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Looking back on the Pack

Darrell Moody
Appeal Sports Writer

It’s been nearly a week since Nevada let Memphis off the hook and was eliminated in the NCAA Tournament.

The expectations on this team were high, and I’m sure that many Nevada followers felt that anything less than a Sweet 16 appearance wasn’t acceptable from a team with an All American and three other veteran players.

I have news for you folks. Twenty-nine wins is nothing to sneeze at, and the fact that Nevada took Memphis down to the wire should have cemented your belief that the Wolf Pack was one of the best programs in the country this year, and worthy of its season-long ranking.

True, Nevada didn’t play its best game of the year against the Tigers, but if you know basketball, you know Memphis had a lot to do with that. Memphis was the most athletic team that Nevada played all year, and probably the deepest. The Tigers were long, and even Nevada star Nick Fazekas admitted that the Tigers’ length bothered him a few times.

It’s no shame to get eliminated in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Look how many good teams were defeated in either the first or second round; teams like Duke who have been a perennial powerhouse in the Atlantic Coast Conference for years.

If you are a Nevada basketball fan, you should revel in the fact that your team set a school record for wins, achieved its highest rankings ever in the national poll (9th ESPN, 10th AP) and won its fourth straight WAC title.

Nevada set the bar high when it reached the Sweet 16 three years ago, and now it seems that even winning one game in the tournament isn’t acceptable anymore. People need to think back to the pre-Trent Johnson days when post-season truly was only a dream. The program is on the rise, and certainly recent post-season appearances should help recruiting.

The one loss fans should be grousing about is the WAC semifinal loss to Utah State. The Aggies are a good team, but if they played 10 times, I say Nevada wins eight times. I also think that if Kyle Shiloh plays, Nevada wins that game. I question the team’s strategy of having Matt LaGrone on the floor on that final possession. If it was me, I’d rather have JaVale McGee because even if he gets beat, he can still block a shot.

As far as the NCAAs go, all I can say is that Nevada got beat by a better team in Memphis, and the fans need to turn the page.

Let’s look ahead to next year. Barring early entry into the NBA by Marcelus Kemp and/or Ramon Sessions, the Pack is loaded with perimeter players, but is unproven on the front line.

Fazekas will be impossible to replace. Coach Mark Fox has one scholarship left, and he should scour the country far and wide for a big man that can come in and play right away in my humble opinion.

Maybe there is a JC kid out there who can help. Maybe there is a unhappy transfer at another Division I school that wants to come out West. Boise State struck gold with Matt Nelson and Reggie Larry, and Nevada could really use a couple of players of that caliber.

McGee made some tremendous strides late in the season, but I’m not sure whether he’s ready to be a 30-minute player yet. He may still be a year away. Ditto for David Ellis, who has a silky shooting touch, but isn’t strong enough to bang with the big boys underneath.

Demarshay Johnson? He let the team down in a big way by failing to make grades. Nobody at Nevada will confirm it, but I’ve had more than one prominent booster tell me that Johnson hadn’t made sufficient progress to be eligible. How many chances should one athlete get? Johnson is long and athletic, and he could have helped against teams like Memphis, New Mexico State and Fresno State.

Freshmen Brandon Fields and Tyrone Hanson got plenty of minutes this past year, and they should be ready to take on bigger roles next season. Lyndale Burleson remains Nevada’s best returning defender and is a solid back-up to Sessions. Malik Cooke should come in and compete immediately for playing time at the 2 or 3 position. It’s not certain whether Hug’s Armon Johnson has the grades and/or test score to be eligible next season. I envision Johnson as a combo guard who needs to get stronger physically.

What does the future hold for Fazekas?

The 6-11 All American said he believes he has answered any doubts about his game, but he was also quick to add that he has this off-season to make more strides and be ready for the NBA Draft this summer.

Several scouts have told me several different things over the summer. One scout who has followed Fazekas since his sophomore year, said that Fazekas has to go to certain teams where his style of play can adapt. The scout does believe Fazekas will go in the first round.

“He couldn’t go to Phoenix because he can’t do this,” the scout said, as he made running-type gestures. “He is a catch and shoot guy. He needs to go to a team that runs a lot of half-court sets.”

That would make Utah a great fit. Jerry Sloan’s teams are built around offensive execution and defense. Utah wasn’t a great fit for Kirk Snyder, but I think it could be for Fazekas.

Nobody will knock Fazekas’ offense. There are still some nay-sayers about him defensively, however. I’m not sure that he can guard the Shaquille O’Neal’s of the world down low. He will have to contend with a lot of athletic power forwards out there. I think he will measure up and get the job done.

• Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281