Wolf Pack loss leaves grim outlook for Mountain West | NevadaAppeal.com

Wolf Pack loss leaves grim outlook for Mountain West

Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .

There are about a half dozen reasons why the Nevada Wolf Pack won't win the Mountain West men's basketball tournament in March. It's not at Lawlor Events Center. They can't shoot threes. They can't shoot from anywhere. There's no depth in the front court. Their best offensive play is guard Marqueze Coleman flinging himself into the paint and hoping to get fouled. Only seven players see the court for significant minutes and, if they are lucky, at least six of them haven't fouled out by the end of the game. But there is also one huge reason why the Wolf Pack could win the tournament and go to the NCAA tournament. Nobody else in the league is all that much better than the Pack.

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San Diego State, supposedly the best team in the Mountain West, should have left Lawlor Events Center with a loss on Tuesday night. But Coleman missed 3-of-4 free throws in the final minute and the Pack, for some reason, thought it was the Golden State Warriors and started heaving threes with six minutes to go and a 7-point lead. San Diego State is simply an awful basketball team on the offensive end, the worst in the league. All you need to know about the Mountain West is that its best team is also its worst team on offense. The regular season means nothing in the Mountain West because any team in the league (OK, maybe not Air Force, Wyoming and Utah State) can win the tournament.

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Make no mistake, the Wolf Pack will have to win the tournament to go to the NCAA tournament. The Wolf Pack's Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) right now is 131 and teams from the Mountain West don't get an at large bid unless their RPI is no worse than somewhere in the 40s. Colorado State was 27-6 last year with an RPI of 29 and still didn't get in. San Diego State has the best RPI in the conference now and they are just at 55. Boise State, which just lost to UNLV, is at 62 and rising. Nobody else is under 100. The Mountain West might have to settle for sending just the tournament champion to the big dance.

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Will the Wolf Pack's inability to shoot threes (they are at a 27 percent success rate for the last two years) be its downfall this year? Not at all. At least not in the Mountain West. San Diego State can't make layups, let alone threes. The Pack missed 29-of-34 threes this week against UNLV and San Diego State and should have won both games. This is the fourth season in a row that the Pack can't shoot threes, since Deonte Burton, Malik Story and Jerry Evans filled the air with bombs in 2011-12. The last time the Pack was an elite 3-point shooting team was 2006-07 with the likes of Nick Fazekas, Kyle Shiloh, Marcelus Kemp, Ramon Sessions and Denis Ikovlev. So this is nothing new. The Pack, this season, is all about winning the free throw battle. It's not pretty. But it can win an ugly Mountain West.

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The fifth largest crowd in Lawlor Events Center's 33-year history (11,341) saw the Wolf Pack beat UNLV last Saturday. Three nights later just 6,250 showed up to see the Pack stand toe to toe with San Diego State before losing. The drop off of 5,091 fans from one home game to the next is the second biggest drop for the Pack in the last 15 years. Just two things will keep the Lawlor attendance at a high level from game to game. They can play UNLV in every home game or get to the NCAA Tournament the previous season. The NCAA tourney route is the way to go. Playing UNLV every game would get boring. Going to the NCAA tournament every year, like 2004-07, well, that was never boring. The Pack, in the middle of its NCAA tournament run, even drew almost 10,000 fans one night to see UC Davis. That's how much winning means to Pack fans.

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This year's Super Bowl, at least when looked at through the quarterback position, seems like a matchup of land lines versus smart phones, newspapers sitting in your driveway versus the world news coming to you on your watch and e-mails and tweets versus hand-written letters. Peyton Manning is some old guy screaming at you to get off his lawn while Cam Newton always seems to be the coolest guy at the coolest party having the time of his life. Forget Super Bowl 50. This is Stereotype Bowl 50. But don't be so sure about all those perceived differences between Manning and Newton. The game in Santa Clara next weekend will not be a NFL Combine of Manning vs. Newton. The position of quarterback is and always will be about getting the football to players who can make plays. Manning still has that ability. Newton has that ability. They are more similar than they appear.

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This Super Bowl is all about the defenses. It might be the best defensive matchup we've ever had in a Super Bowl, at least going into the game. Manning and Newton will get all the attention because that is the easy story. But this game will be won by the defense that plays the best. The Broncos destroyed Tom Brady last week. Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly might be the best football player in the NFL. Denver is likely hoping the game is as ugly as a Wolf Pack-San Diego State basketball game. But Carolina can also win a wrestling match. It could be a game of field goals and turnovers.

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