Joe Santoro: Nevada Wolf Pack goes from Generals to Globetrotters | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Nevada Wolf Pack goes from Generals to Globetrotters

Joe Santoro
Joe Santoro

Any college basketball team can look good when it plays well. The Nevada Wolf Pack is that rare team that comes along once a generation that can look good when it plays poorly. That’s how good this Wolf Pack team is this season. Even when it’s bad it’s good. The Pack played its worst half of basketball of the season against one of the worst teams in the nation Wednesday night and still beat the San Jose State Spartans easily, 71-54. The Pack shot 27 percent from the field in the first half (3-of-13 on threes), scoring just 24 points. The Washington Generals used to play better against the Harlem Globetrotters. There were a lot of reasons for the Pack’s ugly play. No Cody Martin (Achilles injury), nobody in the stands (just 1,738 showed up), no intensity on the floor and no talent on the opposing team’s bench. No reason to be concerned.

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Is it possible for a conference to simply vote a school out of the league? San Jose State offers the Mountain West nothing except a nice airport, a short drive to the ocean and easy access to some great restaurants. A crowd of less than 2,000 (the Spartans are averaging around 1,500 a game) in men’s basketball is embarrassing to the entire league (it happens far too often in the Mountain West). The Spartans basketball team has lost 21 of its last 25 games dating back to last February. It’s 53-147 since 2010-11. The football team was 2-11 this past year. It has gone 21-41 since 2012. The school has few fans. It has almost zero presence in the Bay Area. The Wolf Pack’s RPI in basketball dropped about five spots Wednesday night just by playing the Spartans. San Jose used to be one of the most underrated Division I sports programs in the nation. Those days, unfortunately, were when gasoline was about 35 cents a gallon and every show on television was in black and white.

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Mountain West basketball right now is a two-horse race between the Wolf Pack and Boise State. After Saturday night at Lawlor Events Center, when Boise comes to town, it could turn into a one-horse race after a Wolf Pack victory. By the end of the year it could look like Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont. No coach takes away the opposing team’s biggest weapon better than the Wolf Pack’s Eric Musselman and, well, that means you Chandler Hutchison. The 6-foot-7 Hutchison leads the Mountain West in scoring at 19.6 a game and is sixth in rebounding (8.3), ninth in field goal percentage (.472) and assists (3.2) and second in defensive rebounding (7.3). He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school four years ago and last year he flirted with the NBA draft before coming to his senses (unlike Cam Oliver). He’s probably the leader right now for Mountain West Player of the Year. He’ll have his chance to prove it on Saturday. In other words, he’ll have a huge orange and blue Boise bull’s eye on his back on Saturday.

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The Wolf Pack, though, might have a difficult night controlling Hutchison and the Broncos if Cody Martin doesn’t play. Martin, who injured his Achilles’ last Saturday against Utah State and didn’t even play at San Jose State, is the Wolf Pack’s glue. He makes everything work and fall into place. The guess here is the Pack was simply resting Martin and making sure he was ready for Boise on Saturday. But if the Pack can indeed go out and beat Boise State with just one Martin (Caleb) on the floor, well, consider the Mountain West race over.

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Marcus Williams’ effort in the final seconds of the New Orleans Saints’ playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings has to be the single worst defensive play in the league’s postseason history. It looked like one of those high school games when one team lets its water boy get on the field for one play in a real game and the other team agrees to simply fall down as the water boy scores a touchdown. The Chicago White Sox gave a more honest effort against the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 World Series. Somewhere Bill Buckner let out a little laugh.

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The Vikings’ season should be over. They blew a 17-point lead at home, could never stop Saints quarterback Drew Brees with the game on the line and simply didn’t deserve to win. All of that, however, doesn’t mean the Vikings won’t go to Philadelphia and beat the Eagles this weekend. We’re not sure if two luckier teams in the history of the league have ever faced off in the NFC title game than this year’s Vikings and Eagles. The pick here is the Eagles, simply because of the home field advantage. It’s the only intangible we’re sure will actually be in play on Sunday.

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Don’t for a moment believe the NFL is secretly hoping the New England Patriots get to the Super Bowl simply to avoid a boring Jacksonville Jaguars meeting against either the Vikings or Eagles. Blake Bortles against a backup quarterback (Case Keenum or Nick Foles), after all, isn’t exactly Roger Staubach against Terry Bradshaw. But that doesn’t really matter. We would watch the Super Bowl no matter which teams are involved. Make it San Jose State against Utah State and we would watch for the commercials and halftime show. The Super Bowl is a party. It’s a bet. It’s simply an excuse to eat and drink on a Sunday in February.

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The San Francisco Giants just might be a playoff contender this year. The addition of Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen could be enough to make the Giants relevant again. All it takes is 85 victories to get into the wild card hunt. Yes, the Giants won just 64 games a year ago and Longoria and McCutchen, even in their primes, aren’t worth 21 additional victories. But the Giants weren’t a true 64-win team. That was a 79-82 win team if Madison Bumgarner and Mark Melancon don’t get hurt and Johnny Cueto, Brandon Belt and Hunter Pence don’t completely fall apart. If just three of those five (Bumgarner, Melancon, Belt, Cueto and Pence) are more productive than a year ago and Longoria and McCutchen combine for 40-45 homers and about 175 RBI, the Giants will be back in the playoff hunt. Also, National League West Division rivals Arizona (93 wins), Colorado (87) and Los Angeles (104) will have a difficult time matching their win totals of a year ago. Some of those wins will fall to the Giants.