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Nevada Wolf Pack 2021-22 men’s basketball season preview

NCAA Basketball: Mountain West Conference Tournament- Nevada vs Boise St. Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021-22 Nevada men’s basketball season kicks off in just over 24 hours!

Nevada will be bringing back a majority of its key cogs from last season — including one of the nation’s best backcourts in Desmond Cambridge Jr. and Grant Sherfield. As opposed to the flurry of roster turnover that Nevada head coach Steve Alford experienced in his first two seasons with the program, Nevada’s going to be returning 83.2 percent of its scoring, 73.8 percent of its rebounding, 86.9 percent of its assist production, 79.3 percent of its steals production and 87 percent of its shot-blocking.

But wait, there’s more.

The Pack added a couple of high-quality transfers over the offseason: AJ Bramah (Robert Morris) and Kenan Blackshear (Florida Atlantic), who join Will Baker (Texas) as the Wolf Pack’s biggest offseason additions — adding to their shear depth. They have conjured one of the deepest Pack squads since Alford arrived, but will season, in general, live up to the hype!

Let’s begin with the Wolf Pack schedule:


Nevada men’s basketball 2021-22 schedule

Day Date Opponent Time (PST) TV
Day Date Opponent Time (PST) TV
Tuesday Nov. 9 vs. Eastern Washington TBD TBD
Friday Nov. 12 vs. San Diego TBD TBD
Tuesday Nov. 16 at Santa Clara TBD TBD
Thursday Nov. 18 at San Francisco TBD TBD
Mon-Wed. Nov. 22-24 South Dakota St. / George Mason / Pepperdine TBD TBD
Saturday Nov. 20 vs. Pepperdine TBD TBD
Saturday Dec. 4 at North Texas TBD TBD
Tuesday Dec. 7 at UT-Arlington TBD TBD
Wednesday Dec. 15 vs. Minnesota Duluth TBD TBD
Saturday Dec. 18 vs. Loyola Marymount TBD TBD
Tuesday Dec. 21 vs. Grand Canyon TBD TBD
Tuesday Dec. 28 at San Jose State TBD TBD
Saturday Jan. 1 vs. New Mexico TBD TBD
Tuesday Jan. 4 vs. Wyoming TBD TBD
Saturday Jan. 8 at San Diego State TBD TBD
Tuesday Jan. 11 vs. Boise State TBD TBD
Saturday Jan. 15 at Air Force TBD TBD
Saturday Jan. 22 vs. Fresno State TBD TBD
Tuesday Jan. 25 at Colorado State TBD TBD
Saturday Jan. 29 vs. Utah State TBD TBD
Tuesday Feb. 1 at UNLV TBD TBD
Saturday Feb. 5 at Fresno State TBD TBD
Tuesday Feb. 8 vs. Colorado State TBD TBD
Saturday Feb. 12 at Utah State TBD TBD
Tuesday Feb. 15 vs. San Jose State TBD TBD
Tuesday Feb. 22 vs. UNLV TBD TBD
Saturday Feb. 26 at Wyoming TBD TBD
Tuesday March 1 at Boise State TBD TBD
Saturday March 5 at San Diego State TBD TBD

To start with, the Pack have a relatively soft non-conference schedule. If they have true aspirations at a potential NCAA Tournament team, it’s going to need to be near-perfect in non-conference while finishing as a top-3 team in the Mountain West.

Their first three opponents — Eastern Washington (No. 242), San Diego (No. 179) and Santa Clara (No. 124) — all rank outside the top-120 teams, per KenPom’s preseason rankings.

It will also have South Dakota State (No. 89), George Mason (No. 211) and Washington (No. 101) in the 2021 Crossover Classic with a tough road bout against San Francisco (No. 34) sandwiched in-between. Among its 13 non-conference affairs, its game against the Dons might be heir best shot at a Quad 1 road victory in non-conference play.

Though it does close its non-conference schedule with Loyola Marymount and Grand Canyon, it’s not going to have many opportunities to make significant noise entering Mountain West play; it’s going to have little margin-for-error.

The Pack tip-off their 18-game conference schedule on Dec. 28 versus the San Jose State Spartans. They will play just New Mexico (home) and Air Force (road) once this while playing every other opponent twice.

Now, let’s break down the roster!


