Spartan Hoops Heads for Nevada

San Jose State is travelin' northward towards a Saturday night matchup with Nevada, a team coming off a road split with a loss to Louisiana Tech and win versus New Mexico State. The Pack is led by a pair of gunslingers: Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson, two of the most difficult players to defend against in the WAC.

Coach David Carter has loosened the reigns, so to speak, and that has Nevada playing a more upbeat tempo this season.

Here's Coach Nessman quoted about this in a Chris Murray/Reno Gazette-Journal article:

"I think when you open the court up, you become harder to guard without a doubt, and I think you're seeing Nevada's point totals are way up there," Nessman said. "Nevada, to me, is probably the best overall offensive team in the conference because they run some good stuff, but they also have some pretty good individual players who can simply make plays when things break down. That's a pretty good combo to have."

Nessman said it helps having two All-WAC players in Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson, adding that the way the team employs those stars has been trickier to defend this season.

"It's really tough," Nessman said of defending Babbitt and Johnson. "They're hard to guard and I like the way David has them moving around. He has Babbitt playing all over the floor now even more than in the past. They're a difficult matchup and that's why they're scoring 80-plus points a game."

The concerns this season for the Wolf Pack has been defense. As for the former, Carter was recently quoted in a ChrisMurray/Reno Gazette Journal article here:

"What I tell the kids is that we're not getting stops when we need to. We're holding teams to (44.5) percent shooting and out-rebounding them, so on paper we're playing well. But we're just not getting the key stops when we need to in crunch time. That means we're not getting a key blockout, that means not getting a key stop in transition, that means taking care of the ball. Those are all tough plays, and I thought we took care of the ball on Monday (against New Mexico State) and got the key rebounds. Overall, when you look at the game and you look at the stats, (we're winning) every category. We're out-rebounding teams, we're shooting a better percentage, we're holding their percentages down, however, we're not getting the key stops when we need to. You look at La. Tech, we out-rebounded them by seven, but there were two rebounds that we did not get that meant more than out-rebounding them by seven."

To a question about assists, Carter responded:

"...You're saying we need to share the ball a little more? I will talk to the team about that. [laughs] Personally, I would like our assists to be up a little bit. The guys are not playing selfishly, so I'm not concerned with that area. We do share the ball. Because our guys can take their defender off the dribble a lot, we don't have as many assists. You don't get as many assists when you have guys who can take one or two dribbles and score. I think Luke Babbitt can do that very well. I think Armon Johnson can, too. It's kind of deceiving. I don't think they're playing selfishly. I just think it's the kid's ability to score when the ball is in their hands rather than scoring on a catch-and-shoot. Besides Kraemer, we don't have a lot of guys who can catch-and-shoot. Kraemer is the guy who can get you a lot of assists. Armon Johnson knows that. The other guys catch the ball and it's dribble, dribble, dribble and then score. So it takes away from the assists, but we still get the bucket. So, you don't like the dribble-dribble score? [laughs] You like the catch-and-shoot."

Schedule to Date

Wins against Tulsa, Houston and Portland highlight the slate:

Nov 14 Montana State 75 - 61 (W)

Nov 18 @ UNLV 75 - 88 (L)

Nov 21 Houston 112 - 99 (W)

Nov 27 @ VCU 76 - 85 (L)

Nov 29 @ North Carolina 73 - 80 (L)

Dec 05 @ Pacific 58 - 61 (L)

Dec 12 South Dakota State 92 - 72 (W)

Dec 17 Eastern Washington 73 - 70 (W)

Dec 19 Wagner 74 - 61 (W)

Dec 22 BYU at Las Vegas, Nev. (The Orleans) 104 - 110 (L)

Dec 23 Tulsa at Las Vegas, Nev. (The Orleans) 99 - 68 (W)

Dec 28 Portland 78 - 69 (W)

Jan 02 @ Louisiana Tech 71 - 77 (L)

Jan 04 @ New Mexico State 77 - 67 (W)

