Joe Santoro: It’s always time for Pack hoops | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: It’s always time for Pack hoops

Joe Santoro

Joe Santoro

College basketball has become a year-round sport in Northern Nevada. Whether it's Mariah Musselman becoming Reno mayor for a day, Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline jumping into the NBA draft process, 600 fans showing up for a team fund-raiser or another transfer student joining the team, the Wolf Pack men's basketball team has dominated the local sports headlines without even playing a game since losing to Loyola in the NCAA tournament on March 22. Eric Musselman's rock star program did it again on Thursday by announcing it will play Loyola in a rematch of March's Sweet 16 game in Chicago on Nov. 27. That game will no doubt be the Wolf Pack's most anticipated regular season game since North Carolina came to Lawlor Events Center on Dec. 31, 2008. The game in November five days after Thanksgiving and three days after the Wolf Pack football team plays at UNLV, is part of the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Conference Challenge series of games. Give both conferences credit for recognizing how silly it would've been for either team to play anyone else in the challenge series. Pack football season, by the way, starts in just four months.

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The Wolf Pack-Loyola game will have quite a different feel surrounding it in November than it did last March. The game in November will be at 5,000-seat Gentile Arena on the north side of Chicago compared to the 18,000-seat Philips Arena, the home of the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA. There will be no spot in the Elite Eight on the line. The stars of the game in November won't likely be (we assume) Loyola's Sister Jean and Musselman's daughter Mariah. And Loyola will look a bit different on the court than it did in March without departed seniors Ben Richardson, Donte Ingram and Aundre Jackson. And, as far as the Wolf Pack is concerned, one other thing will hopefully be different. If the Pack is trailing by one with under 10 seconds to go and Loyola has the ball, someone from Nevada will have the sense to foul somebody wearing Loyola colors. Foul anyone. Sister Jean, Marques Townes, Porter Moser. Anyone will do.

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This will be just the second time the Wolf Pack will have an opportunity for revenge in the next season against the school that eliminated it from the NCAA tournament the previous March. The only other time was against Washington on Jan. 28, 1985. The Pack lost that game at Washington, just as it did against the Huskies in the NCAA tournament on March 16, 1984. The Wolf Pack has never played Iowa State (2017 NCAA tournament), Memphis (2007), Illinois (2005), Georgia Tech (2004) or North Carolina State (1985) since losing to those teams in the NCAA tournament. The Pack, though, did lose to Montana in the 2006 tournament and got revenge later by beating the Grizzlies in the 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2015-16 seasons.

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Austin Corbett and Joel Bitonio will certainly not be the first former Wolf Pack players on the same professional team in the same season when they play for the Cleveland Browns this fall. The pairing of former Pack players on the same pro team, in fact, is about as rare as a rise in gas prices. There was Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson with the Portland Trail Blazers, Virgil Green and Brandon Marshall have been teammates with the Denver Broncos since 2014. Jonathan Amaya and Rishard Matthews were together with the Miami Dolphins in 2012. Baseball has had a number of Pack combos: Joe Inglett and Lyle Overbay with the Toronto Blue Jays from 2007-09, Inglett and Kevin Kouzmanoff with the Cleveland Indians in 2006, Chris Dickerson and Corky Miller with the Cincinnati Reds in 2009 and 2010 and Dickerson and Chris Gimenez in 2014 with the Indians. Brock Marion and Derek Kennard were together with the Dallas Cowboys in 1993-94 and Stan Heath and Dan Orlich were with the Green Bay Packers in 1949. But the greatest pairing of Pack players in the pros came in the NFL when Horace Gillom, Sherman Howard, Ed Sharkey and Marion Motley were all with the Cleveland Browns in 1952. Gillom and Motley were Browns teammates from 1947-53.

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Can the NBA afford yet another Cleveland Cavaliers-Golden State Warriors matchup in the Finals? The Cavs and Warriors are the only Finals matchup we've seen in NBA history for three consecutive years and this year would be No. 4. The St. Louis Hawks and Boston Celtics met in four-of-five years from 1957-1961 but didn't meet in 1959. This might also be LeBron James' eighth consecutive trip to the Finals and ninth in the last 11. Yes, we're witnessing greatness — LeBron getting this mediocre Cavs team to the Finals would be stunning — but sometimes even greatness can be boring. Warriors-Cavs IV could put the nation to sleep.

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We likely got a sneak preview of the upcoming Wolf Pack football season during the team's annual Silver-Blue spring game on Saturday. The final score at Mackay Stadium was 35-34 as quarterback Ty Gangi passed for 263 yards and four scores. It could be a fairly exciting season up on North Virginia Street this fall with a ton of touchdowns, points, comebacks and blown leads. The Wolf Pack doesn't have Corbett to run behind anymore so the skies above Mackay could be filled with footballs. We'll likely see the true pass-happy Air Raid offense this fall as Gangi and his talented group of receivers should hit the ground throwing this year instead of stumbling through the first month of the season like a year ago.

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Gangi just might be the best quarterback in the Mountain West this season. The Wolf Pack senior was second in the conference last year with 274 yards a game behind Colorado State's Nick Stevens. Expect Gangi to flirt with and maybe surpass 300 yards a game this year. The Mountain West lost a huge chunk of its quarterbacks from a year ago to either the NFL or other universities. Stevens and Wyoming's Josh Allen went to the NFL while Fresno State's Marcus McMaryion transferred to Oregon State and Hawaii's Dru Brown left for Oklahoma State. The best returning quarterbacks will be Gangi, Boise State's Bret Rypien and UNLV's Armani Rogers.