FODDER: UNR hoops turn the corner | NevadaAppeal.com
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FODDER: UNR hoops turn the corner

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal

Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . . A year ago the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team’s main purpose for the athletic department was to help sell tickets for the football team’s Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl appearance during timeouts. The basketball team, which was on its way to missing the postseason for the first time in eight years, was looked upon in much the same way as that 1998 dented and rusted Toyota sitting in the garage under the moth-eaten blankets missing a tire, headlight and a door. The football and basketball teams won exactly the same amount (13) of games a year ago. Well, a lot has changed in the past year. The football team is back to playing in meaningless bowl games and the basketball team has turned a momentous corner by beating Washington and Arizona State to improve to 6-3, its best start since 2006-07. Don’t be shocked if the basketball team surpasses its win total of last year by the third week of January.

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Nobody is comparing this Pack basketball team to the 2006-07 team that went 29-5. But this year’s team should not lose more than 10 games in the regular season. Yes, the schedule is that friendly. And this team, which was picked by Sports Illustrated a few weeks back to get to the NCAA Tournament, by the way, is that good. The victory over Washington showed everyone just how this team can reach the next level. Point guard Deonte Burton, who put the Pack on his back against Washington and Arizona State, matured right before our eyes this past week. This is now Burton’s team and it’s his basketball and the Pack can go to some special places over the next three postseasons if it continues to follow his lead.

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The news hasn’t been as good for the football team lately. Silly losses to Louisiana Tech and Utah State last month earned the Pack a trip to Hawaii on Christmas Eve. Talk about your nightmare before Christmas. You try selling Hawaii Bowl tickets in this economy. It’s almost as if the magical 2010 season never happened. But the university has nobody to blame for that but itself. The first four games on the road (three losses) at Oregon, San Jose State, Boise State and Texas Tech guaranteed that there would be absolutely no carry-over of all the good cheer and momentum from 2010. It shouldn’t have shocked anyone that they ran out of gas down the stretch when the going got a little rough.

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How does Boise State (and San Diego State) leaving the Mountain West for the Big East affect the Pack? Well, not much at all. The Mountain West will be just fine without the we-think-we’re-better-than-we-are Broncos. The Mountain West will likely form some sort of mid-level super conference with Conference USA and it will survive quite nicely. There are still plenty of interesting matchups for the Pack in the MWC with Air Force, UNLV, Wyoming, Fresno State and Hawaii. And you can bet the Pack will play Boise State in its non-league schedule more often than not. Boise, in its never-ended quest for the dollar, now finds itself in a struggling conference with a bunch of schools with which it has no rivalry or history.

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Excited about the bowl games? Well, they beat watching A Christmas Story for the 15th time. But that’s about it. No less than 40 of the 70 bowl teams won eight games or less. Four of the 35 games don’t even have a team with a winning record and one (the Kraft Bowl) won’t even have a legitimate head coach on either sideline. Half of these bowl games are like watching the Senior Tour in golf, matchups between programs that used to be great but now need a cart to get around the course. We’ve already seen the BCS title game and nobody but parents, girlfriends and bettors will notice about two dozen of these games until the score scrolls at the bottom of their television screen.

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Pack coach Chris Ault said this week that he is not in favor of an extended playoff to determine a national champion. Ault also claimed he likes the bowl system. Well, why wouldn’t he? There’s no pressure for coaches with the current bowl system. You can go 6-6 or 7-5 and you go to a bowl game that nobody really cares if you win or lose. If there were no bowls, Ault’s Wolf Pack would be thinking about 2012 right now.

Instead of planning its four or five-day trip to the beaches of Honolulu. Ault is certainly not alone in backing the bowls. Coaches love the bowl system because it allows college football to be the only

college sport to reward

mediocrity.