The Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball team continues to perform like a tiny rowboat caught in a tsunami.
They are all over the place.
"One day we take one step forward, the next we take two steps back," coach David Carter said this week as his 4-11 Wolf Pack prepared to face Utah State (13-2) on Saturday afternoon (1 p.m., ESPNU) at Lawlor Events Center. "That's what happened at Fresno State. I thought we took two steps back again."
The area that still has Carter concerned over all others is this team's tendency to give the ball away. The Wolf Pack is averaging 14.9 turnovers a game, the most mistakes a Nevada team has averaged since the 2001-02 team gave the ball away 15.3 times a game.
"Turnovers is the last step this team needs to make to become more consistent," Carter said. "Our defense has been good all along. We are rebounding well now. The one area we continue to struggle is turning the ball over."
The Pack turned the ball over 15 times in an 80-74 loss at Fresno State on Monday night to fall to 1-1 in Western Athletic Conference play (Utah State is 2-0 in the WAC). Fresno State scored 21 points off those 15 Pack turnovers.
"We played well against Hawaii (just 11 turnovers in an 86-69 victory on Dec. 31 at home)," Carter said. "That was a step forward. But then we go on the road and we definitely took two steps back at Fresno State."
Turnovers have hurt the Pack drastically is nearly every one of its 11 losses. The most turnover-filled defeats were against George Washington (20 turnovers in a 58-56 loss), Boston (18 in a 66-57 loss), South Dakota State (22 in an 82-65 loss), UNLV (17 in an 82-70 loss) and Houston (17 in a 64-61 loss).
The Wolf Pack allows an average of 18 points a game off its turnovers. By contrast, the Pack scores just 13 points a game off its opponents' turnovers. That five-point difference is crucial when you consider the Pack has lost five games this year by four points or less.
The teams that took the most advantage off the Pack's turnovers this year were Pepperdine (17 points in a one-point Pack loss), George Washington (15 points in a two-point Pack loss), Boston (20 points in a nine-point Pack loss), South Dakota State (25 points in a 17-point Pack loss), UNLV (an alarming 32 points in a 12-point Pack loss) and Fresno State on Monday (21 points in a six-point Pack loss).
"At the beginning of the season we were making a lot of mistakes," said backup point guard Derrell Conner, who has 24 turnovers this year in just 171 minutes (one every 7.1 minutes). "We were making 18, 19, 20 turnovers a game, easy. And a lot of those games were against teams that weren't even pressing us.
"But we're getting better. We're getting our turnovers down to 12 or 13 a game. We're getting better everyday in practice."
Turning the ball over seems to be a team-wide problem this year.
Center Dario Hunt turns the ball over once every 12.5 minutes, forward Olek Czyz once every 12.4 minutes. Backups Illiwa Baldwin, Jordan Finn, Devonte Elliott, Jordan Burris and Conner turn it over once every 11.1 minutes combined. Starting point guard Deonte Burton turns it over once every 13.5 minutes.
Forward Malik Story, though, is proof that the Pack might actually be making some strides in this area. The sophomore shooting guard struggled mightily handling the ball early in the year, turning it over 31 times in the first 12 games. Story, though, has just one turnover over the last three games (in 105 minutes combined).
Story has turned the ball over once every 14.2 minutes this year. Former Pack shooting guard Kirk Snyder, a former first-round NBA draft pick, turned the ball over once every 9.8 minutes in his three-year Pack career.
"I think we've improved dramatically," Burton said. "Early in the year we had to figure things out, what everybody liked to do. But progress has definitely been made."
Carter pins the blame on the Pack mistakes simply on a young team learning how to play together. Hunt is the only player on the roster with extensive experience at the Division I level.
"I talk to them a lot about not going out there and trying to do too much, trying to hit home runs," Carter said. "Sometimes all you need to do is hit singles."
Burton, a freshman, and Conner, a junior college transfer, are playing their first season of Division I-A basketball. Carter, though, isn't blaming the point guards for the Pack's turnover problems.
"It's not just the point guards," said Carter, himself a former point guard at St. Mary's in the late 1980s. "Against Fresno State, Dario had five turnovers and that's our center. But the point guard also sometimes has to be a settling influence and sometimes has to just go get the ball and settle everybody down."
Burton, a freshman, has actually done a nice job of protecting the ball himself. His rate of one turnover every 13.5 minutes is much better than Armon Johnson, last year's point guard, had a year ago (one turnover every 10.3 minutes).
Johnson, now in the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers, had one turnover every 12 minutes during his three-year Pack career. Ramon Sessions, now with the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, committed one turnover every 11.4 minutes during his three-year run as the Pack's starting point guard. Sessions, though, turned it over once every 10.3 minutes as a freshman.
Burton, to his credit, isn't afraid to take responsibility for this team's troubles holding onto the ball.
"I'm the point guard," Burton said. "That's my responsibility. I take that as a challenge. When we're turning the ball over, that's my fault. When those things happen I need to get us regrouped and refocused. That's my job."
Carter is confident this team will improve its ball-handling skills with each passing game.
"The turnovers are definitely headed in a positive direction," he said.