2008-09 Nevada Basketball Preview: #59
Nevada Wolf Pack
Overall Rank: #59
Conference Rank: #1 WAC
2007-08: 21-12, 12-4, 1st
2007-08 postseason: CBI
Despite the loss of three starters, Nevada is still a favorite to win the Western Athletic Conference. The conference as a whole had a horrible season in 2007-2008 and the conference full of young players does not expect to improve too much. That is good news for the Wolf Pack while they can rebuild and still compete for a conference championship. However, once again, it will probably be just the conference tournament winner who will represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament.
Marcelus Kemp led the team averaging a smooth 20.0 points per game. He was a consistent outside shooter and could almost always create his own shot when necessary. His 3.3 assists and 5.4 rebounds per contest also ranked second on the team. That is a huge loss, but the absence of JaVale McGee, who left early for the NBA, is even bigger. McGee was a consistent scorer under the basket and could stretch the defense with his outside shooting. On the other side of the floor he grabbed a ton of rebounds and blocked 2.8 shots per contest. While there are experienced options ready to fill the void left by Kemp, the same cannot be said for McGee. The frontcourt also loses starter Demarshay Johnson and roleplayers David Ellis and Matt LaGrone. That leaves very little experience left in the frontcourt. Guard Curry Lynch has also wrapped up his collegiate career in Reno after playing in just nine contests as a senior.
Despite all the losses, it is Coach Mark Fox’s superb recruiting class that has Wolf Pack fans excited about the future and the present. Luke Babbitt is the best of the bunch. The 6-9 power forward earned McDonald’s All-American accolades and can literally do it all. He can use his 225 pound frame to battle in the paint, his ball handling skills to get to the basket or his shooting ability to knock down three-pointers. And that is just in the scoring department. Babbitt is also a fine passer and rebounder. The only concern is his defense, but if he sticks to the post that will not be much of an issue. Babbitt lacks the foot speed to take on some small forwards in the WAC, but the Wolf Pack need him to play at the four and five spots for now anyway. Ahyaro Philips and Dario Hunt will provide depth in the paint. The good news for this recruiting class keeps coming. Small forward Joey Shaw might sound familiar. The 6-6 Glendale, Arizona product averaged 4.5 points and 1.9 rebounds two years as a redshirt freshman at Indiana. Shaw is a good athlete and shooter and should fit well in the starting lineup. Shooting guard Mark McLaughlin and point guard London Giles also have enough talent to start. McLaughlin is a future star and can put up points in a hurry. He can score from anywhere on the floor, but he will need to add more strength to his wiry 6-5, 180 pound frame before he will be effective around the basket at this level. In the worst case scenario, he will be a great shooter off the bench. Giles is not as highly touted as Babbitt, Shaw or McLaughlin, but he is a versatile player who will find a role on the team.
Who to Watch:
Even with the talent that McLaughlin and Giles have, they will have to spend some time learning behind Armon Johnson and Brandon Fields. Johnson started all but one game at the point as a freshman. His 3.4 assists and 2.4 turnovers per contest were not bad at all for a freshman and those numbers should improve this year. But the reigning WAC Freshman of the Year can also score and could see more minutes at the shooting guard spot in the coming years. Fields is the team’s leading returning scorer and the lone returning three-point threat on the team. Fields is a good defender and will be the new go-to-scorer with the absence of Kemp. Lyndale Burleson gives Nevada some experienced depth to go along with the newcomers.
As good as the backcourt will be, the frontcourt has some issues. Babbitt is prepared to have a great year, but who is going to start by his side? Malik Cooke, at 6-6, will not bring any size to the unit and Richie Phillips needs to finally stay healthy if he wants to make an impact. Babbitt and the backcourt can do enough to win the WAC, but if the Wolf Pack want to make some noise in March, another big man needs to be found.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Armon Johnson, Sophomore, Guard, 11.5 points per game
Brandon Fields, Junior, Guard, 12.4 points per game
Joey Shaw, Junior, Forward, DNP last season
Malik Cooke, Sophomore, Forward, 2.4 points per game
Luke Babbitt, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season