Posted: 6:19 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013
In the 2012-2013 season, Nevada fans were excited to be entering a tougher basketball conference, the MWC, after spending years playing in the weak Western Athletic Conference. The expectations were high for the Wolf Pack to be competitive and hopefully earn an NCAA tournament berth. The team would soon learn that the depth of competition was at a whole new level as the Wolf Pack limped to a 3-13 record in conference play and a 13-19 record overall.
This year Nevada must deal with an entire remake of the frontcourt following the transfers of Kevin Panzer and Devonte Elliot, the two players who got most of the power forward and center minutes as well as the graduation of shooting guard Malik Story. Nevada brought in four JC transfers to hopefully fill the hole in the middle and has a freshman and transfer from UTEP that will hopefully replace Story. The Wolf Pack will likely rely heavily on star point guard Deonte Burton, one of the most underrated players in the MWC and in the country, to carry the team.
At the center position, the loss of Panzer and Elliot wont be hard to replace because those players were not very effective last year. Coach David Carter bought in transfer AJ West to hopefully be the starting power forward and a reserve player last year, Ali Fall, to fill the void at center. West comes to Nevada after playing last year at Monroe College in New York, where he averaged 10.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 5.1 blocks per game. The Wolf Pack will need West to be an effective shot blocker and rebounder to compete this year. Fall on the other hand is more of an offensive player who has showed promise in his post game, but last year had issues with turnovers and foul trouble. Another transfer Chris Brown was expected to be a key contributor down low but has been ruled out indefinitely with an undisclosed medical issue. Therefore Ronnie Stevens Jr. and Lucas Stivrins could be asked to play increased minutes in the post.
In the backcourt the Wolf Pack is a lot less questionable than the frontcourt with experience and talent returning. The big news at the end of last year's disappointing season was that point guard Deonte Burton would be returning for his senior season. Last year Burton was the most consistent player on the team, averaging 16.3 points, 3.6 assists, and 1.4 steals per game. At times, Burton was not aggressive enough and deferred to teammates. This year Burton should be looking for his shots and points more often. Burton's backcourt mate last year was the three point shooting Malik Story who could go for 30 or 3 points on any given night and take the same amount of shots. This year, with Story graduating, a transfer from UTEP Michael Perez looks to step in at shooting guard. Perez is a well-rounded ball player who can shoot threes, get to the rim, and force steals. In his last year with the Miners, Perez scored 11 points a game, and Nevada will need that same type of production. At the small forward position senior Jerry Evans Jr. will be the starter. Evans last year was not as good of a corner three point specialist as his first two years, but can remain effective as he often guards the opposing teams best player.
One key aspect the Wolf Pack lacked last year was bench scoring. This year that will fall on two returning sophomores and a freshman. Backing up Burton and Perez in the backcourt is sophomore Marqueze Coleman. Coleman has the potential to be a breakout player this year that can get to the rim and finish at will, but will need to improve his jump shot so that teams do not lay off him too much. At the small forward/power forward position is Cole Huff. Lacking a true position, Huff can play small forward in a more traditional lineup, but can play power forward in a small, quicker lineup. Possibly the biggest question mark on the team is freshman DJ Fenner, who was the Washington State player of the year in his senior year of high school. Fenner can do a bit of everything on offense, and will need to be a spark off the bench.
For Nevada to compete this year in the MW and hopefully get an NCAA tournament bid the teams chemistry will have to develop quickly, the bigs will have to be above average rebounders and defenders, and the bench will have to score points to take pressure off the starters. The Wolf Pack struggled in all of these areas last year, which led to the last place finish in the MW. The best-case scenario is for Nevada to finish somewhere in the 5th place-7th place range in the Mountain West and to not be upset by the weaker teams in the nonconference games. If Nevada struggles this year, coach David Carter might not return next year for the Pack.