Friday Fodder: How can Nevada avoid having its bubble burst? Joe Santoro explains | NevadaAppeal.com

Friday Fodder: How can Nevada avoid having its bubble burst? Joe Santoro explains

Joe Santoro
Joe Santoro

Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .

If the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team finds itself in the position of begging for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament next month, one thing is certain. It better win the Mountain West regular season title. The Mountain West has had 10 outright regular season champions in its first 17 seasons of existence and nine of them went to the NCAA tournament. The only one that didn’t was San Diego State last year but the Aztecs had nine losses. The other seven Mountain West seasons had co-champs involving a combined total of 16 teams. Just three of those 16 teams didn’t go to the NCAA tournament but all three had nine or more losses. No Mountain West regular season champion — outright champ or co-champ — has ever been denied a spot in the NCAA tournament with fewer than nine losses. The Pack, now 21-6 with just three regular season games remaining, would have to totally fall apart for that to happen.

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Another key to the Pack getting an at large bid to the NCAA tournament is advancing to at least the title game of the Mountain West tournament next month in Las Vegas. Just five teams went to the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) a year ago with seven or fewer losses and four of them didn’t get to their conference championship game. The only one who did was Monmouth, which lost to Iona in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title game. The MAAC, though, has only had as many as two teams in the NCAA tournament four times in the last 33 years. The Mountain West has had two or more in 15 of its previous 17 seasons. So the formula for the Pack getting an at-large bid is clear: Win the conference regular season title and don’t lose until the tournament title game.

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It’s time to start considering Marcus Marshall as one of the greatest shooters in Wolf Pack history. Marshall will play just one season at Nevada in his career but the senior is just two successful 3-pointers away from breaking the Pack’s single-season record of 96 by Jimmy Carroll in 1996-97. His 245 3-point attempts are already a Pack record (Malik Story had 232 in 2012-13). Marshall’s 95 3-pointers this year are also a record for a Wolf Pack senior (Story had 83 in 2012-13). This Wolf Pack team is also establishing itself as the greatest 3-point shooting team in school history. The Pack broke the school’s single season record for successful threes in a season during the 85-77 win over Boise State on Wednesday. The Pack has 254 threes this year, breaking the record of 253 held by the 2006-07 team. The Pack also needs just two more 3-point attempts to break another school record (658 by last year’s team). That should happen sometime in the first minute at UNLV on Saturday.

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Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman is also cementing his place in Wolf Pack history. Mark Fox, who won 123 games in five seasons as the Pack coach, holds the Pack record with an average of 24.6 wins a season. Musselman, who hasn’t even completed his second season, is averaging 23 a season (24 last year and 22 this year). If the Pack wins four more games this year and gets to 26 victories, Musselman will eclipse Fox with an average of 25 wins a year. . . .

If Cam Oliver plays the rest of the season the way he did against Boise State, the Pack will sail into the NCAA tournament. Oliver had 21 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals in 35 minutes. But the numbers only tell half the story. He simply took over the game in the second half. He hustled at both ends of the court, fought for rebounds and played physically under the basket. The 6-foot-8 center played like he was 7-feet tall. That’s the Oliver who makes NBA scouts drool. That’s also the Oliver who makes the Wolf Pack special. Oliver is arguably the most talented player in Wolf Pack history. The Wolf Pack has never had a player with his size, jumping ability, shooting ability, quickness, reach, confidence, strength, swagger and basketball savvy. He’s the type of player who could lead the Pack to a couple of victories in the NCAA tournament. But he has to play with as much energy, drive and toughness as he showed on Wednesday.

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Wolf Pack basketball fans continue to show their love for this Pack basketball team. A ton of snow fell on Northern Nevada the night before and it was a cold Wednesday night but 8,625 fans still showed up at Lawlor to see the Boise State game. That snapped a program-record four consecutive games with 10,000 or more fans but three of those games were on Saturdays and the other was against UNLV. The Pack has averaged an eye-opening 9,848 fans over its last eight home games. Those are numbers the Pack hasn’t seen since the 2006-07 team averaged a school record 8,903 fans for an entire season. The Pack is averaging 8,712 fans this year. In case you’re wondering, if 11,398 fans come to the final home game March 4 against Colorado State (11,841 showed up for UNLV on Feb. 8), the team will set a single-season school record of 8,904 fans a game.

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It might be time for the Wolf Pack to make some changes in its women’s basketball program. The Pack lost at Boise State on Wednesday to fall to 10-16 on the year and is more than likely on its way to its fifth season out of the last six with a losing record. Pack coach Jane Albright, now in her ninth year at Nevada, now has a record of 57-121 over the last six years with no postseason appearances. Her Pack teams are 27-58 in Mountain West games since joining the conference in 2012-13. Her overall career record at Nevada is now 114-162. She was 48-95 at Wichita State in five seasons before coming to Nevada and has just five winning seasons in her last 15 as a head coach (one at Wisconsin, five at Wichita State, nine at Nevada).