Monday, August 25, 2008

Nevada: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Team Record: 21-12, 12-4 WAC (T-1st)

Key Losses: Marcellus Kemp (20.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.6 apg), JaVale McGee (14.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.8 bpg)

Key Returnees: Brandon Fields (12.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg), Armon Johnson (11.5 ppg, 3.3 apg)

Newcomers: Luke Babbitt, Mark McLaughlin, Joey Shaw, London Giles, Dario Hunt, Ahyaro Phillips

Mark Fox has turned the Nevada Wolfpack into the premier program in the WAC, consistently atop the conference standings while sending multiple players to the league (Kirk Snyder, Ramon Sessions, Nick Fazekas). That trend continued last year, as Nevada finished in a four-way tie for first and had JaVale McGee and, possibly, Marcellus Kemp (not drafted, but may get a free agent contract) reach the NBA.

Now with Kemp and Demarshay Johnson graduating and McGee jumping ship, the Wolfpack will lose a lot of production, especially inside, where they weren't that strong last year (despite his shot-blocking, McGee was one of the worst post defenders in the country). Fox did make it an emphasis to rebuild his front court, and he has done a solid job doing so. The star of this year's recruiting class is Reno native and Mickey D's all-american Luke Babbitt, who originally committed to Ohio State (Side Note: Thad Matta is the best in the country at recruiting big men: Greg Oden, Kosta Koufus, and BJ Mullens in three years. Even with Babbitt opting out that is amazing). At 6'8", 215 lb, he is not really a menacing presence defensively, but he is a smooth, left-handed combo forward with a pretty jump shot (think Troy Murphy only more mobile). Former Indiana wing man Joey Shaw will join Nevada as well after spending a year at a JuCo. Shaw is an athletic, 6'7" slasher who will be relied upon to make up for some of Kemp's production. Freshman Dario Hunt and Ahyaro Phillips and sophomore Matt LaGrone round out Nevada's small, but athletic, front line.

There were two pleasant surprises in the back court for Nevada last season. The first was sophomore Brandon Fields, who was known more as a defensive stopper as a freshman, but as a sophomore added three-point range and developed into the team's third-leading scorer. The Wolfpack also got a boost from WAC freshman of the year Armon Johnson, who took over the point guard position and had a great season. Lyndale Burleson (whose brother, Nate, is a receiver for the Seahawks and is also married to Joey Shaw's sister - why do I know these things?) is an excellent defender and should provide quality minutes off the bench. Nevada got some bad news as former Washington State-commit and top-100 recruit Mark McLaughlin decided not to enroll at Nevada for the fall semester because he had yet to be declared eligible. McLaughlin, known for his three-point stroke, could have helped spread the floor for Babbitt inside.

Outlook: Nevada's front court is going to be smaller, but quicker, than most of the other teams in the WAC. Despite the loss of McLaughlin, Nevada still has a solid back court, meaning that if Fox can use that quickness on his front line to his advantage (i.e. exploit the mismatches created by forcing bigger players to guard Babbitt), Nevada will be one of the favorites to win the conference.

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