Wolf Pack has chance to make history | NevadaAppeal.com

Wolf Pack has chance to make history

Joe Santoro
LVN News service

Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .

History is going to be made at Lawlor Events Center on Friday night. The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team will play for a national postseason tournament championship in Reno for the first time in school history. It might never happen again. Nobody in the country outside Reno or Morehead, Kentucky (the home of Morehead State) will notice what goes on in Reno on Friday night. And the winner can only claim to be the 101st best team in the nation, after the 68 NCAA tournament and 32 NIT teams. But those things don’t matter. As long as the NCAA sponsors countless football bowl games and basketball tournaments, and forces teams to play in them, you can’t fault the players and coaches for going out and doing their best to try and win them. So enjoy the moment. It doesn’t come around often to northern Nevada.

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The Wolf Pack’s chances of winning on Friday look pretty solid. Morehead State can’t shoot. Their offense is pretty basic and predictable. The Eagles either toos up bricks from 3-point range or just flip the ball inside and try to shoulder and elbow their way to the basket. Their problem is that even if they get to the basket, only about half their layup attempts go through the net. It is a team that lives and dies on getting garbage baskets and layups. The Eagles simply try to outwork and outfight their opponents, a tactic that would have worked against recent Pack teams but not this one. Morehead plays an ugly game and they will test your will to win. But coach Eric Musselman’s Wolf Pack are almost unbeatable at home, they’ve been shooting like the Golden State Warriors for two weeks and the fiery win-or-die-trying coach is never going to let an opposing team outwork his team. Pack 79, Morehead State 69.

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Musselman is worth the price of admission on Friday night all by himself. He is either yelling at the officials, his own players or the crowd all game long. Every now and then he collects himself long enough to walk behind the bench to get a drink of water but it’s always a 50-50 bet whether or not he will elbow someone along the way. Each game is a personal battle between Musselman and the other coach as well as the demons that are locked inside his own head. You have to love his passion. This guy is always fighting and clawing. Wait until next year, when the stakes (a Mountain West title and a NCAA tournament berth) will escalate to new heights.

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The Oakland Athletics made the playoffs for three straight years from 2012-14 before slumping to 68 wins a year ago. That is not a trend — if one year can be considered a trend — that is going to slow down. Those A’s teams that went to the playoffs recently are long gone. Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Moss, Scott Kazmir and others have vanished. On the days that Sonny Gray does not pitch the A’s are merely a collection of spare parts that wouldn’t even win the Pacific Coast League.

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The NCAA tournament’s Final Four is a bit more difficult to predict. North Carolina should roll over Syracuse. The Tar Heels have beaten the Orange twice already this season in the ACC. Syracuse doesn’t really do anything well and they have had a fairly easy road to the Final Four, especially considering they were a No. 10 seed that most people thought shouldn’t have even been allowed in the tournament. Oklahoma trounced Villanova back on Dec. 7 but don’t put much stock in that game come Saturday. It was in Honolulu (on the 74th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack) in a gym that seats 4.,000 people and the Sooners shot the lights out, hitting 14 threes. That’s likely not going to happen again, especially in a NFL stadium with a lousy shooting background in Houston. Villanova should figure out a way to contain Oklahoma’s Buffy Hield and win a close one. The Wildcats, a nondescript team with no real stars or overwhelming skills, should also do the same to an overrated North Carolina in the championship game.

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Pack football coach Brian Polian is just as fiery as Musselman and has just as intense a will to win. But when Polian starts yelling at the officials (about two minutes after the opening kickoff) and acting like his head is going to explode, he gets a penalty and everyone talks about how he is embarrassing the program and is out of control. Polian then has to go to the press conference and apologize. It is unfair to Polian. Athletic director Doug Knuth is never going to make Musselman apologize in front of the media for his actions and he shouldn’t require Polian to do it. Love Polian’s energy as much as you love Musselman’s. There is nothing wrong with a coach putting his heart and soul into each and every game and letting all of those emotions out for all to see and endure, namely the parade of overpaid and incompetent NCAA officials.

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The San Francisco Giants, on the other hand, are still enjoying the best era in the team’s history. Hey, it’s an even year. The Giants are going to win the World Series this year, right? Well, don’t bet against it. The Giants had an off year a year ago, seemingly with half the team on the disabled list at all times, and they still won 84 games. Health, or the lack of it, is the only thing that will keep this team out of the postseason this year.

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There is no great team in the American League East. The Kansas City Royals should win the American League Central again and the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers are the class of the American League West. Expect a team out of the American League Central (the Cleveland Indians or Detroit Tigers) to grab the A.L.’s other wild card spot along with the second place team in the West. In the National League the New York Mets, Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants are all playoff-worthy. The guess here is that the Mets’ success of a year ago was a mirage and they will fall short this year. The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals will meet in the World Series.