Defense wins champoinships or, in this case, MWC games

 

Nevada seniors Jerry Evans Jr. (left) and Deonte Burton (right) will be relied on heavily this year. Evans has been a defensive stalwart for the Wolf Pack and Burton is a scoring maestro, but they both need to pick up their teammates in order for Nevada to be a contender in its Mountain West sophomore season. Kaitlin Oki/Nevada Sagebrush
Nevada seniors Jerry Evans Jr. (left) and Deonte Burton (right) will be relied on heavily this year. Evans has been a defensive stalwart for the Wolf Pack and Burton is a scoring maestro, but they both need to pick up their teammates in order for Nevada to be a contender in its Mountain West sophomore season. Kaitlin Oki/Nevada Sagebrush

One of Nevada’s biggest problems last season was rebounding, and after Friday’s season opener ended, the Wolf Pack’s struggles continued as they were out-rebounded 32-31 by Pacific. It’s not a dramatic difference, but the Tigers were eight in rebounding last season in their conference (Big West Conference), and it’s one of the weaker conferences in the nation.

One would think after recruiting four experienced frontcourt players during the offseason, your rebounding deficiencies would improve.

Think again.

Head coach David Carter decided to play four guards through many stretches of the game last Friday. The Pack got killed in second-chance points in the second half and allowed Pacific to shoot 53.4 percent from the field overall.

If you’re not going to play your big men and get beat on the glass, why not implement a variety of full-court or half-court traps? With so much speed on the floor, that could’ve helped the overall defense.

When Nevada went to play Iona College on national television two seasons ago, the Pack struggled against the speed of the Iona guards.

Iona applied numerous traps, playing with three guards most of the game, causing Nevada to have 16 turnovers. Nevada lost that game 90-84 and also lost a potential automatic bid to the big dance.

Nevada had two solid frontcourt players, but Iona had the personnel on its team to give coach Carter a headache that night. It might be a good idea to go back and watch some tape from that night just to be open to the idea of utilizing a trapping system.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s only one game, and I’m over thinking how the Wolf Pack should play.

Whatever the case may be, right or wrong, I know one thing for sure: Deonte Burton will need to have his biggest season ever if Nevada has any aspirations of making some noise in the Mountain West Conference this season.

taeAfter the opener, his performance left a sour taste in my mouth. He finished with 23 points and four steals, but he didn’t assert his individual presence sooner.

I have really high standards for him because I believe he is NBA potential, but is on a team that lacks talent. He needed to set the tone sooner by dominating the game with his scoring ability.

This year’s team is nowhere near the talent they were two seasons ago when they were WAC champions. By default, it means Burton will need to score a lot more.

I understand he was trying to be a traditional point guard by getting his teammates involved, but during many stretches of the game, when the team went cold without a bucket, he should’ve been a little bit more selfish and attempted more opportunities to score himself. He has the ability to make it happen.

By no means is Burton a pass first player, so don’t change something that is not broken. He is an explosive scorer that happens to play point guard.

His team will go as he goes. There were many instances where he was very vocal on the court with his big men because they simply couldn’t finish inside the paint.

I’m sure the frontcourt will improve as the season progresses, but honestly, if they struggled against UOP’s frontcourt, what can we expect in the MWC?

Not much.

But I did like what Burton said after the game.

“I wasn’t even thinking about the last shot, I was thinking about the whole game,” Burton said. “The whole game just flashed through my head, second chance points, this one hurt. We have to bounce back, we have to stay positive and look ourselves in the mirror and see what we need to do better defensively.”

This is leadership and maturity, without a doubt, from a player that once played amongst older teammates, but now understands that he is the veteran and leader of this team.  Hopefully his teammates respond and contribute the rest of the season.

With limited talent in the frontcourt and an abundance of talented guards, the Wolf Pack should have no problem scoring this season, but it’s going to come down to defense and rebounding. That is something I’m not convinced this group of young men can do.

I hope they prove me wrong because it’s been a while since the Wolf Pack has reached the big dance, and I know that is how Burton wants to end his legacy at Nevada.

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