Joe Santoro: Caleb Martin says Pack fans ‘crazy’ | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Caleb Martin says Pack fans ‘crazy’

Joe Santoro
Special to the Appeal

Caleb Martin says the Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball team is becoming the rock stars of college basketball. The unbeaten 10-0, No. 7-ranked Wolf Pack, it seems, can't go anywhere in public without meeting their fans. "I give a lot of credit to our fans who have been traveling to see us play, making us feel second to none on the road," the senior said this week as the Pack prepared to play South Dakota State on Saturday at Lawlor Events Center. "We're in the airports and we have a lot of fans cheering us on when we're walking to the gate or getting off a plane. It's crazy how our fan base is expanding."

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Martin, the Wolf Pack's leading scorer at 18.7 points a game (Jordan Caroline is at 18.6), is struggling from 3-point range lately. The 6-foot-7 guard missed 16 of his 18 3-point attempts in the last two games against Arizona State and Grand Canyon. "I've just been garbage lately," said Martin, who has averaged 13.3 points over his last three games on 4-of-22 shooting on threes. The Pack as a team has averaged just 73 points a game in its last three games after averaging 90 over its first seven games. "I just haven't been able to shoot the ball. I can't hit the broad side of a barn," Martin said. Martin, who shot 40 percent on threes last year, is at just .329 this year. But he hasn't lost confidence. "I'm definitely working on my shooting," he said. "I know I can get my percentage up and be able to shoot the way I know I'm capable of shooting and make that percentage look a lot different than it is now."

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The Wolf Pack keep winning and keep dropping in the national rankings. The Wolf Pack went on the road last week and beat Arizona State and Grand Canyon in two states (California and Arizona) in a span of just 48 hours. Their reward was a drop from No. 6 to No. 7 in the Associated press rankings. The week before the Pack won at Loyola-Chicago and USC and dropped from No. 5 to No. 6. These past two weeks just might be the most difficult all season for the Pack, beating four quality teams on the road. And they dropped two spots in the rankings. What will a victory over South Dakota State on Saturday at home do to the Pack's national ranking? Drop them out of the Top 10?

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A victory over South Dakota State, though, might impress the Top 25 voters more than a win over Arizona State, Loyola, USC and Grand Canyon. The Jackrabbits aren't your typical home game pushover most teams love to schedule near the holidays. The Jackrabbits of the Summit League are 9-3 this year and have been to the NCAA tournament five times in the last seven years. The Jackrabbits average close to 90 points a game and feature 6-foot-9 power forward Mike Daum, who plays (and looks) a lot like Luke Babbitt and can score (26.2 points a game) from anywhere on the floor. The Jackrabbbits have played on the road at tough venues like Kansas, Wichita State, Colorado and Mississippi State in recent years in addition to all of their NCAA tournament experience and won't be intimidated by Lawlor Events Center. "South Dakota State is a phenomenal basketball team," Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said, repeating a sentence he says about all Pack opponents. This time he might be right.

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The Wolf Pack football team has to rebuild its defense for the 2019 season. The Pack are losing seniors Malik Reed, Korey Rush, Dameon Baber, Asauni Rufus, Jomon Dotson, Jarius McDade and Lucas Weber as well as sophomore Nephi Sewell, who's also leaving the program. The Pack, which has one game left this season against Arkansas State on Dec. 29 in the Arizona Bowl, is allowing just 28 points and 378 yards a game this year. Barring a total collapse on Dec. 29, this will be the first Pack defense since 2011 (25 points, 369 yards) that has allowed under 30 points and 400 yards in the same season. And now it has to nearly start over.

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The Wolf Pack will also be without wide receiver McLane Mannix next season, who announced on social media last week he's also leaving the program. The 5-foot-9 Mannix, who still has two years of eligibility left and will likely make a Big 12 team (he's from Texas) happy, was the Pack's most explosive player on offense the last two years. It's just too bad the Pack never could find a way to get him the ball more often. Mannix caught 107 passes for 1,653 yards and 13 touchdowns in his two seasons but he should have caught 150 passes for more than 2,000 yards and 20 scores. Yes, we understand Mannix had to deal with two defenders on a lot of plays. But that never stopped prolific Pack receivers in the past like Nate Burleson, Trevor Insley, Geoff Noisy, Alex Van Dyke and countless others. You simply have to find a way to put the ball in the hands of your best player no matter what the defense is doing. Mannix had the ability to simply shred awful Mountain West defenses but the Pack offense at times seemed to forget he was even on the field.

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Musselman announced this week senior point guard Lindsey Drew, who injured his Achilles last February, now will undergo hip surgery next month and will miss this entire season. You have to wonder if Drew, who has one year of eligibility remaining, has indeed played his last game for the Pack. Drew is already ninth in Pack history in assists and steals and is 11th in blocks, making him one of the most unique players in Pack history. It's a testament to Cody Martin, who took over at point guard, the Pack hasn't missed a beat, going 17-3 since Drew was injured last Feb. 14 at Boise State. But don't forget the Pack was 55-13 over the last 68 games Drew was active.