Wolf Pack schedule flaunts ‘historic’ challenges | NevadaAppeal.com

Wolf Pack schedule flaunts ‘historic’ challenges

Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .The Nevada Wolf Pack is touting its 2016-17 men’s basketball schedule as including one of the “strongest non-conference schedules in school history.” Well, sort of. While it’s true this year’s non-league schedule is tougher than last year’s patsy parade, this year’s non-league lineup isn’t exactly a powerhouse parade. St. Mary’s, Oregon State and Washington are mildly interesting but there’s nobody on the schedule the Pack can’t beat. It’s just a collection of middle-of-the-road schools such as Irvine, Iona, Santa Barbara, Towson, Weber State and Bradley, whose bark is much worse than its bite. In short, it’s a brilliant piece of scheduling by the Wolf Pack that should raise its RPI enough to get it to the NIT if the NCAA dreams fall short.

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There’s no North Carolina on this year’s non-league schedule. There’s no Kansas. No Connecticut. The UNLV teams the Pack used to play in the non-league schedule in past years were also better than any non-league team on this year’s schedule. The 2009-10 team had to play UNLV, Houston, VCU, North Carolina, BYU and Tulsa in the non-league schedule. The 2011-12 team played UNLV, BYU, Washington and Arizona State. The 2007-08 team played Irvine, Santa Clara, UNLV, Cal, Pacific, San Diego, Central Florida, Colorado State, Northern Iowa and North Carolina. The 2008-09 team played San Diego, Oregon State, Colorado State, UNLV, Cal and North Carolina. The 1979-80 team had to go to Kansas, Detroit, Utah State and UNLV to start the year and then had to play North Carolina State, Hawaii, Wisconsin and Princeton before the first month was over. If this year’s non-conference schedule is indeed among the toughest in school history, well, that’s a long list.

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Wolf Pack head coach Eric Musselman doesn’t want to spend his college career winning home games in the CBI in March. That was fine for one year but, you know, you can only take your sister to the prom once. After that you have to work up enough nerve to ask a pretty girl you’re not related to. That’s what this year’s non-league schedule is all about. It’s about getting into a real postseason tournament (see NCAA or NIT). The Pack isn’t asking any Miss Americas to the prom next year. But in the right light and at the right angle they aren’t too bad. The Mountain West had an awful year last year. It’s not good enough anymore to get multiple teams into the NCAA tournament on its own merit. It needs help. A solid non-league schedule is that help.

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How tough is this year’s non-league schedule? Well, Oregon State, St. Mary’s and Washington could be good tests. But the Pack can win all three. The Great Alaska Shootout looks like the Great White North’s version of the CBI (Buffalo, Oakland, Iona, UC Davis, Drake, Alaska-Anchorage, Weber State) so the Pack can certainly win it. The rest of the non-league lineup isn’t all that scary.

Just one (St. Mary’s) of the non-league opponents finished with an RPI last year in the Top 45.

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Musselman is proving to be a brilliant hire for the Wolf Pack on all fronts. He can certainly recruit and coach. We saw that last year. He can entertain. He got that from his dad. He talks a great game, is extremely likeable and the athletic department (unlike the Cary Groth years) has given him a long leash to do exactly what he wants to do, when he wants to do it. And now he has shown he can schedule. The guy should run for Reno mayor or Nevada governor. Now all he has to do is go out and get the Wolf Pack back to the NCAA tournament. That shouldn’t take long.

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The city of Las Vegas is leaving the city of Reno in the dust as far as sports is concerned. Las Vegas as a city and gambling mecca left Reno in the dust decades ago. But northern Nevada was competitive with southern Nevada in the sports world until last week when Las Vegas got an NHL franchise. Oh, sure, Las Vegas already had a slight sports advantage with the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a college football bowl game and a ton of garbage minor league sports. But we had the Wolf Pack, minor league baseball, a big-time rodeo, a PGA event and our own garbage minor league sports down through the years. But that has all changed now. Las Vegas is the big leagues now (an NFL team is also on its way) and Reno is, well, not the big leagues. The Fremont Cannon doesn’t mean all that much to a city when a Stanley Cup is also out there to be won. The only question now is whether or not Reno sports fans can get excited and care about an NHL team (and the NFL) in Las Vegas. It might take some time before northern Nevadans wear a jersey or T-shirt that says Las Vegas.

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The NHL should flourish in Las Vegas. There’s enough spare change in Las Vegas to sell out every seat 10 times over. The giant casinos could buy all the tickets and just give them away to their high rollers without blinking an eye. Players will love to play and live in Las Vegas. Fans from the cold-weather cities will flock to Las Vegas to see their teams play in the desert. There will be a natural rivalry with the Coyotes, Ducks and Kings. The only question is why did it take so long to get a team in Las Vegas?

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The NHL, though, should have simply moved one of its existing teams (the Coyotes) to Las Vegas. There are already about a half dozen too many teams in the league. The product is watered down, hardly anybody can recognize all the team’s logos anymore and fans barely pay attention in some of the cities. In short, it’s a glorified Triple-A league. But the league just couldn’t pass up that $500 million expansion fee it got from southern Nevada. The NHL would expand to 50 teams if it could get $500 million from all of them. So the league doesn’t really care where its teams are located. See Phoenix, Carolina, Nashville, Miami, Tampa and Columbus. It’s just all about the dollars. And $500 million is a lot of dollars for a league that can barely get on television in the United States.