A couple of miracles change Pack’s fortunes | NevadaAppeal.com

A couple of miracles change Pack’s fortunes

Joe Santoro

Joe Santoro

Sports fodder for a Friday morning …

How fragile are the expectations (30-plus wins, Top 10 ranking, Final Four, to name just three) surrounding the Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball team right now? The Pack, after all, played three games in last year's NCAA tournament and led for a grand total of just nine seconds in all three games combined in the second half. At one point in the second half, the Wolf Pack trailed by 14 against Texas, 22 against Cincinnati and 12 against Loyola Chicago. The Wolf Pack outscored its three opponents in regulation time by a mere one point combined. How does that add up to being one of the favorites to go to the Final Four this season? What if the Pack didn't rally against Texas and was still looking for its first NCAA tournament victory since 2007? What if the skies didn't open up and everyone in silver and blue didn't start to walk on water against Cincinnati? Would the Wolf Pack still be considered a Top 10 team going into the 2018-19 season and one of the favorites to get to the Final Four? Would Pack fans be gobbling up tickets faster than 7-Eleven customers gulping free Slurpies on July 11? It is amazing what a couple of miracle wins in the NCAA tournament can do for a program.

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The two blessed, charmed and, dare we say it, lucky wins in the tournament completely changed the Wolf Pack's fortunes going into this coming season. Had the Pack not won a game or two last March in the tournament (a very real possibility given the double-digit deficits in all three games) the roster might be very different right now. Twins Caleb and Cody Martin might have jumped to the NBA this summer, thinking that they had accomplished all there is to accomplish at Nevada. Even Pack coach Eric Musselman admits that 6-foot-11 McDonald's All American Jordan Brown probably would have signed elsewhere had the Pack not advanced to the Sweet 16. There might be undue pressure on point guard Lindsey Drew to rush back this season if Caleb or Cody (or both) were in pro ball. But everything has fallen magically into place thanks to a pair of miracle wins last March.

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College sports, though, is all about hype and lofty expectations. Reality has nothing to do with anything. That is why ESPN comes up with its ridiculous Top 25 rankings six months before the season starts in an internet-click grab effort to capitalize on the hype. ESPN is a master at creating nothing out of nothing and we all fall for it. That's why you'll find silly and meaningless stories now on ESPN that tackle such pressing issues as which players on the teams in their inane "way-too-early" Top 25 rankings are the top NBA recruits for next June's draft (for the Pack it is Caleb Martin). The latest story along those lines details the recruiting needs (for the 2019-20 season) of the teams in the way-too-early Top 25. For the Pack it is wing players, since Caleb and Cody Martin will leave after this season. Next week expect a story on the favorite post-game meals of the coaches of the teams in the way-too-early Top 25.

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In that same article about the future recruiting needs of its way-too-early Top 25 teams, ESPN couldn't help but point out that Musselman might "move up the coaching ranks" after next season. What, exactly, does that mean? ESPN already thinks that the Wolf Pack is one of the top teams in the nation with a chance to go to the Final Four. You can't get any higher up the ranks than that. Therefore, according to ESPN, "moving up the coaching ranks" seems like just a subtle way of saying Musselman might chase the dollars after next year. That is an insult to Musselman and the Nevada program he has built, hinting that he would abandon it all simply for more money. Musselman has already made a lot of money in basketball. He's making a lot of money at Nevada right now. Musselman has already proven he can win and recruit at Nevada. He owns northern Nevada and can do no wrong. By this time next year we might see Virginia Street permanently closed off to vehicle traffic and renamed to "Musselman Mall." Musselman will continue to win at Nevada. He will continue to make more money at Nevada. He can have it all in Nevada.

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The Wolf Pack football team, by the way, is not listed among the Top 25 teams in the nation heading into this fall, according to The Sporting News. Wolf Pack rival Boise State, though, is listed at No. 25. The Sporting News thinks the Broncos might lose just one game this year. "There's not a team on the 2018 schedule, sans Oklahoma State (which TSN ranks at No. 21), that the Broncos can't beat," says The Sporting News. That statement might be true. Boise State has rarely played teams it can't beat, even in its glory years. But it also means absolutely nothing. The Wolf Pack, which was 3-9 a year ago and didn't beat a team all year with a measurable pulse, also isn't playing anybody in 2018 that it can't beat. And that includes Boise State on Oct. 13 at Mackay Stadium.

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There are few teams in the NBA that Carmelo Anthony would improve. But the Houston Rockets just might be one of them. The bloated Anthony, who can't be bothered with passing the ball, dribbling, guarding an opponent, hustling after loose balls and rebounding missed shots that land more than three feet away from him, just might be what the Rockets need to get past the Golden State Warriors. The Rockets, you see, don't need him to pass, rebound, hustle, dribble or defend. They just need him to shoot and make shots. And Anthony has always been able to do that with the best of them. Anthony, who was still a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder as of Thursday morning, is expected to be wearing a different uniform next season. The Rockets, according to media reports, seem to be the most interested in the 34-year-old, 240-pounder. Anthony quietly had a solid season last year for the Thunder, getting enough shots with Russell Westbook and Paul George around to average 16.2 points a game. Stick Melo on the Rockets a year ago and the Warriors might not be NBA champs right now.

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The time has come to let the so-called All Star games in baseball, football, basketball and hockey simply fade away. The annual farces have become about as meaningful, interesting and less honest as an cable-TV infomercial at 4 a.m. Think of the NFL's Pro Bowl as the Shamwow, baseball's All Star game as a new set of Ginsu Knives and the All Star weekends of the NHL and NBA as the Chia Pet and the ThighMaster of the sports world. These fake All Star games have become nothing more than free advertising for their respective leagues. The All Star games used to serve a purpose, when every single game wasn't available on one screen or another. Those days are gone forever. Now it is just painful to watch these counterfeit games mainly because the athletes compete about as ferociously as a couple of 7-year-olds fight over a plate of broccoli.