Joe Santoro: Expect the unexpected from Nevada Wolf Pack football, basketball | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Expect the unexpected from Nevada Wolf Pack football, basketball

Joe Santoro
Joe Santoro

After one of the most predictable Nevada Wolf Pack football and men’s basketball seasons in history we’re now heading into one of the most confusing in recent memory. Last year it was easy to foresee about 30 victories, a Mountain West title and another NCAA tournament appearance for the men’s basketball team. No, we didn’t see punches to the Pack gut at Utah State in early March and in the Mountain West and NCAA tournaments but, hey, we were bloated on Silver and Blue Kool-Aid at the time. It was also fairly easy to see seven or eight victories and a bowl game for the Pack football team last fall. Again, what happened at UNLV in late November is a nightmare that won’t soon go away but overall it was a solid Year Two of the Jay Norvell era. This year, though, anything can happen at Mackay Stadium and Lawlor Events Center. A couple of Mountain West titles? A bowl game and NCAA tournament run? Maybe. Or it might be a rebuilding year for both teams. The basketball team has a new coaching staff and almost a completely new roster. The Muss Bus pulled out of town a few months ago and is now painted red and parked in Arkansas. The football team will have a new quarterback and almost an entirely new defense. The 2019-20 Pack football and men’s basketball seasons are anybody’s guess. Expect the unexpected.

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Now that Eric Musselman is crying out “Woo Pig Sooie” every morning when he bounces out of bed, we can now compare the two greatest four-year eras in Pack men’s hoops history. Which accomplished more, 2004-07 or 2016-19? We’d have to give a slight edge to the 2004-07 teams. The 2004-07 teams with coaches Trent Johnson and Mark Fox produced four NCAA tournament teams, four Western Athletic Conference regular season titles and two conference tournament titles. Those teams won four NCAA tournament games and they produced a slightly better winning percentage overall (.797 to .764) than the 2016-19 Pack teams. Musselman’s teams produced three NCAA tournament appearances, two NCAA victories, three Mountain West regular season titles and one conference tournament title.

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The 2004-07 and 2016-19 teams also had one other thing in common. They dominated teams at Lawlor Events Center. The 2004-07 teams were 60-6 at Lawlor, winning one WAC conference tournament, and Musselman’s teams were 58-5, winning a CBI title. Both eras had one perfect home season (15-0 in both 2003-04 and 2018-19). The 2004-07 teams were a combined 32-2 at home in their final two seasons at home while Musselman’s teams were 42-2 in their final three seasons at home. Wolf Pack fans love you when they never see you lose in person.

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The good news for Wolf Pack men’s basketball fans is new head coach Steve Alford is familiar with building a home court advantage. Odds are opponents will continue to dread coming to Lawlor Events Center with Alford as coach. Alford’s New Mexico teams were 92-11 at home from 2008-13. He was also 48-11 at Pauley Pavilion while at UCLA the last four years. His last two Indiana teams as a player (1985-87) were a combined 29-3 at Assembly Hall. Alford has only coached one game at Lawlor in his career (a 75-62 win on March 6, 2013 when he was at New Mexico) but he’ll quickly turn the place into the new Pack Pit.

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Mike Bradeson, who passed away a little over a week ago at the age of 60, is one of the best and most loved football coaches in the history of Nevada college football. Bradeson served as an assistant for 27 seasons at both ends of the state combined. He was a Wolf Pack assistant for Chris Ault and Brian Polian for 13 years (1986-91, 2010-16) and was a Rebel for 14 seasons for three head coaches (Jeff Horton, John Robinson, Mike Sanford) from 1996-2009. Bradeson, like Ault, coached in a record 25 Fremont Cannon games. He also coached for Criner and Lyle Setencich at Boise State and Keith Gilbertson at Cal. His head coaches and his players loved him and he was loyal to them all. Given the way assistant and head coaches now blow in and out of Nevada like the Sierra winds, it’s likely we’ll never see another assistant stay in this state as long as Bradeson. How about naming a Most Valuable Player of the Fremont Cannon game and giving him the Mike Bradeson Award?

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It appears the current Golden State Warriors’ NBA Finals era is now over. Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson will miss all or most of next season with injuries. Nobody knows where DeMarcus Cousins will play next year. Andre Iguodala seems to be running on fumes. Draymond Green came up small in the Finals this year. And Stephen Curry, we found out this year, clearly needs help. The best case scenario is Cousins comes back to the Warriors and Thompson gets healthy by next March or April for a playoff run. The Warriors will still be in the mix for another Finals. But that might be a lot to ask, especially with the Los Angeles Lakers collecting toys this summer. For the Warriors, it’s all about Thompson’s health. If Thompson was in one piece this past month the Warriors likely would have swept the Raptors, with or without Durant.

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If this is the end of the Warriors’ glory years, where does it stand among the NBA dynasties of the past? Well, the Warriors never won three titles in a row, like the Minneapolis and Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls. Minneapolis won three in a row and five of six from 1949-54. The Bulls won three in a row twice and six of eight from 1991-98. The Celtics won eight in a row and 10 of 11 from 1959-69. Los Angeles won three of four from 1985-88, three in a row from 2000-02 and 11 from 1972-2010. All of those dynasties remain ahead of the Warriors’ current era, likely lumped in with San Antonio’s five titles from 1999-2014.