Wolf Pack optimistic in Rebels territory | NevadaAppeal.com

Wolf Pack optimistic in Rebels territory

Joe Santoro
LVN News service

Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .

The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team has a chance on Saturday night to do something it has only done four times before and just twice since John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were president. A win on Saturday in Las Vegas would give the Pack a sweep of its two-game season series against the Rebels. The Wolf Pack, in fact, should beat the reeling Rebels on Saturday. UNLV’s roster has been gutted by injuries, the coaching staff is just a rental and is on borrowed time and the Rebels are coming off a demoralizing loss at lowly Air Force on Tuesday night. The Pack has won four of its last six games against the Rebels, including 65-63 last month, and has won its last two regular season games in Las Vegas. It’s not such a big deal for the Pack to beat UNLV anymore. The Wolf Pack (16-9) and Rebels (15-12) are clearly heading in opposite directions.

. . .

The Wolf Pack has five games remaining in the regular season and at least one in the Mountain West tournament so 20 victories is a distinct possibility. Considering the Wolf Pack won just nine games a year ago, the accomplishment of winning 20 or more games should make Eric Musselman the easy choice as Mountain West Coach of the Year. A 20-plus victory season would also mean the Pack increased its win total by 11 or more in one season, something it has only done three times before. The Pack went from one win to 14 from 1941-42 to 1942-43, from 13 to 28 wins from 2010-11 to 2011-12 and jumped a school-record 20 wins in one year from 1944-45 (eight) to 1945-46 (28).

The Broncos won the game the only way they could have won, with field goals, defense and Carolina turnovers.

. . .

San Diego State has all but wrapped up first place in the Mountain West but second place is up for grabs. The regular season, though, is just window dressing this year. The Wolf Pack, like every other team in the Mountain West except for possibly San Diego State, will have to win the conference tournament to get to the NCAA tournament. There are over 100 teams in the nation with more wins than the Pack right now. The question is not whether or not the Pack can beat any team in the Mountain West. This is arguably the worst season of Mountain West basketball since the conference started in 1999-2000. Anybody can beat anybody. The key for the Pack is whether or not they can play reasonably well for three games in a row.

. . .

This season, however, is certainly not a NCAA tournament or bust scenario for the Pack. There is no bust ending for this Pack basketball team this season no matter what happens the rest of the way. Musselman has transformed Pack basketball into a program of hope and promise in just one short year. The team’s 16th win at San Jose State on Wednesday assured the program of a winning season. If the NCAA tournament dreams fall a bit short, a trip to the NIT would be more than a fitting tribute to this team. Don’t forget that the NIT served as the springboard in 2003 for the Pack’s four consecutive NCAA tournaments (2004-07).

. . .

The Wolf Pack baseball team, which opens the season with four games against Northwestern in Mesa, Ariz., this weekend, is getting absolutely no respect right now. The Pack dominated the Mountain West a year ago, winning the regular season and finishing with a 41-15 record. The conference’s coaches, though, have picked the Pack to finish sixth in the seven-team conference this year. It is the lowest predicted finish for the Pack in its four seasons in the conference. The coaches picking the Pack to finish sixth out of seven is a slap in the Pack face. These pre-season coach’s polls are largely ceremonial. They basically pick the teams in order of how they finished a year ago with, at most, minor differences. First to sixth is not minor. It’s a free fall. This year the coaches are picking the Pack to finish below everyone but San Jose State, a team that lost 44 of 57 games a year ago. The teams picked ahead of the Pack include UNLV and Air Force, which both finished under .500 a year ago.

. . .

Make no mistake, the Pack baseball team will likely not get close to the 41 victories of a year ago. The team lost a ton of talent off last year’s team, especially at the plate. Gone are hitters Austin Byler, Kewby Meyer, Cal Stevenson, Ryan Howell, Jordan Devencenzi and Kyle Hunt. The pitching staff also lost Adam Whitt, JoJo Romero and Jason Deitrich. But the cupboard isn’t bare. Back are Mountain West Player of the Year Trenton Brooks and Mountain West Pitcher of the Year Christian Stolo. Hitters Bryce Greager, Jordan Pearce and Grant Fennell are also returning as are pitchers Cam Rowland, Evan McMahan and Zach Wilkins. Somewhere along the lines of 30-35 wins and a third-place finish in the conference should be expected.

. . .

A sexual assault complaint against Peyton Manning while he was a student at the University of Tennessee and was settled in 1997 is now being treated like it just happened. A lawsuit alleging sexual assaults by Tennessee student athletes dating back 20 years was filed a couple of days (obviously not coincidentally) after Manning and the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl on Feb. 6. Bill Polian, the father of Wolf Pack football coach Brian Polian, said on ESPN this week that “it’s just an attempt to gain notoriety for others by smearing a good person.” That may be. The timing of this lawsuit is certainly suspect. But if it is true that Tennessee covered up or looked the other way while some of its male athletes were sexually assaulting female students, then the university should receive severe penalties. Seems like neither of the quarterbacks came out a winner in this Super Bowl.