Wolf Pack will brave the Mountain West without West | NevadaAppeal.com

Wolf Pack will brave the Mountain West without West

Joe Santoro

Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .

That collective sigh of relief you might have heard on Tuesday was coming from every Mountain West basketball player who doesn’t wear a Nevada Wolf Pack uniform. A.J. West, one of the best offensive rebounders and shot blockers in the country, is no longer a member of the Wolf Pack. Why West left the Pack in the middle of his senior year, well, nobody dares talk about it. All we know is that coach Eric Musselman didn’t seem all that worried or concerned about his team or West during a press conference on Wednesday. That seemed a bit strange, considering West was such a unique talent. Draw your own conclusions. The reason West left, though, doesn’t really matter. All we know is that Wolf Pack basketball changed drastically on Tuesday. We’ll find out if that is good or bad.

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West was fun to watch, he could dominate a game at times and he was clearly a fan favorite. But he was also an incredibly frustrating player to coach. He wouldn’t always hustle back on defense and he wasn’t always in the right spot on the floor. Musselman took West’s starting job away one night already this year because he wasn’t happy with his senior’s efforts during practice. Musselman started West just once in the last four games and played him just five minutes in the second half of Saturday’s 79-71 win over Drake. It was almost as if Musselman was already preparing for life without West. West, at times, was a great player. At other times he could make a coach wish he sold insurance. It’s just unfortunate that West, with all of his many talents, didn’t blossom under the fiery and demanding Musselman.

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If you are worried about the immediate future of the Wolf Pack basketball team, well, don’t be. West’s absence means more Cameron Oliver and that is a very exciting thing for the Pack. Oliver is West with a jump shot. He can block shots, tear down the rim on dunks and hit 3-pointers with a hand in his face. Well, that is if someone could actually put a hand in the face of a young man who is 6-foot-8 and can hit his head on the scoreboard when he elevates on his jumper. The only concern is that Oliver will try to do too much with West gone and that he will merely camp out in the paint and not utilize all of his wonderful skills. He’s a freshman and this task of replacing West was something he shouldn’t have had to do until next year.

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Musselman, who coaches basketball as if he’s coaching a UFC fighter, can now run a full-fledged track meet with guards Marqueze Coleman, D.J. Fenner, Tyron Criswell, Lindsey Drew, Eric Cooper and Juwan Anderson. College basketball most nights is just a 3-point shooting contest anyway. Shot blockers like West, like closers on 65-win baseball teams, are mere luxuries. Rebounds in college basketball are just as likely to fall outside of the paint to a bunch of hustling 6-3 guards as they are right under the basket to the big men. The one area that West will be missed, though, is offensive rebounding. The Pack is still the Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight.

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Wolf Pack football coach Brian Polian went out of his way during a press conference on Wednesday to remind everyone that winning games in college football is a very difficult thing to do. He also made sure to tell us that it is a very difficult thing to do at a school like Nevada. He must be right. The Pack, after all, lost to a two-win Wyoming team and a three-win UNLV team this year and couldn’t hold a 20-point second-half lead at Utah State. Winning games must be an almost impossible thing to do unless, of course, you are a two-win Wyoming team, a three-win UNLV team and find yourself down by 20 in the second half against the Wolf Pack.

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Wolf Pack athletic director Doug Knuth, who always has a smile on his face and a handshake ready, must cringe each time Polian sits behind a microphone (or walks by a referee). Knuth is doing his best to sell Wolf Pack sports to a historically apathetic community (now that is truly a difficult job) and all Polian does is insult the shrinking fan base almost every time he opens his mouth. Polian will never fail to preach to everyone about how hard he works, how difficult his job is and how he cares more about Wolf Pack football than you do. You are just a guy who sits in the stands, drinks beer and complains. You don’t know how difficult it is to win games at Nevada. If you listen to Polian, every team the Pack plays is better than its record. They are all extremely well coached and have a ton of weapons. Lose to UNLV and Wyoming? So what? Don’t you know how great those teams are? So be quiet, Pack fans. Just buy season tickets and Wolf Pack sweatshirts and kneel down in front of your bed every night and say six Hail Polians before you go to sleep.

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The Wolf Pack can very well beat Colorado State and get to seven wins this year. The Rams are yet another mediocre football team in an awful season for the Mountain West. Beating the Rams in a game that nobody cares about on a late Tuesday night in December won’t exactly be a program-changing moment. But if that happens, if the Pack goes 7-6 and wins a bowl, just remember one thing. This team, even with all of its flaws and shortcomings, even with how difficult it is to win games at Nevada, should have won 10 games this year. All they had to do was beat UNLV and Wyoming and hold onto a 20-point lead at Utah State. It could have been presented as one of the greatest seasons in Pack history. It wouldn’t be true, of course, but college sports is all about smoke and mirrors and we could have faked it and enjoyed it. Polian, you could be sure, would have sold it as a monumental achievement (he said Wednesday that the team should be proud of 7-6) and demanded a three-year contract extension on the flight home from Tucson. So be thankful for small favors, Pack fans.