Nevada Basketball Preview: #46
Overall Rank: #46
Conference Rank: #1 Western Athletic Conference
2008-09: 21-13, 11-5
2008-09 postseason: CBI
Coach: David Carter (First year at Nevada, 0-0 overall)
Coach Mark Fox left Nevada for Georgia and new Coach David Carter has taken over the reigns at Nevada. Coach Carter has been an assistant with Nevada for ten years and certainly knows the program and the players. Besides losing a couple recruits, the Wolf Pack should have a smooth transition from one coach to another.
Key Losses: G Lyndale Burleson, F Malik Cooke
Despite the loss of some recruits, Nevada still has some decent players coming into the program. Walk-on transfer Keith Olson is the most likely to make an impact this season. The 6-9 power forward will have to wait until December to play but the former Northern Arizona Lumberjack is a quality big man when he is healthy. Marko Cukic will also get the opportunity to provide some depth up front. Point guard Keith Fuetsch and wing Patrick Nyeko round out the recruiting class. Fellow incoming freshmen Devonte Elliott and Jerry Evans will at least miss the first semester for academic reasons and even if they are eligible after the fall semester will probably redshirt barring an injury to one of the key returning players.
The newcomers may have to provide some depth, but there are six players returning who are quite experienced. On the perimeter the superstar is point guard Armon Johnson. As a sophomore last season Johnson tallied 15.5 points and 4.3 assists per contest. He is not much of a shooter, but he obviously can find ways to score. At 6-3 he even has good size for a point guard and he uses that size to help out on the glass and get to the basket. Brandon Fields was the team’s sixth man last year, but he has starting experience. Even in limited action he averaged 9.1 points per game. Nevada hopes Ray Kraemer can take over the sixth man duties after seeing limited minutes last season. The senior is a pretty good shooter and could provide a spark off the bench if he can hold off the newcomers for playing time.
Dario Hunt started 27 games last year, but it was Joey Shaw who emerged as the bigger scoring threat. Like Fields in the backcourt, Shaw spent the season coming in off the bench, but now he will likely step into a starting role. The 6-6 senior is a decent shooter and will use his size and strength to attack the basket. That size and strength also comes in handy on the glass. Hunt does more of the dirty work around the basket. He is not much of a scorer, but he is a great shot blocker and a decent rebounder. Most importantly, he clears up space for Luke Babbitt.
Who to Watch:
Babbitt was one of the most hyped recruits ever to play for Nevada and he certainly lived up to the hype. As a freshman he led the team with 16.9 points and 7.4 rebounds. He even hit more three-pointers than anybody else on the team and connected on 42.9 percent of those attempts. Defending against a 6-9, 225 pound center who hits three-pointers that consistently is nearly impossible. Of course Babbitt will score in the paint as well and most teams have no choice but to simply foul him or let him have an easy bucket. But when you foul Babbitt it is almost like giving him two points anyway.
With Babbitt and Johnson this team has two of the best, if not the best, players in the Western Athletic Conference. Fields, Shaw and Hunt are experienced players who are talented enough to make this team about more than just two players. The WAC is getting much more competitive after bottoming out two years ago and Nevada will end up on top of the conference if they can find enough depth to keep their legs fresh in March.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Armon Johnson, Junior, Guard, 15.5 points per game
Brandon Fields, Senior, Guard, 9.1 points per game
Joey Shaw, Senior, Forward, 7.4 points per game
Dario Hunt, Sophomore, Forward, 3.6 points per game
Luke Babbitt, Sophomore, Forward, 16.9 points per game
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