Team preview: Nevada

Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2011-12 season, exclusively on Insider

Updated: October 27, 2011, 11:39 AM ET
Blue Ribbon Yearbook

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.

COACH AND PROGRAM

Nevada coach David Carter must have wondered what team left Hawaii last year in an overtime loss that sent the Wolf Pack, well, packing down the WAC stretch.

Entering paradise winning six of their last seven, the young guns with loaded pistols had finally found themselves after struggling much of the early season. They had an excellent chance of finishing as high as second in the league, but after losing a heartbreaker to the Rainbow Warriors, all of the air went out of the balloon.

Suddenly, that young, inexperienced team at the beginning of the season returned and the lessons learned faded to black. The Wolf Pack came home and lost two more league games, eventually dropping to the sixth seed in the WAC. Nevada was eliminated in the league's quarterfinals, losing five of its final eight to finish below .500 overall, foreign territory for this program regardless of whether the coach was Trent Johnson or Mark Fox or David Carter.

PLAYERS

With that said, Nevada has five returning starters and is poised to regain its role as the dominant team in the WAC that Utah State and New Mexico State have usurped in recent campaigns. True, the Wolf Pack stumbled down the stretch. The offensive shot selection was poor, the defense even worse, but you have to believe those problems can be solved this season.

Nevada is loaded with talent. Arguably, four of the top 10 players in the league wear a Wolf Pack jersey. In the minds of Nevada fans, Carter and his staff had best put a winner on the floor this time around or changes are going to come next spring.

Big changes, when you factor in Nevada leaving the WAC for the Mountain West in 2012-13. Carter didn't sign any recruits this year, preferring to pocket those available scholarships and save them for the first year in the Mountain West. Add the two seniors on this year's team to the mix, and Carter and his staff will have five scholarships to offer.

"I like the look and feel of this year's team," Carter said. "We have a balanced ballclub with good guard play. We need to work on our defense, create points by forcing turnovers. Dictate the tempo. Be more patient on our shot selection. If we accomplish these things, we have a chance to be competitive."

It all starts in the backcourt with WAC Freshman of the Year Deonte Burton (13.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg). The explosive 6-1 sophomore point figures to only get better with a year's experience to draw upon. Last year, Burton was first on the team in assists with 113 in 32 starts.

While not a great shooter -- his overall field-goal percentage was .422 -- he can hit well enough from long range if defenders play him too loose. He hit 43-of-121 three-pointers (.355) and can drive right by a defender if he comes out too deep from the basket.

His top backcourt mate is 6-5 junior Malik Story (14.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg). The big two guard was the leading scorer on the team last season. He has better range than Burton and was second on the team in assists with 63 in 32 starts. Story hit 76-of-197 three-pointers for a team-best.386 success ratio.

"I feel like we have the best guard tandem in the league," Carter said. "Both of these guys can make plays and hit key shots."

Burton is also a good defender. He led the team in steals with 41 and was third in blocked shots with 10. Turnovers are the one area of concern with these two. Story committed a team-high 77 and Burton was right behind him with 71.

Rounding out the starting three in the backcourt is 6-8 sophomore swingman Jerry Evans, Jr. Like Burton, Evans got his shot as an incoming freshman. Not quite as polished as Burton, Evans still started 20-of-31 games. His shooting percentages are not quite what they should be and his rebounding could be better.

But given Evans is only a sophomore, there's still plenty of time to grow into the position of part-time guard, part-time forward. He's a decent defender, but all areas of his game need improving to make the Wolf Pack that much more effective.

Carter has four other returnees who played in the backcourt last season. Chief among the reserves is 6-7 sophomore Jordan Burris (3.1 ppg, 1.8 rpg). As a freshman, Burris started six times. He needs work on his outside game, but can hit from distance often enough to keep defenses honest (.283, 13-of-46).

Also back are 6-4 sophomore guard Jordan Finn (1.9 ppg, 1.0 rpg), 6-6 junior guard Patrick Nyeko (1.2 ppg, 1.3 rpg) and 6-0 junior point man Keith Fuetsch (0.8 ppg, 0.0 rpg). All three of the players saw limited playing time last season.

In the frontcourt, Carter welcomes back two starters and two reserves capable of making some noise this season. The old man of the Wolf Pack is 6-8 senior forward Dario Hunt (12.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg). With so many guards on the floor at one time, it puts pressure on Hunt to crash the boards effectively.

He has done just that, leading the WAC in rebounding last year and giving the Wolf Pack second opportunities to score on the offensive end. His 116 offensive boards (3.6 per game) led the league by a wide margin.

Hunt is also a defensive weapon. He led the league in blocked shots with 59 and was second on the team with 20 steals. This guy may be the most valuable player on the team. He has experience and ability, two commodities Carter appreciates.

"He is our leader," Carter said. "He can play both ends of the floor. He plays hard. He can score, rebound and defend. That's what you want in a post player."

Joining him in the frontcourt is fellow returning starter Olek Czyz (12.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg). The 6-7 senior forward by way of Duke played in 23 games last season, starting 21. He was second on the team in rebounding and fourth in scoring. He also provides senior leadership on what is basically a young team.

Two returnees also figure to see some minutes in the paint. They are 6-9 sophomore forward Kevin Panzer (2.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg) and 6-10 sophomore forward Devonte Elliott (1.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg). Part of last year's huge recruiting class, both saw some quality minutes.

Panzer started 10 times in 32 games and Elliot received the starting nod three times. Neither quite found themselves as freshmen, but both figure into Carter's plans, especially with no incoming recruits.

"We need everyone on this team to contribute in order to be successful," Carter said.

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: A-
BENCH/DEPTH: B-
FRONTCOURT: B+
INTANGIBLES: B+

You get the idea Carter and his staff need to go out of the WAC with a bang in order for the Nevada fan base to believe the Wolf Pack will be competitive in the much deeper Mountain West.

With five returning starters, including a dynamic backcourt and solid frontcourt, the Wolf Pack have to be the favorites to win the WAC, despite last year's uninspired finish.

One area Nevada needs work on most is taking care of the basketball. The Wolf Pack were seventh in a nine-team league last year with 459 turnovers, an average of 14.3 a game. Against good teams, that number won't win a lot of games. And it keeps mediocre teams in games, especially on the road. Just ask Hawaii.

Carter is well aware of this fact. It's something he hopes will be corrected by another season of experience. This is not a particularly good basketball league outside of Utah State and New Mexico State. The Wolf Pack should finish no worse than third and could contend when considering both sets of Aggies will be young.

Most of the league's teams are rebuilding. Not so Nevada, and that should be the difference in the Wolf Pack regaining its rightful place as the league's team to beat.

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.