The 2021-22 Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball season was nothing short of disappointing, and arguably the worst Steve Alford’s coaching career at the Division-I level.
The Wolf Pack, who were finished to pick No. 3 in the Mountain West preseason poll, returned their two lead guards in Grant Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge, who were two of the 10-best players in the conference.
They also brought in five-star transfer Will Baker from Texas, in addition to highly-touted Robert Morris wing transfer A.J. Bramah and Florida Atlantic transfer Kenan Blackshear to bolster its already stout frontcourt led by Warren Washington and K.J. Hymes.
The season produced less than fruitful results. Nevada began 1-4, Bramah was dismissed from the team and the Pack could never really find their groove outside of their five-game winning streak against George Mason, Washington, Pepperdine, Minnesota Duluth and Loyola Marymount.
The Wolf Pack lost 10 of their final 13 games and finished 13-18, Alford’s worst D-I record ever. The pressure was on Alford, who signed a 10-year contract ahead of 2019-20, to produce the following season. How could a team look so broken after it just went 16-10 in 2020-21?
That’s a question the public might never know. But Sherfield, Cambridge and Washington—Nevada’s three best players—all hit the portal while the Pack brought in Oregon State transfer Jarod Lucas, regarded as one of the best shooters available in the transfer portal, plus transfers Tyler Powell and Hunter McIntosh.
Alford also gave more amplified roles to Kenan Blackshear, who assumed lead ballhandler responsibilities, and then-redshirt freshman Nick Davidson, who was expected to operate as a hybrid 4/5 with Baker and Hymes.
As a result, Nevada posted their first 20-win season after getting picked to finish 9th (of 11) in the conference in the preseason.
Lucas averaged 17.0 points on 37.8 percent shooting from deep; Blackshear averaged 14.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.5 steals as one of the best two-way guards in the conference; Tre Coleman, a defensive menace, had a bounce-back offensive season while it had the conference’s freshman of the year in Darrion Williams, an uber-impactful do-it-all wing who averaged 7.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals.
While it did sputter down the stretch (losing their final four games), Nevada is now looking to capitalize off its 2022-23 season, where it finished 22-11 with eight Quad 1 and 2 wins and earned its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2018-19.
The Wolf Pack did not lose anyone to graduation, but lost Williams and Baker to the transfer portal, but injected plenty of functional depth into its frontcourt in athletic Tulane transfer Tylan Pope, 7-footer Jeriah Coleman and Jazz Coleman while getting a fully healthy Hunter McIntosh, a former Elon transfer who missed all but six games due to a knee injury.
Nevada is also bringing in freshman guards Tyler Rolison and Amire Robinson. Rolison was a three-star, top-175 recruit who received offers from Washington, USC, San Diego State, Oklahoma State and Nebraska, among others. Robinson, a combo guard, has received rave reviews for his basketball IQ, leadership and versatility on the court from Alford.
This all begs the question: Is this Alford’s deepest Nevada team yet? Alford seems to think so.
“This is the deepest team we’ve had,” Alford told reporters at practice earlier this month. “We’re deep at every position, and I think we’re more athletic this year, which was an offseason focus. Now, it’s just the fact we’ve had that experience. I think guys know how close they were, and that last two weeks (last season) has been inside of them all year long, all summer long.
I think these guys have had a great mindset all summer, very similar to what we had last summer. Coming off a bad year, they didn’t accept that and they worked. And this summer, they continued that work not because they were coming off a bad year but because they were coming off a year they knew they were that close. And when you’re that close, I think you understand some of the little things you’ve got to do to take that next step.”
With Coleman and Gardner inserted into the frame, Nevada certainly has more frontcourt size and physicality than it last year, even though it’s not as experienced or polished just yet.
It also improved its physicality with Pope, a bruising 6-foot-6, 244-pound forward whose physical profile embodies former Pack wing Jordan Caroline. Pope is a decent corner spacer, but does most of his work inside-the-arc around the rim. He averaged 6.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 19.2 minutes on 55.3 percent true-shooting; over a per-75 possession basis, he averaged 13.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks.
Nevada has good guard play that’s quite experienced in both Blackshear and Lucas, who are one of the biggest backcourts in the country. They have plenty of other experience littered across the roster with Hymes, McIntosh, Pope, Coleman and Daniel Foster, who are all seniors.
The levels of depth throughout this team is a strength, which helps lineup versatility (which, in turn, shifts possible schematic versatility) and pace that Alford could tinker with in different situations throughout a season.
Nevada was projected to finish No. 4 behind reigning MW champ San Diego State, Boise State and New Mexico, who possess the best backcourt in the conference in Jamal Mashburn and Jaelen House.
Is Nevada deeper than they were last year? And can it make another run at a conference title and possibly an NCAA Tournament bid? Let us know in the comments!