustled, these are some of the principles of Nevada basketball 101. The transfers he brings in get the same classes, but they are like summer school courses taught at an accelerated rate. By the time the season comes the Wolf Pack players are ready to compete with anybody in the nation.

Coach Musselan has taken his love, passion, and vast knowledge, that he has collected from being the son of a former NBA coach, being a former NBA coach himself, and a coach of the NBA D-league and he is passing on not only his passion for the game but what it takes for the players and his fellow coaches to win on a game by game basis.

Musselman not only sets goals for his team like winning the Mountain West Conference regular season championship he sets out a road map for his staff and players to achieve that goal.

All great coaches are part optimist, pragmatist and realist. Musselman is totally invested in the Battle Blue. He owns Nevada basketball and is a great seller of his product to the community. In some ways he reminds me of the late Jerry Tarkanian and UNLV as it rose to regional and eventually national prominence.

When UNLV was great it was the only game in town at the time and the blue collar element in Vegas supported the Rebels becauseof the flash but also the hard work and defensive style that they played and because they won.

It is similar in Reno. There are no major professional sports in Reno. The University of Nevada has a major corner on the market as being the only game in town. They are currently ranked 20th in the country and Musselman is selling that as being a big deal, and it is. It is very similar to UNLV when they were a perennial power. UNLV was consistently a top 20 team until it started rising and going to the NCAA Tournament and winning games there on a year in and year out basis.

Another similarity to Tarkanian’ Rebels is Musselman is using transfers like Jerry used Juco players. Since Lindsay Drew was injured, Nevada has gone to an all transfer starting line up with the Martin twins (NC State), Jordan Caroline (Southern Illinois), Kendall Stephens (Purdue), and Hallice Cook (Iowa State University).

Most people talk about Caroline and the Martin twins but Kendall Stephens has been on a tear as of late, he is Musselman’s secret ingredient to the recipe that makes the Wolf Pack a top team. He went to Logan averaging 13.4 points a game. He had 19 against USU in the first meeting. Stephens has made 54 3-point shots in 13 MW games and is shooting 45 percent from long range.

“Kendall Stephens is playing tremendous,” Duryea said. “He’s the guy that flies under the radar. He probably likes it that way because the (Caleb and Cody) Martins get tons of attention and Jordan Caroline is a magnetic player in terms of how hard he plays and how he kind of bulls around in there and does things on second, third and fourth effort. Meanwhile, Kendall Stephens just kind of runs to the corners and runs to the wings, and catches and shoots. He’s that silent assassin.” He dropped thirty on San Jose State

Like Tarkanian, Musselman has shown the ability to blend in a mix of players from different schools and taught them how to play Nevada basketball. This team is excellent at trapping in the half-court when the ball moves to a certain location the Wolf Pack leaps into a trap like they are surrounding a prey species often creating a turnover that leads to a fast break opportunity.

Make no doubt about this Musselman is in a situation where he has the Wolf Pack playing at a very high level, because he expects it out of his players. His humility and respect for his opponents will continue to keep this run going. In an interview with the Reno media he talked about the importance of winning two games to win the regular season conference title. He implied that he would like to do that at home this week by dispatching San Jose State on Wednesday and Colorado State University on Sunday. He implored the community to come out and watch these kids one last time because there are only 80 minutes of basketball before the season is over at the Lawlor Event Center for this team and the community and the kids should be embraced one last time before the Nevada show goes on the road for the last two tournaments of the year.

For the Nevada program to start moving in the direction of the Tarkanian teams of old the Pack will need to start winning a couple of games in the NCAA Tournament to move into that direction. Once that happens, and I am sure it will, there will be athletic directors that will come calling coach Musselman from power five conferences with a need for a program to resurrect.

Scandal forced Jerry Tarkanian to leave UNLV otherwise he would have never left the school. Nevada will never force Musselman to leave. But will the Truckee Meadows be a green enough pasture for him or will the call of other fields of green persuade Musselman to follow the paths of Mark Fox and Trent Johnson. Only time will tell.

Quotes from: Logan Herald Journal- February 16, 2018