Joe Santoro: Muss has dickens of a time with great expectations | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Muss has dickens of a time with great expectations

Joe Santoro

Eric Musselman, apparently, doesn't think we fully appreciate what his Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball team has had to endure this season. The Pack coach, it seems, believes we don't fully understand the pressures and challenges his team faces every game. Why he believes that is anybody's guess. But it's probably because we've given his team and everyone named Musselman our fullest support, heaped constant praise upon them all and will tell anyone who listens they'll never lose a game. How silly of us. "It's a grind for these guys because they are student athletes," Musselman said last week, "the pressure they play under every night. Tonight (against New Mexico last Saturday), there was a lot of pressure. You don't know. We can feel it. If we lose this game (the Pack won by 29 and coasted the final 30 minutes), then the same team beat us twice (this season). We couldn't lose this game. So that's pressure . . . We have such an incredibly hard schedule coming up. We have so many hard venues to go play in. The media, the fans, my wife, my daughter, nobody understands how hard it is to win a game. I've said it over and over. You walk out there every night and it's a 50 percent chance."

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OK, yes, it's a bit disturbing that yours truly, someone who's 60-plus years old and has covered the sport of basketball professionally as a journalist for four decades, would be lumped in with an 8-year-old in any sort of basketball conversation. But that, evidently, is what you get when you constantly fawn over a team and its coach and sing its praises. So now, I guess, it's only fitting that I wear my fuzzy wolf ears to Wolf Pack games.

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"When this season started, if someone said we'd be 24 games in and have just one loss, nobody would have thought that was going to happen," Musselman also said last week. Well, not quite. Some of us firmly believed this team could be 23-1. Heck, we still think this team could end up 39-1 and win a national title. Silly us.

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The pressure of this season is obviously starting to get to Musselman a little bit. He's now lecturing his adoring media, fans, wife and daughter about the difficulties of his job. And, you can be sure, it's only going to get more intense. That's understandable. Musselman has never had a team this good at any level. Forget the D-League, the CBA, the USBL, the Venezuelan National Team, Team China in the Adidas Global Experience. He now has a real championship within his grasp. He can taste it, smell it and almost reach out and grab it. This is the season he's waited for his entire career and, well, it's staring him right in the face. He's starting to close ranks. From here on out, it's just him, his scouting reports, his game films, his X's and O's, his buddies in the coaching profession who can point him in the right direction and yes, his players. This is the season of all of their lives and the moment is here. Now that's pressure.

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It's the national media, the ones who are lucky if they've seen one Pack game in person this season, who don't fully understand how good this team is this year. Jay Bilas of ESPN thinks the Wolf Pack is a "Final Four contender" but don't get too excited. Bilas thinks the Pack is the 11th best team in a group of 13 that could go to the Final Four. Don't forget the Pack is 23-1 and has been ranked in the Top 10 all year long. The NCAA selection committee said last Saturday the Pack is the 14th best team in the nation. So maybe Musselman's comments weren't directed toward the Pack fans and media and his immediate family after all. We just happen to be the ones he talks to at the Pack games while the national media is off watching the ACC, Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12, Big East and Big 12.

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Does the Wolf Pack, as Musselman says, really face a 50-50 chance of losing each time it steps out on the court? Of course not. ESPN, according to its Matchup Predictor, believes the Wolf Pack has an 80 percent or greater chance to win six of its last seven games. The seventh (at Utah State on March 2) is now at a 63 percent chance of Pack success. If the Pack truly had a 50-50 chance of losing each time out it would be ranked No. 1 in the nation right now with a 23-1 record. The Nevada sports books would have gone broke by now if all the Pack games were pick 'ems, given how much this community believes in this team. There's nothing 50-50 about this Pack season unless, of course, you're giving odds on whether or not Musselman will coach the team in 2019-20.

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The Wolf Pack, we remind you, has won nine games in a row. It's the second longest winning streak in the Musselman era behind the 14-game streak to open this season. With victories in the final seven regular season games (starting Saturday at Wyoming, where ESPN believes the Pack has a 98 percent chance of success) the Pack can equal its school record for wins in a row at 16 (2011-12 and 1965-66). Tack on nine more in the Mountain West tournament (three) and NCAA tournament (six) combined and the streak will be at 25 in a row going into next season. But that's just us once again, I'm afraid, not fully appreciating the challenges and pressures ahead for this team. Silly us.