Joe Santoro: Crazy talk already OK with this Nevada Wolf Pack team | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Crazy talk already OK with this Nevada Wolf Pack team

Joe Santoro

Joe Santoro

The men's basketball season couldn't have started any better for the Nevada Wolf Pack. The Wolf Pack, which finished 28-7 a year ago with a Mountain West championship and a NCAA tournament appearance, has already answered all of our questions this season after just three games. The only question now is how far this team will go in the NCAA tournament. Sweet 16? Elite Eight? Dare we say it? Final Four? Yes, it's crazy talk. We're not even to Thanksgiving yet and we're talking Final Four for a Nevada Wolf Pack team that hasn't won a NCAA tournament game since 2007. But no Pack team since this year's team has started a season 3-0 since that 2006-07 team. We're betting that's not a coincidence and this won't be the last time we compare this Pack team to 2006-07.

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This year's 3-0 start is far more impressive than the 2006-07 team's 3-0 start. That 2006-07 team only had to beat Alaska-Anchorage, Oregon State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. This year's Wolf Pack has beaten three solid opponents in Idaho, Rhode Island and Santa Clara. This year's team is the first Pack team to score 80 or more points in its first three games since the 1987-88 team. This year's Pack team has scored the most points combined in its first three games (269) of any Pack team since the 1988-89 team scored 273. The 3-point line in the 1980s, by the way, was a foot closer to the basket than it is now. The Pack, we should point out, made 15 3-pointers Wednesday night at Santa Clara. A dozen of those 15 threes were by players who were not with a team a year ago.

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Is it far too early to get excited about this Wolf Pack men's basketball team? The last three Pack teams to start a season 3-0 all went to the NCAA tournament (2005-07). Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman has a record of 36-7 over his last 43 games. The Pack is shooting more than 50 percent from the floor, nearly 40 percent on 3-pointers and 79 percent on free throws. It's holding opponents to 69 points a game on 41 percent shooting (34 percent on threes). The Pack is also out-rebounding opponents by 3.3 a game. There has been three different leading scorers in three games. Get excited.

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Musselman is that rare coach who can rebuild a team without anyone knowing it. The Pack, don't forget, lost three (Cam Oliver, Marcus Marshall, D.J. Fenner) of its top four scorers from a year ago. It lost five players (Oliver, Marshall, Fenner, Devearl Ramsey, Leland King) who played eight or more minutes a game last year. Musselman did almost the same thing a year ago after losing Marqueze Coleman, Tyron Criswell and Eric Cooper off the 2015-16 team. His first Pack team looked nothing like the one former coach David Carter left him. There's no transition, getting-to-know-everyone period with Musselman teams. They hit the ground running. Musselman's first Pack team two years ago won with defense. Last year's team won with offense. This year's team does both. Musselman is the type of coach who can grab five guys out of the shopping mall in the morning and by tip-off that same night figure out a game plan that could win the game.

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The Martin twins, juniors Cody and Caleb, are the two best things to hit Northern Nevada since neon and dinner buffets. They're both 6-foot-7, weigh 205 pounds, sport beards and play the game as if every second could be the last time they step out on the court. There's nothing either one of them can't do on the court. Either one of them could play any position on the floor. We wondered heading into this season who was going to emerge as the leaders of this Pack team. We're not wondering about that anymore. Pack leadership is the new 3M Company — Martin, Martin and Musselman.

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The thing that's most impressive about this Pack team is its maturity as well as its physical and mental toughness. The Martins play like they're 10-year NBA veterans. Lindsey Drew never lets anything bother him. Jordan Caroline dares opponents to challenge him. Elijah Foster is playing with a scowl and intensity (Caroline plays with a smile and intensity) not seen from a Pack big man since Kevinn Pinkney and Faron Hand. Hallice Cooke is a coach on the floor. Kendall Stephens and Josh Hall just quietly go about their business and fulfill their roles. This team seems to know on its own when it's time to pick up the intensity and bury an opponent. We might just be looking at the first true Musselman team at Nevada who does all of the things Musselman preaches — offense, defense, toughness, intensity and intelligence.

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The San Diego State Aztecs football team is vulnerable. The Aztecs haven't even won a Mountain West home game this year, having gotten blown out by both Boise State and Fresno State. The Aztecs' offense, as usual, is one dimensional. If running back Rashaad Penny doesn't get 100 yards the Aztecs lose. The Aztecs are 8-2 but haven't beaten a team who currently has a winning record since it beat Northern Illinois in September. If the Wolf Pack offense shows up this weekend, starts fast and makes the Aztecs have to throw the ball, the Pack just might get Jay Norvell his first signature win as head coach.

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All of the intangibles Saturday night seem to be pointing in the Wolf Pack's favor. San Diego State might be flat this weekend after a two-week layoff. The Aztecs, which rolled over struggling Hawaii and San Jose State in their last two games, also haven't been in a real football game since it was stunned 27-3 by Fresno State on Oct. 21. The Aztecs also might be a little down emotionally Saturday night if Fresno State clinches the West Division title and a spot in the conference title game by beating Wyoming earlier in the day. The Aztecs might be overconfident (the Pack is 2-8 and the Aztecs demolished the Pack 46-16 a year ago in Reno) and unemotional with nothing to play for on Saturday. The Pack should at least be able to cover the 15-17-point spread.