The jump Nevada made this year was incredible. There’s no denying that.
Eric Musselman took over a roster that won nine games last year and turned it into a champion. Yes, there are “so what?” connotations on a national scale when it comes to a CBI title, but locally, this is a big deal.
And starting next winter, it may be a big deal nationally.
When the CBI started, Musselman talked at length about the significance of getting his players postseason experience. Because no, he doesn’t plan on this year’s CBI being the Pack’s only playoff berth in his tenure.
“I think it (CBI) was really important,” said Musselman following Nevada’s 85-82 overtime victory over Morehead State in Friday night’s title game. “Again, we got so many games in, in a short amount of time. To play in the CBI, in my mind, everybody that gets invited to it, has to play in it.”
Since 2008, 26 teams qualified for the NCAA tournament one year after playing in the CBI. Considering the returning talent and the pieces coming in, there is no reason to believe the Wolf Pack can’t make it 27 next March.
Cam Oliver will start next season as a Mountain West Player of the Year candidate after a phenomenal true freshman season. Lindsey Drew will only feel more comfortable running the point with a year of experience under his belt. D.J. Fenner looked like a completely different offensive player in the CBI and will only build off the tournament going into his senior season.
Musselman won’t be immune to the CBI success, either.
“Even myself, I know I’ll be a better coach coming back next year,” Musselman said.
Nevada will also have an influx of transfer talent joining the mix.
Marcus Marshall, a 6-3 guard, sat out this year after spending his first three seasons at Missouri State. He averaged 19.5 points per game as a junior. Leland King, a 6-7 forward, will be eligible next year after averaging 14.6 points and 7.8 rebounds a game as a sophomore at Brown. And Jordan Caroline, another 6-7 forward, was named to the Missouri Valley all-freshman team after averaging 9.2 points and 6.2 rebounds at Southern Illinois. He will have two years of eligibility left starting next year.
That’s not even mentioning the monster recruiting class that will joining the Pack next season. The recruiting class, ranked No. 35 in the nation by rivals.com, features two four-star recruits.
Kenneth Wooten, a 6-8 forward out of Manteca, Calif., may make the largest immediate impact. He scored 26 points pulled down 18 rebounds and blocked nine shots in the CIF state Div. III title game two weeks ago, a game Manteca won 60-51.
With such a bright immediate future, it would be easy for fans, and players, to start a countdown to next year’s opener. But what good is success if you can’t enjoy it?
“Let’s just enjoy this right now. I want to enjoy this,” said Oliver, who averaged 13.4 points and 9.1 rebounds a night while blocking a program record 99 shots. “We’ll just take this momentum to next year.”
The Wolf Pack will lose leading scorer Marqueze Coleman (15.5 ppg) and Tyron Criswell, the CBI MVP, next year. However, if Musselman showed anything in his first year, it’s that he can win games regardless of the lineup.
That’s why the ecstatic crowd in Lawlor chanted ‘Muss we trust’ once Friday’s title game went final.
He’s a coach worth trusting, as shown by his success in year No. 1. There’s no denying that.