Guards:

Returning starters:

Grant Sherfield

Sherfield was dubbed this year’s preseason Mountain West player of the year. Sherfield — who won the conference’s newcomer of the year award and earned All-Mountain West first team honors — finished second in the Mountain West in scoring (18.6 ppg) and topped the conference in steals (1.6 spg) and assists per game (6.1 apg). He’s a very crafty guard that will be tasked with a majority of Nevada’s lead ball-handler reps when he’s on the floor. Sherfield was also Nevada’s most clutch player, too — hitting three game-winners a season ago. Though he might not have as much pressure to score this year with a deeper roster, you can pencil him in on one of the All-Mountain West teams for the second straight year as one of the best all-around guards in the Mountain West.

Desmond Cambridge

Cambridge is Sherfield’s sidekick and rounds out arguably the conference’s best backcourt. He finished second on the team in scoring (16.3 ppg) and steals (1.0 spg), earning All-Mountain West third team honors. Cambridge’s a very physical, get-under-your-jersey defender that has shown capability of guarding the opposition’s best wing. He’s a very streaky shooter that will hoist them without conscience, knocking 40.9 percent of his team-most 13.8 attempts per game (34.8 percent from 3-point range). But when he gets going, like he did in the Mountain West tournament quarterfinals, watch out.

Daniel Foster

Foster, who missed the start of the season due to a shoulder injury, started eight of the 11 games last year, so I’ll consider him a returning starter. Barring any injuries, I don’t expect Foster to start at that frequency again in 2021-22. Assuming everyone’s healthy, I expect him to be Nevada’s 9th-10th player off its deep bench as the presumed backup point guard, but I expect Blackshear (see below) to also get plenty of reps there as well. His role and production were both limited, though he was one of Nevada’s best rebounding guards on a per-minute basis. In total, he averaged 4.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 23.4 minutes per game, shooting 48.6 percent from the floor (50.0 percent on 2s, 45.5 percent on 3s).

Other returners:

Alem Huseinovic

Given the Pack’s newfound depth, the sophomore guard have to improve his outside shooting efficiency — hitting just 28.0 percent of his triples last season — if he wants to have an increased role. Huseinovic, listed at 6-foot-4, showed flashes as a good on-ball defender against opposing guards, but his offensive production will increase his ceiling.

Transfers without eligibility last season:

None.

Offseason Transfers:

Kenan Blackshear

Transfer from Florida Atlantic. Might see time at the 1; also might see time at the 3. Blackshear adds switch-ability defensively — where he offers a high floor — because of his length and shear athleticism. Offensively, he’s showcased strong finishing ability at the rim and has improved his efficiency throughout his first two collegiate seasons. Blackshear averaged 9.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals in 23 games last season. Could sneakily be one of Nevada’s most productive two-way players off the bench in 2021-22.

Freshmen:

Jalen Weaver

Weaver’s a former three-star recruit out of Santa Clarita High Southern California Academy in Santa Clarita, Calif., where he averaged 13.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals as a senior, shooting 48.8 percent from the floor, 35.0 percent from beyond the arc and 88.9 percent from the free-throw line. When he was junior at Smoky Hill High School in Aurora, Colo., he tallied 18.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.3 steals per contest. He chose the Wolf Pack over Loyola Marymount, UMass, Montana State and Tulsa.

Jason Mensah

A walk-on, Mensah played at Green Valley High School in Henderson, Nev. In 26 as a sophomore, he averaged 2.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.3 steals per game.

Forwards/Centers:

Returning starters:

Tre Coleman

Coleman was immediately thrown into the fire as a freshman, starting in 22 of 26 games while playing 26.0 minutes per game. Coleman did well. He was Nevada’s best wing defender and showed capability as a 3-point shooter, hitting 36.1 percent of his triples. His 64.3 free-throw percentage might suggest some regression, but if Sherfield and Cambridge continue to pinch defenses, Coleman will see a healthy amount of open catch-and-shoot looks. You could make the case for Coleman to start again this year. I presume he will to begin the season, but it’s not as certain. He could have another semi-productive sophomore season if he gets consistent playing time.

Warren Washington

Washington was arguably the Wolf Pack’s third-best player last year, finishing third in scoring (10.0 ppg), T-1 in rebounding (5.9) and second in shot-blocking (0.6 bpg). He flashed good low-post play with good touch over his left shoulder. Washington will be one of Nevada’s top rebounders and shot blockers again 2021, though his scoring might see a dip because of the team’s front-court depth.

