By Neil Patrick Healy
Replacing your leading scorer isn’t that hard, right? Wrong. Nevada basketball is stuck with the task of playing the home stretch of the season without its leading scorer Marqueze Coleman for an undisclosed amount of time. The senior point guard and ringleader of the scrappy, overachieving Wolf Pack squad injured his ankle in the second half of Nevada’s win against Utah State on Feb. 24. Coleman had to be carried off the court by his teammates and was in visible pain. Despite losing Coleman, the Pack has won two tough games and clinched a bye week in the upcoming Mountain West tournament. Don’t let the success in Coleman’s absence fool you because he is still the key to Nevada’s success.
The Pack managed to hold off Utah State without Coleman, and won a back-and-forth melee against Colorado State on Feb. 28 with its leading scorer sporting a boot and sitting on the bench. The game was physical and tested Nevada’s attrition without Coleman. Nevada had three players foul out (Cameron Oliver, Tyron Criswell and D.J. Fenner) and two others (Elijah Foster and Juwan Anderson) had to play the remainder of the overtime period with four fouls. In the closing seconds of the overtime period, Nevada was forced to play freshman walk-on guard David Cunningham due to the lack of eligible players.
Replacing your leading scorer isn’t an easy task by any means. There’s a reason he’s getting a lot of the buckets and it’s up to guys like Oliver, Criswell and Fenner to shoulder the weight. All three did just that against the Rams by scoring 16, 23 and 24 points respectively, but you have to be concerned if Nevada can continue to replace the output of your best player. Colorado State came into last Sunday’s matchup against Nevada 309th in team defense, so perhaps the Rams are not the best example to gauge your team’s ability to score.
Depth was a problem for the Wolf Pack before the loss of Coleman, but now the situation has put everyone on high alert. Without Coleman, head coach Eric Musselman went to the starting lineup of Oliver, Foster, Criswell, Drew and Fenner. The lineup has proven effective in the past, but lack of depth was evident in last Sunday’s game. With players getting into foul trouble, freshman point guard Juwan Anderson was thrust into 24 minutes of playing time. After averaging just less than four minutes a game on the season, Anderson was given an enormous amount of responsibility by playing six times more minutes than normal. Not to mention that Cunningham was in the lineup to close the overtime period.
Nevada got away with one, but if the war of attrition goes against the Wolf Pack next time it will be hard to win games with your starters fouled out and having to rely on Anderson, Cunningham and Kaileb Rodriguez to close out games.
The Wolf Pack has a tough road trip to Boise to take on Boise State before finishing the regular season at home against New Mexico for senior night. It has not been disclosed just how long Coleman will be out, but it may be a safe bet that he misses the last home game of his senior year. Even though Nevada has cemented its spot with a first-round bye in the Mountain West tournament, don’t fall into the trap of thinking the loss of the senior point guard will come without repercussions.
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at neil@Sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @NP_Healy.