A.J. West Provides Nevada much Needed Lift

Last week we talked about how Nevada's defense was largely responsible for Nevada's woes so far this season. With the emergence of A.J. West after sitting out the first half of the season due to a puzzling NCAA eligibility issue, it's worth taking a look at how his play appears to have effected the Wolf Pack.

3 games into his playing career at Nevada, it appears that West has added a much needed lift to Nevada's defense. His defense against Wyoming's Larry Nance Jr. in the final seconds of the hard fought conference battle, likely preserved the win for Nevada.

Nevada's defense was allowing effective field goal percentage (a combination 2 point and 3 point field goal percentage) over the first 13 games, without A.J. West, was a lowly 55.5%, one of the worst in the country. In the 3 games since West joined the lineup, a small sample size to be sure, the results have been dramatic. The Wolf Pack's defensive eFG% over those 3 games has been 45.4%, a mark that would rank them 60th in the country were it maintained for all 16 games thus far. It's a far cry from the Wolf Pack hey days of 2003-2006 but it's a huge improvement over the 308th ranking they'd posted before this defensive turn around.

One only wonders what the Pack's record would be over the first 13 games if West had been eligible, where Nevada lost 6 games by an average of less than 5 points.

In addition to the change in eFG%, Nevada opponents are shooting just 38.6% from the field over this 3 game stretch, down from 48.8%, the Wolf Pack are blocking 5.3 shots per game, up from 3, they are grabbing 5 more rebounds per game and they are scoring .99 points per possession, down from 1.15.

On the offensive side of the ball, the change is not as dramatic. The Wolf Pack's offensive efficiency is actually down a bit, but it's doubtful that's West's fault as he's averaging a team best, 1.6 points per possession since he took the court. The decline in offensive efficiency is more likely a result of a couple of uncharacteristically bad games by Nevada swing man Jerry Evans Jr., who has thus far been one of the best players on the team in all phases of the game.

There are much tougher conference games ahead than San Jose St. and Wyoming, and there is still much room for improvement, but you could forgive Nevada fans for feeling a bit more optimistic about the conference outlook following the past 2 games; especially as the Wolf Pack have been without backup point guard Marqueze Coleman, and big man Ronnie Stevens for 5 games now. Coleman is slated to be back for the game at UNLV on Wednesday and Stevens is likely due back soon.

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