Other returners:

K.J. Hymes

If he doesn’t start at any point throughout the season, Hymes will be one of the first big men off the bench. He’s steadily extending his shooting range while still providing shot blocking and rebounding chops. The biggest negative of Hymes’ game is his propensity to foul — he led Nevada with 8.6 fouls per 40 minutes after averaging 9.4 per 40 in 2019-20. When he’s not fouling, he’s been of Alford’s most playable bigs (that we’ve seen). Expect Hymes to have another quality season with some spot starts.

DeAndre Henry

With Baker, Washington, Hymes and AJ Bramah ahead of him, Henry’s role will presumably be limited once again in 2021-22. He appeared in 18 games, but played in just 5.2 minutes per contest and played double-digit minutes just three times. When he was on the floor, however, the sophomore had a high motor with flashes as a quality rim-runner and rebounder, but his sample was too small to make any real determination.

Transfers without eligibility last season:

Will Baker

A former five-star recruit that transferred from Texas midseason. He averaged 2.1 points and 1.9 rebounds in 8.3 minutes, which spiked to 6.2 points in 14.5 minutes per game in their late-season five-game win streak. He shot 41.7 percent from deep (on 12 3-point attempts) over that span, but shot 15.4 percent from deep across the entire year. The 7-footer could replicate the stretch-big role that Zane Meeks provided. I presume Baker starts at the 4, complementing Washington as a floor spacer with more potential as a playmaking big.

Offseason transfers:

AJ Bramah

Bramah’s the addition that most Pack fans seem to be the most excited about, and for good reason! The former Robert Morris transfer averaged 21.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals last season, albeit in just 12 games. In 2019-20, he averaged 13.4 points and a team-high 8.2 rebounds — earning All-NEC second team honors. Bramah, an freakishly-athletic specimen, could be one of the Pack’s top scorers and rebounders on a per-minute basis. I don’t expect him to initially start, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did, either. Regardless, he should be one of the Pack’s most productive players and could be a sneaky selection for newcomer of the year.

Freshmen:

Nick Davidson

Davidson graduated from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., one of the most respected basketball prep programs in the country. He averaged 16.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game in 30 games a senior.

Caleb Oden

A walk-on, Oden averaged 2.9 points and 2.0 rebounds per game as a junior at Dublin High School in Dublin, Calif.


Projection:

On paper, Nevada should be one of the three-best teams in the Mountain West this season.

Despite graduating Matt Mitchell, Jordan Schakel and Terrell Gomez, San Diego State is perpetually great, so I’ll pencil them into one of those three spots as well. Colorado State, led by David Roddy and Isaiah Stevens — another one of the top Mountain West duos — will be loaded. Roddy and Stevens both have potential to win the Mountain West player of the year award and will be bothersome to play each night. The Rams return a ton of their production from last year, including each of their top seven scorers from a year ago. They also welcome in 6-foot-4 guard Chandler Jacobs, who averaged 20.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game at Division II’s Dallas Baptist last year.

Why does Nevada fit into that mix?

I’m glad that you pretended to ask. Nevada returns four of their top five scorers — who accounted for 77.1 percent of its scoring production. While Meeks departs (transfer to San Francisco), the Pack added a former five-star recruit that could post similar production. With the additions of Baker, Bramah and Blackshear — (the three B’s? Print the shirts!) — the Wolf Pack bench is riddled with two-way ability. Nevada has the requisite size, shooting, two-way ability and athleticism to have a puncher’s chance each game.

I wouldn’t sleep on Boise State, either, despite losing Derrick Alston to the NBA and RayJ Dennis to Toledo. They add talented freshman Tyson Degenhart while keeping its core of Emmanuel Akot, Devonaire Doutrive and Abu Kigab. Utah State, UNLV and Fresno State should all be good and in the top-5 mix as well.

Though the conversation will be fluid throughout the season, if everyone remains healthy, I don’t see Nevada falling outside of that benchmark, unless something catastrophic happens. We’re talking about projecting a season — anything can happen! I expect the Pack’s continuity and two-way ceiling will be a pain for other squads, thus keeping them in a lot of close games (paging, Grant Sherfield). If the newfangled depth transitions smoothly, this is going to be a tough squad to stop!

You’ve been warned, Mountain West!

Pre-MWC Tournament record projection: 23-8 (13-5 MWC; 3rd)