Column: Wolf Pack men's basketball team appears to be heading in the right direction

It's not exactly time just yet for Nevada men's basketball fans to start checking their NCAA Tournament brackets on possibly where their team could be playing and looking into making reservations to watch the Wolf Pack come the middle of March.

But there's a new air of confidence surrounding this Wolf Pack team, which it has demonstrated on the court with a 2-0 start. Nevada Coach Trent Johnson appears to have his team heading into the right direction.

While Johnson isn't ready to jump for joy, yet, he's mindful of what his team's strong start should do for his team's confidence.

"It beats the alternatives," said Johnson after his team started 2-0 with wins at San Francisco and at home against Montana State.

Nevada's 6-8 center Matt Ochs has already noticed the difference in the team and himself between his freshman season last year and this season as a sophomore.

"I feel a lot more confident," Ochs said. "A year of Division I definitely helped."

Just how impressive Nevada's wins over San Francisco and Montana State won't be determined until later in the season. But considering that Western Athletic Conference favorite Fresno State lost its opener by 18 points at home to St. Bonaventure, there are encouraging signs that the Wolf Pack can be competitive in the WAC.

Nevada has apparently made so much improvement that the team's second leading scorer last year, Andre McCullough, has been struggling to find his way out of Johnson's doghouse and playing time.

He didn't see the court in Monday's game against the Bobcats until 25 minutes had passed. But Johnson said that was due to the play of freshman point guard Andre Hazel and senior Donny Guerinoni.

Hazel didn't hide his joy on winning his first two college games after Monday's contest. "It's a great feeling," he said. "A beautiful feeling."

Nevada has plenty of depth in the backcourt. Even with Hazel and Guerinoni, McCullough will likely receive his share of playing time.

The Wolf Pack also returned leading scorer Terrance Green and have freshman Gary Hill-Thomas in the backcourt as well. The development of Hill-Thomas should be a key to the season. When Green struggles, Nevada's hopes could depend on how well Hill-Thomas picks up the slack.

With Richard Sturgus and Joaa Santos returning in the front court, The Wolf Pack have returned their top four scorers from last season. Junior college transfer Corey Jackson, Sean Paul, James Bayless and Craig Lewis round out a formidable front line.

Johnson likes the attitude of his team. "One of the things we've been consistent at is effort and intensity," he said. "The kids go after each other pretty hard at practice."

An NCAA Tournament appearance this year for the Wolf Pack is unlikely. But a 15-20 win season and an NIT berth - that's definitely a possibility.

PORTERVILLE COLLEGE WOES

A few weeks ago I wrote about the possible trouble the Porterville College men's basketball team could be facing in the community that I came from in California. Since there is some interest in California junior college basketball in this area, it's not surprising that there's interest in Porterville, the defending state champion, as well.

Unfortunately, Porterville, a member of the Central Valley Conference, will not be able to defend its title this season. All CVC schools were required to undergo an investigation.

While the term "squeaky clean" was reportedly used to describe Porterville's program, a minor infraction was also found. Therefore, along with CVC powers Fresno and College of Sequoias of Visalia, Porterville was placed on probation, making it ineligible for this year's state playoffs.

Poterville has begun this season at 5-0 and is currently the state's No. 1 ranked team.

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