Monday, July 19, 2010

Nevada's Devonte Elliott Cleared To Play

Nevada originally signed Devonte Elliott back in November 2008, but he was declared academically ineligible and missed the entire 2009-10 season. After spending a year taking classes he finally was told today that he has been cleared to play in 2010-11. Elliott was rated the 40th best power forward in the 2009 class by, and 44th by ESPN. He was recruited by some major conference schools and I'm aware of official offers he got from both Gonzaga and UTEP, so he was a pretty big signing originally. And Nevada claims he's actually grown to 6'10" in his year off, and is even better.

Back in April I picked Utah State to win the WAC relatively easily with Nevada back in fourth place. And only a few weeks later I talked about how the WAC was being completely decimated by NBA defections, including Nevada losing Armon Johnson, and that the upcoming season would be an absolute cakewalk for Utah State.

That said, the Elliott (re)signing is just the biggest piece in what has been a very big offseason for Nevada. They have a very deep recruiting class coming in, led by an extremely athletic shooting guard in Deonte Burton, along with 6'7" swing forward Jordan Burris. But the biggest signing at all is probably Olek Czyz, the Duke transfer who will be eligible halfway through the 2010-11 season. It's easy to forget that he was once a pretty promising recruit, and I wrote almost two years ago that he was considered a raw talent and project for Duke. But he got buried on the bench behind the Plumlees, Brian Zoubek and others, and he realized he was never going to start at Duke. But with a lot of playing time ahead at Nevada he could still potentially fulfill that talent and become a very good player.

I still don't think Nevada will seriously challenge a Utah State team that is probably going to be even better than the team that earned an at-large bid to the 2010 NCAA Tournament. They have lost three starters, including their two stars (Armon Johnson and Luke Babbitt). The one very good player they return is Brandon Fields, who is a good scorer (14.5 points per game in 2009-10) but isn't much of a shooter (51.9% on two-pointers, 33.3% on three-pointers). By the end of the season their frontline of Olek Czyz, Dario Hunt and Devonte Elliott should be pretty strong, but probably still relatively raw. But the rest of the team will be fairly weak.

Fields is a good starting shooting guard by WAC standards, but it's not clear who the starting point guard will be, and the team really lacks shooters. Luke Babbitt really opened things up for the team last year with his outside shooting, and an underrated loss is Ray Kraemer, who was able to be a good three-point shooter when Babbitt was off the floor (he hit two per game at a 49% clip). As mediocre of a shooter as Fields is, he's the team's best returning shooter, and the incoming guards are still raw athletic talents without great dribbling and shooting skills. With no shooters to spread the floor, Nevada's opponents will be able to stack the paint and force Nevada's relatively mediocre dribblers to create offense in traffic. The team will be athletic, and should be vicious on the fast break, but I don't think their half court offense will be good enough for them to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007.

But that said, Nevada has restocked on raw talent, and with the right direction this could be a very dangerous team down the road. And considering how senior-heavy Utah State will be in 2010-11, the WAC could really open up for a Nevada run in 2011-12.

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