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Joe Santoro: Deonte Burton > Grant Sherfield (for now)

Nevada guard Deonte Burton shown in 2013 at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.

Nevada guard Deonte Burton shown in 2013 at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.

Grant Sherfield has become the next Deonte Burton. It is almost impossible to tell the two great Nevada Wolf Pack point guards apart.
Burton was more explosive, dynamic and athletic than Sherfield. His dunks are still reverberating in the rafters at Lawlor Events Center even a decade later. But the two point guards are as similar as any two in Wolf Pack history.
Sherfield is 6-foot-2, 189 pounds while Burton played at 6-1, 190. Burton averaged 16.2 points and 4 assists in four seasons at Nevada (2010-14) while Sherfield is at 18.8 points and 6.2 assists after two seasons in the Silver and Blue. Burton is the better defender with 1.3 steals a game and 53 career blocks. Sherfield has averaged 1.1 steals and has no career blocks in a Nevada uniform. But Sherfield has been a better free throw shooter (.863 to Burton’s .751) and rebounder (4 to Burton’s 2.9) while Burton was the better ball handler (2.2 turnovers a game to Sherfield’s 3).
The differences, though, are too small to worry about. Sheffield (54 career games) has two seasons remaining at Nevada and has a great chance to surpass Burton for second place in Wolf Pack history for career points (2,102) and assists (515). He is now at 1,017 points and 337 assists and will likely play 65-plus more games in his Pack career.
Unfortunately for Wolf Pack fans, though, there is also another area where the two are similar. Their Wolf Pack teams, for the most part, never won as much as was expected. Burton’s Pack did win the 2011-12 Western Athletic Conference regular season title at 28-7 overall and 13-1 in league play. But his teams had losing records in three of four seasons (68-62 overall and 34-30 in league play) and never played in a NCAA Tournament.
Sherfield’s Pack has gone just 29-28 and 14-19 in league play the last two years (29-25, 14-16 with Sherfield on the floor) and also haven’t come close to the NCAA tournament. It is mind-boggling to note that in six seasons with Burton or Sherfield, the Pack has turned in four losing seasons.
Who was better, Burton or Sherfield? The differences are subtle. Sherfield is an elite point guard that can also score when needed (which has been often the last two years with a thin roster) but Burton was an elite, explosive scorer that could also play the point.
The choice here, so far, is Burton. He was simply a more dynamic player with world-class athletic talents that left you breathless. Yes, it’s true that Burton had a much better and deeper supporting cast with the likes of Malik Story, Olek Czyz, Jerry Evans, Dario Hunt, Cole Huff, Marqueze Coleman and A.J. West than Sherfield has had the last two seasons. Opposing coaches can focus more on Sherfield than they ever could on Burton. But Burton also was never stopped all that often.
Put Sherfield on the Pack from 2010-14 and he might have averaged 12 assists a game. Put Burton on the Pack the last two seasons and he might have averaged 28 points a game. Put them together in the same backcourt and the Pack would likely never lose a game.
The Mountain West clearly underachieved in the NCAA Tournament this year. Boise State lost to Memphis (64-53), Colorado State lost to Michigan (75-63), San Diego State fell to Creighton (72-69) and Wyoming got beat by Indiana (66-58).
San Diego State led by nine with 3:48 to play in regulation and lost in overtime and Colorado State was up 15 late in the first half. All four Mountain West teams, though, were clearly out-coached and outplayed with the games on the line. The Mountain West stars simply did not show up. Boise State’s Marcus Shaver was 1-of-10 from the floor and scored just four points. Colorado State’s Isaiah Stevens was 3-of-11 from the floor and scored just eight points while David Roddy scored just 13 points on 1-of-6 threes. Wyoming’s Hunter Maldonado turned the ball over 10 times. Wyoming’s Graham Ike (17 points, nine rebounds) and San Diego State’s Matt Bradley (16 points) were good but not great.
The Mountain West is always complaining it doesn’t get any respect nationally. Well, this is why.
The Mountain West has never had a team that has advanced past the Sweet 16. The conference is now 23 years old. You’d think one of them would have won three tournament games in a year once.
The conference has lost nine consecutive NCAA Tournament games, beginning with Nevada’s 69-68 loss to Loyola Chicago in the Sweet 16 in 2018. The Wolf Pack’s ridiculous comeback win over Cincinnati in the second round in 2018 is still the Mountain West’s last NCAA Tournament victory. And that took a miracle. The Mountain West has gone 3-16 in the NCAA Tournament starting with San Diego State’s loss to Arizona in the Sweet 16 in 2014.
