The Nevada Wolf Pack tip-off their anticipated 2021-22 campaign tomorrow versus the Eastern Washington Eagles at Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nev.
The Pack are coming a 16-10 season, where it finished No. 5 in the Mountain West at 8-7. Nevada got bounced in the semifinals of the Mountain West tournament to then-No. 19-ranked San Diego State, 77-70. It returns over 80 percent of its scoring production, including five of their top six scorers from a year ago — boasted by All-Conference guards Grant Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge Jr.
Meanwhile, Eastern Washington, coming off its third NCAA Tournament berth in its program’s history after finishing 16-8 (12-3 Big Sky), underwent significant turnover.
David Riley, who spent the previous seven seasons as an assistant coach under Jim Hayford (2013-17) and Shantay Legans (2017-21), enters his first year as the Eagles coach.
The 32-year-old will continue program success, where it’s fashioned four 20-win seasons with two NCAA Tournament appearances over the last seven seasons. The Eagles have won 62.6 percent (142-86) of their games over the span, including 70.9 percent (90-37) of their conference contests.
It’s going to be an uphill climb, however.
With the coaching change, significant roster turnover followed. Each of EWU’s top seven scorers transferred — including Big Sky player of the year Tanner Groves (Oklahoma) and Kim Aiken Jr. (Arizona).
The only two starters retained last year are Casson Rouse (18 games, 5 starts) and Ellis Magnuson (22 games, 13 starts). The program fielded a group of transfers, including former BYU and Central Arkansas transfer Rylan Bergersen and UNC Greensboro transfer Angelo Allegri.
Will the Pack begin the season with a season-opening victory in front of its hungry home crowd? Let’s preview the matchup below:
Matchup: Nevada (0-0) vs. Eastern Washington (0-0)
When: Tuesday, Nov. 9 at 7:00 p.m. PT
Where: Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nev.
TV/Online: Nevada Sports Net (simulcast) || www.nevadawolfpack.com
Spread: Nevada -20 (William Hill)
Money line: Nevada -2000, Eastern Washington +1100
Last Meeting: Nevada won 85-70 (CBI Tournament; March 21, 2016)
Matchup History: Nevada leads 10-2
Bergerson and Allegri could make the Eagles’ biggest impact transfers this season.
Bergerson’s collegiate career began slowly, but he’s proven to be a very capable scorer. In two seasons with BYU, he recorded just 96 points and 35 rebounds in 50 career games. His role drastically changed at Central Arkansas, where the 6-foot-6 guard averaged 16.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game, shooting 42.9 percent from the floor, 30.1 percent from beyond the arc and 68.7 percent from the free throw line.
He totaled 18 20-point performances, including four 25-point performances (career-high is 26). Bergerson earned back-to-back All-Southland Conference third team honors.
Allegri averaged 7.8 points and 4.0 rebounds on 36.4 percent shooting (43.8 percent on 2s) last year, helping lead the Spartans to their second NCAA Tournament berth in four seasons. He had just six games of 15-plus points with a career-high of 19, a feat he tallied twice (once in ‘19-’20; once in ‘20-’21).
Both Bergerson and Allegri join Linton Acliese III (San Francisco State), Imhotep George (Allegany College; JUCO) and Sean Kirk (Western Washington) as Eastern Washington’s incoming transfers.
Magnuson and Rouse, however, are the Eagles’ top returnees.
Magnuson’s started 44 career games, averaging 4.9 points and 3.2 assists on 37.1/30.8/83.1 (47.4 TS%) in 21 minutes a contest. In 22 games last season, he sported 3.6 points and two assists in 15.7 minutes per game, posting just three double-digit scoring outings.
Rouse saw several statistical decreases on a per-minute basis, including scoring, rebounding and steals. The 6-foot-2 guard’s shot frequency increased with drastically worse efficiency — shooting just 28.4 percent with a 37.2 true shooting percentage as a sophomore compared to 42.4 percent and a 56.2 true shooting percentage as a freshman.
Since he’ll presumably have a much larger role with a new cast of players, Rouse is expected to have a bounce-back 2021-22 campaign.
The Eagles rank No. 242 (out of 358) in KenPom’s preseason rankings — No. 201 on offense and No. 286 on defense.
The Wolf Pack rank No. 49, including No. 26 on defense and No. 80 on defense.
With a majority of their production returning on all fronts, Nevada is projected to be one of the top programs in the Mountain West this season.
It starts with Sherfield, who earned the preseason Mountain West player of the year award after earning the conference’s newcomer of the year award in 2020-21. The former Wichita State transfer led the Mountain West in assists (6.1 apg) and steals (1.6 spg) while finishing second in scoring (18.6 ppg). Sherfield shot 43.3 percent from the floor and 36.7 percent from distance.
Cambridge, an All-Mountain West third team, honoree, finished second in scoring (16.3 ppg), assists (2.4 apg) and steals (1.0 spg). He knocked down a team-most 69 3-pointers at a 34.8 percent clip and was a very efficient 89.9 percent from the charity stripe.
The Pack also bring high-flying wing AJ Bramah, a transfer from Robert Morris. He averaged 21.0 points, 10.3 rebounds (2.8 offensive) and 1.4 steals per game across 12 games (11 starts) before entering the portal. He shot 51.1 percent and 80.0 percent from the free-throw line.
Bramah will likely be featured off the bench to start the year, but could be one of the Pack’s biggest contributors on a per-minute basis. Expect him to be the recipient of plenty of alley-oop attempts — hello vertical spacing!
Nevada also welcomes Florida Atlantic transfer Kenan Blackshear plus Texas transfer and former five-star high school recruit, Will Baker.
Blackshear, at 6-foot-6, is a multi-positional defender that will help operate the Pack’s second unit. Baker plans to inject floor spacing and rebounding into the Wolf Pack’s front court. He joins 7-footer Warren Washington, who was third in scoring (10.0 ppg) and T-1 in rebounding (5.9 rpg), and K.J. Hymes (6.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg).
For the first time in over 18 months, Nevada will be in-front of its energized home crowd. Over Alford’s first two seasons, Nevada lost 85.5 percent and 79.9 percent of its scoring production, respectively. This year, it returns 83.2 percent of its scoring; the Pack also return 73.8 percent of their rebounding, 86.9 percent of their assist production, 79.3 percent of their steals production and 87 percent of their shot-blocking. That’s significant continuity. Pair that with Nevada’s added transfers and Nevada boasts a deep squad. On the other side, there’s too many initial question marks. This roster underwent a mass exodus and hasn’t played a single game together. Behind its home crowd, Nevada should handle this one without much issue. Nevada 77, Eastern Washington 62 (Season record: 0-0)