by Leo Beas
Fourty-four points, 15 rebounds and six assists is the combined output the Wolf Pack basketball team will be missing this season from the loss of last year’s top three players: Deonte Burton, Jerry Evans Jr. and Cole Huff. Two graduations and a transfer have depleted this Nevada team, leaving several unanswered questions in regards to the upcoming season.
“When you lose someone like Deonte Burton or Jerry Evans, you return Mike [Perez], who averaged 11 points, and you return A.J. [West], who played a semester, you have a lot of unknowns,” Wolf Pack head coach David Carter said. “And, when you have a lot of unknowns, I don’t think you should be expected to win or do very well.”
A preseason poll by Conference Media that was released two weeks ago embodies Carter’s not-so-high expectations. The Wolf Pack is predicted to finish eighth in the 11-team Mountain West Conference.
Nevada’s preseason ranking is fair and, unless they catch lightning in a bottle, this is probably a team that will struggle to finish above .500. Stranger things have happened, but the team’s success is a long shot.
The Wolf Pack opens the season with an exhibition game at home against Cal State San Marcos on Nov. 8 and it could be the start to a very, very long season.
However, there is a small glimmer of hope: West was granted an extra year of eligibility by NCAA last September. A lot of Nevada’s hopes are pinned on the now-junior’s athletic performance. While there is no denying West’s defensive skill (there is a reason they call him “Access Denied” with 2.3 blocks a game last year), he needs to develop his offensive game in order to have a major impact on Nevada’s fortune.
Nevada has been missing offensive production from its frontcourt players since Olek Czyz and Dario Hunt graduated in 2012. Can West contribute? What about fellow key player Ronnie Stevens Jr.? If they cannot, which is what I expect, this team will struggle immensely on offense.
The biggest knock on Carter during his run with the program is his inability to recruit and develop post players. The criticism has made Carter an easy target for the Silver and Blue faithful, landing him in the proverbial hot seat. Now, it is up to Stevens and West to improve Carter’s reputation.
The frontcourt leaves just as many questions. While it is unclear who the team’s go-to leader is, one can guess it will be Perez. However, the senior struggled mightily last season and needs to improve his jump shot.
“I think we have a lot of talent in [the frontcourt], but only time will tell,” Carter said. “It’s a matter of us coming together.”
The Wolf Pack desperately needs to find an identity in the post-Burton era and it is anyone’s guess what it will look like this season.
If there is one question that hangs above Nevada more than anything, it is whether or not this team can score. Who is going to step and take a shot when this team needs a big bucket? Brace yourselves, Wolf Pack fans; this season could get ugly in a hurry.
Leo Beas can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Beasleo.