The 11 current Mountain West men’s basketball teams have a combined record of 16-40 in the NCAA Tournament as members of the Mountain West. The Mountain West coaches, though, never fail to tell everyone how tough the league is every year.
Former Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman, meanwhile, is back in the Sweet 16 with Arkansas after going to the Elite Eight last year. The Razorbacks will play Gonzaga in San Francisco on Thursday, putting Muss the closest he’s been to Nevada (on the court) since he left in March 2019.
Musselman was pictured on Twitter this week wearing a San Francisco Giants hat while his wife Danyelle was wearing a San Francisco 49ers hat during their flight to San Francisco earlier this week. The Musselmans, after all, never miss a chance at an easy public relations moment and a chance to flash their camera-ready smiles.
Yes, we understand that photos of a smiling Musselman and his wife in late March might be hard to stomach for Wolf Pack fans. All of that smiling, of course, should be taking place on behalf of the Wolf Pack right now.
But, when you look back on the Musselman Nevada era with an unbiased eye, it is remarkable that Musselman was ever in Nevada in the first place. He is truly one of the best coaches in all of college basketball, as his “Muss Madness” shirts at Arkansas this month show. How Nevada ever got him to coach Wolf Pack basketball is still a mystery. He’s been to three Sweet 16s in the last four tournaments (before that he won the CBI) and is now a win away from his second Elite Eight. If he gets past Gonzaga don’t be shocked to see him the Final Four.
A Musselman-Mark Few matchup is finally here. It should have happened when Musselman was at Nevada, pitting the best coaches and the best teams in the West Coast Conference and Mountain West and giving both conferences some much needed attention. But, unfortunately, it never did happen. They could have sold out Lawlor three times to watch that game.
The Muss-Few connection goes beyond the fact that the two coaches look like they were separated at birth. Both are among the Top Five coaches in college basketball and might be No. 1 and 2, depending on who wins on Thursday. They both built Top 25 powers in mediocre conferences on the west coast. And both might be each other’s biggest hurdle this year in search of their first national title.
There is, however, one huge difference between Muss and Few. Muss is an attention seeker who is always looking for his next challenge and the next level. If he wins a national title this year, and even if he just gets to the Final Four, don’t be shocked to see him become the next coach of, say, the Los Angeles Lakers. Few, it seems, would be happy if nobody but his family, friends and players ever knew his name. He has coached at one school his entire career, staying at tiny Gonzaga three-plus decades as an assistant and a head coach.
Duke would likely love to have Few succeed Mike Krzyzewski. But that isn’t likely to happen because Few seems perfectly happy coaching a team nobody pays attention to before March. Musselman, on the other hand, left Nevada for a big-time job as soon as he could. If nobody pays attention to him he goes out and makes sure they pay attention.
The NFL draft is just a month away and, of course, none of the so-called experts have any real clue on when Nevada quarterback Carson Strong will be selected. It seems that Strong can still be picked anywhere from late in the first round to midway through the fourth. The team that takes Strong will likely come from a group that includes Washington, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Carolina, Houston, New Orleans and the New York Jets. Those are all teams with bridge quarterbacks that would love to tutor a project quarterback like Strong for a few years before turning the team over to him.
One of the biggest criticisms of Strong the last couple months has been his supposed lack of accuracy. Where, exactly, did that come from? All we saw at Nevada from Strong was one of the most accurate arms in college football. And it wasn’t like he was just flipping stat-padding passes to running backs all the time. More often than not he was throwing the ball deep to Romeo Doubs and Cole Turner, often in the end zone and putting the ball where only Doubs and Turner could catch it.
Strong completed 70 percent of his passes in each of the last two years, and 63 percent as a redshirt freshman. He finished his Pack career at 68 percent. That is about as accurate as you can get, especially in an attacking offense that usually put the ball in the air 40 times a game.
It’s OK to be concerned about Strong’s lack of athletic ability from the waist down. We understand those concerns, especially in the NFL where every defensive end and linebacker looks like a runaway freight train. But if you are concerned about Strong’s lack of accuracy, well, you are likely an organization that is constantly cycling through bridge quarterbacks.


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