The Nevada Starting Five

6-foot-8 Dario Hunt: he is shooting 54% from the floor and the foul line (hint: send him to the line if you send anybody), averaging 7.2 ppg. and 7.3 rpg. (48 offensive and 62 defensive), leads the squad with 29 blocks and 50 fouls

6-foot-9 Luke Babbitt: probably the early lead candidate for POY in the WAC, 20.5 ppg. and 9.9 rpg., shooting 52% from the floor, can score with his back to the basket and facing it, good range on his shot, surprisngly has 38 turnovers to date, averaging 35 minutes a game

6-foot-6 Joey Shaw: shooting 48% overall and 35% on three-point sttempts, solid rebounder at 5.8 a game, tied for tops on the team with 16 steals, he was 'en fuego' in last year's game at Walt McPherson Court including one shot that must have been a 30-footer, averaging just less than 30 minutes a game

6-foot-4 Brandon Fields: is it going to be the 'good' Brandon Fields or the inconsistent one on Saturday? he is first on the team in three-point shots with 72 but is making 30% of those attempts, is scoring at a 14.3 ppg. clip, has a solid 37-19 assists-to-turnovers ratio and plays at the point when Armon Johnson is taking a breather, averaging 32 minutes a game

6-foot-3 Armon Johnson: he is shooting much better overall this season (53%) but still too low on his treys (21%) and his foul shooting (65%), 71 assists in 15 games but also 55 turnovers, averaging 33 minutes a game

The Cavalry

6-foot-4 Ray Kraemer: he has really come on in his final season, 52 of his 68 shot attempts have been from long distance and he is shooting 50% on his treys -- don't lose him defensively, do opposing fans chant 'Cosmo" when he enters the game?

6-foot- 9 Marko Cukic: a freshman who has been foul prone to date, is activer inside but learning the so-called ropes

6-foot-3 London Giles: the backup at the point, best on the team at nabbing steals

6-foot-9 Keith Olson: a walk-on transfer from Northern Arizona

The Wolf Pack Roster by position

Brandon Fields G 6-4 190 Sr.
Patrick Nyeko G 6-6 180 Fr.
London Giles G 6-3 185 So.
Keith Fuetsch G 5-11 170 Fr.
Ray Kraemer G 6-4 200 Sr.
Malik Story G 6-5 225 So. (redshirting)
Armon Johnson G 6-3 195 Jr.

Joey Shaw F 6-6 210 Sr.
Luke Babbitt F 6-9 225 So.
Marko Cukic F 6-9 240 Fr.
Adam Carp F 6-7 205 Jr.
Keith Olson F 6-9 260 So.
Dario Hunt F 6-8 230 So.

What to Expect

* Get Hunt into foul trouble and then there is a problem and neither Marko Cukic or Keith Olson are particularly adept at defending

* Nevada is holding opponents to 33% shooting from long distance -- can the Pack maintain this against Mac Peterson and Robert Owens?

* The Wolf Pack is out-boarding opposing teams by seven a game, San Jose State is +4.2 in rebounding margi: who will win this battle?

* Expectations are that will matchup will be a high scoring one -- so who will shoot better on the night?

* Here's another question and answer from the Murray interview and C.J. Webster receives a mention:

Question: When do you decide whether to front or stay behind a big man in the paint? It seems to me that some of the troubles we've had in the paint, we've allowed the ball to get in too deep.

Answer: I'll give you an example. Against New Mexico State, the kid (Hamidu Rahman) is 7-foot, so you don't want to front him because they'll throw it over the top and get a dunk. He doesn't score well when trying to score over his shoulder. So it all depends on personnel. Magnum Rolle at Louisiana Tech can score in front of you or behind you, so we have to try and pick and choose and mix it up. It depends on the personnel of the kid we're playing against. This Saturday, (San Jose State) has a big kid named (C.J.) Webster who can score really well over his left shoulder, so we have to be able to take that away from him, maybe double him, maybe mix it up a little bit. It all depends on who we're defending and how they score and how we can take that away from them.

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Kevin McCarthy is the Basketball Editor for Inside Sparta. You may contact Kevin with any questions, comments, or tips at kevin@insidesparta.com

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