Athletes are creatures of habit, so when your position in the starting lineup changes, there is bound to be some turbulence.
While the Nevada basketball team has done some things right this season (beating UNLV on the road and yielding a 5-4 record at home), the Wolf Pack’s starting lineup has not been a model of consistency. In fact, aside from Nevada legend Deonte Burton, the Pack’s starting five has been somewhat of a revolving door over the last three seasons.
This last week was no exception as Nevada head coach David Carter made a significant rotation change. Carter, whose coaching seat has grown steadily hotter since the Pack’s move to the Mountain West, benched two Nevada veterans (Marqueze Coleman and D.J. Fenner) in favor of putting in two newcomers (Tyron Criswell and Eric Cooper Jr.). However, the new lineup yielded disappointing results as Nevada fell to Fresno State, 66-62.
With a rematch looming against UNLV on Tuesday night at home, the Wolf Pack needs to stop the bleeding from its current four-game losing streak. So without further ado, these are my picks for what then starting lineup should look like, barring injury, against the Rebels and for the remainder of the season.
POINT GUARD: ERIC COOPER JR.
This is the biggest stretch of my line-up, but Cooper Jr. is the future of the Wolf Pack and he was very effective in the win earlier this season against the Rebels in Las Vegas. In limited minutes, the freshman has led the team in both three-pointers made (17) and free-throw percentage (.826).
What’s more is that Cooper racked up his first start of the season against Fresno State over the weekend and led the team in scoring with 20 along with three assists.
If he can get some more momentum and refine his ball movement from his initial foray into the starting lineup, Cooper will be a force for the Pack. The freshman will also benefit from a deep guard rotation of himself, Coleman, Criswell and Michael Perez.
SHOOTING GUARD: MARQUEZE COLEMAN
Coleman won’t have to deal with a large change of scenery by moving to his more natural shooting guard position. The junior is second on the team in scoring (10.6) and is the Pack’s leader in total assists (42) and steals (20).
Coleman has spent the majority of the season running point for the Pack, but by allowing the junior to score more rather than dishing the ball out to other players will unleash Coleman’s devastating ability to slash to the rim.
SMALL FORWARD: D.J. FENNER
Choosing between Fenner and junior Tyron Criswell was practically a toss-up, but the Nevada veteran gets the edge. While Criswell has the hot hand after scoring 19 in his first start of the season, Fenner can provide more stability for the Nevada starting-five thanks to his experience and a three-inch height advantage.
POWER FORWARD: ROBYN MISSA
The 6-foot-9 Missa is a banger inside and along with center AJ West, brings a hard-nosed presence to the shooting-oriented Wolf Pack lineup. The freshman from Berlin, Germany gets the nod over sophomore Kaileb Rodriguez due to garnering more points (2.9) and nearly as many rebounds (2.9) in less time than Rodriguez.
Regardless, power forward is the weakest position for Nevada this season and whoever steps into this role will be under of pressure to produce. Both Missa and Rodriguez have the physical build to make an impact, but they need to turn the corner soon.
CENTER: AJ WEST
Keeping West at center is the most solidified lock of the line-up. The junior has done it all this season and is the Pack’s leader in scoring (12.1), rebounding (9.8) and total blocked shots (52). The Brooklyn Native has made it readily apparent that he is the cornerstone of Nevada’s defense, but if there was any knock on West it would be that he needs to cut down on his mental mistakes (46 fouls) to keep Nevada in games.
SIXTH MAN: TYRON CRISWELL
The junior college transfer came in as somewhat of a dark horse this season, but he has surprised many fans by his versatility and smooth shooting touch. Nevada will need Criswell to create a big spark off the bench if they want to make a late push in the home stretch of the Mountain West season.
Chris Boline can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @CDBoline.