Musselman won’t defend lack of defense | NevadaAppeal.com

Musselman won’t defend lack of defense

Joe Santoro

Sports fodder . . .

Eric Musselman says his Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball team can't play defense. "We just can't guard anybody," the Pack coach said after a meaningless 91-73 exhibition loss to Washington on Sunday. "We're really bad defensively. Our defense is abysmal. We're probably one of the worst defensive teams in all of college basketball." Of course, none of this should shock anyone. The Pack wasn't good on defense last year when it won 29 games. Why do you think they always fell behind by double digits in the NCAA tournament last March? Defense. Why do you think they won two of three games? Offense. There's nothing to worry about.

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Musselman said he didn't yell at his team after the blowout loss. Why? Well, it was an exhibition game. Stick this game in the middle of January and Musselman might have blown the doors off the locker room. The other reason why Musselman remained calm was because this is exactly the type of team he wanted. A roster flooded with scorers. Yes, he added some shot blockers this year but blocking shots and actually guarding someone are two different things. See Cam Oliver. "It's not that they are not trying to defend," Musselman said of his team. "They just don't have the ability to guard." Again, Musselman didn't just discover that on Sunday. He didn't bring them to Nevada to guard. He brought them to score. And score they will, when it matters.

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There were, though, a few things to be concerned about. The Wolf Pack was outscored 39-20 over the final 13 minutes. That should not happen at home. Musselman also accused his team of quitting over the final three-plus minutes. That, too, should never happen. And while you can forget about Musselman's concerns about the defense, there was one thing to come out in the post game press conference you should be concerned about. "We don't practice hard," Caleb Martin said. "(We have) guys who have bad practice habits and act like it doesn't translate to the game." That's disturbing. That should never happen with a Musselman team. You can be sure it won't happen again.

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Musselman isn't a coach who handles having a lot of depth on his roster well. It makes him nervous, almost as if he feels pressure to play guys. That pressure is gone. "The bench lacked effort," Musselman said. "I'm not subbing like that ever again." That's the biggest message to take from last Sunday. If your last name isn't Martin (Cody or Caleb) or Caroline (Jordan) you're in a dogfight for minutes. "Coach has no problem playing five guys 40 minutes if it means we will win," Caleb Martin said.

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The other thing to take from Sunday's game is down deep, you just know Musselman isn't all that upset his team lost by 18 at home for everyone to see. He now gets to ride them hard in practice and they will listen. The other fringe benefit of getting blown out at home is all of the over-the-top praise from the community might finally subside a little. The Pack is ranked No. 7 in the country in the Associated Press rankings. Lawlor Events Center is practically sold out for every game this season. The praise and acclaim Musselman and his team has gotten has been wild.

The last thing Musselman needed on Sunday was a 20-point victory over Washington at home. You might have seen a parade down Virginia Street on Monday morning. There's a reason Musselman invited Washington to Lawlor. He wanted someone to remind his team it hasn't won a national title yet. Nobody in northern Nevada (media included) wasn't going to do that. "It's a reality check," Cody Martin said. Musselman can now go back to coaching his team.

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This is a new Wolf Pack team. Yes, the Pack won 29 games a year ago and went to the Sweet 16. And, yes, the Martin twins and Caroline are back. But that team from a year ago is gone. Seven of the 10 players on Sunday didn't play on the Pack last season. Kendall Stephens, Hallice Cooke, Josh Hall and Elijah Foster are gone. Lindsey Drew might not step on the floor this year. Ranked No. 7 in the country, the Pack can't sneak up on anybody this year. The Pack has a bull's eye on its jersey this year. Why do you think Washington played four players 34-plus minutes? The last Pack team to have this much pressure to win was 2007. And it responded well because it had a nucleus of veterans like Nick Fazekas, Kyle Shiloh, Marcelus Kemp, Ramon Sessions and Lyndale Burleson. This year's Pack team still needs to establish its roles.

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The Pack football team could have a program-changing victory on Saturday against San Diego State. The Aztecs, despite their six-game winning streak and 6-1 record, will limp into Mackay Stadium on Saturday. They're playing a backup quarterback and a bunch of backup running backs. They try to beat everybody 17-14 with a last-second 50-yard field goal. These are not the same Aztecs that routed the Pack the last three years. They're ripe for the picking. But it's still San Diego State. The Aztecs still have a great defense and a great head coach (Rocky Long). Beating the Aztecs is still meaningful. It's the type of victory Pack coach Jay Norvell and his team needs. The Aztecs don't give you a chance to beat them often. The last time it happened was 2014 and the Pack took advantage of it and won 30-14 (after nearly doing it in 2012 and 2013). Norvell, who's still in search of a signature victory, simply can't let an opportunity like this pass him by.