|Deonte Burton has helped get Nevada out to an 18-3 record. The Wolf Pack are one of the quietest teams in hoops with a really impressive mark. (AP)|
By Jeff Goodman
Nevada coach David Carter heard the whispers last season, whether he was the right man for the job. The Wolf Pack had won at least 20 games seven consecutive seasons and expectations had risen in Reno.
"Oh, yeah," said Carter, who took over for Mark Fox after a decade as an assistant to both Fox and Trent Johnson. "I didn't expect fans to understand, but we had seven freshmen and 10 new players. I knew we were going to struggle."
But 13-19 doesn't fly at Nevada -- even if you only bring back one starter and lose nearly 90 percent of your offensive production. Well, Carter has those in Reno on his side again, after a 16-3 start -- which includes 13 consecutive wins and a 5-0 start in WAC play.
Tonight, though, is where Nevada can put some distance between itself and second-place New Mexico State when the teams meet in Las Cruces.
"I think there's more pressure on New Mexico State to hold at home," Carter said.
He's right because if the Wolf Pack pull out the road win, Carter's team will hold a two-game lead over the Aggies and still have New Mexico State at home in the final regular-season game.
Carter's group is led by sophomore point guard Deonte Burton, who is averaging 15.2 points and 4.8 assists per game and went for 31 in a win over Washington and 28 in a loss at UNLV earlier this season.
"Last year was the first time he ever played point guard full time," said Carter, who compares him to one of Jay Wright's old 'Nova guards. "He understands the system and when he goes, we go."
USC transfer Malik Story dropped about 20 pounds in the offseason and has excelled, averaging 14.5 points while shooting 49 percent from beyond the arc. Another transfer, ex-Duke forward Olek Czyz, is putting up 11.4 points and 6.1 boards and senior big man Dario Hunt is nearly averaging a double-double (9.8 ppg, 8.9 rpg).
The three losses are all legit: against Missouri State in the season-opener, at UNLV and against BYU. The loss to to the Cougars was the last time that Nevada tasted defeat and that was way back on Nov. 25.
Carter said the season may have changed on Dec. 2 against a Washington team that pummeled them a year earlier.
"That was the turning point," he said. "It showed us we belonged."
Now, if Carter and his players can get a victory tonight at New Mexico State, the Wolf Pack will likely have earned one of the elite spots in the Feb. 18 Bracket Busters event.
That's reserved for the best mid-major teams in the country.