Joe Santoro: Nevada Wolf Pack hoops still a top 25 team | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Nevada Wolf Pack hoops still a top 25 team

Joe Santoro

Joe Santoro

The Nevada Wolf Pack's stay in the national Top 25 college basketball rankings might last only slightly longer than it takes for coach Eric Musselman to take off his shirt after winning a championship. The Wolf Pack, which found itself in the Top 25 rankings this week for the first time since the 2006-07 season, lost at Texas Tech (82-76) in overtime on Tuesday. A win over No. 20 TCU on Friday in Los Angeles might be needed to keep the Pack in the Top 25. But win or lose, there's no doubt the Pack is one of the best 25 teams in the country. The loss to Texas Tech proved that notion as much as any of the Pack's eight victories this year. Texas Tech, ranked No. 26 in the nation, needed an unfair advantage at the free throw line to beat the Pack. The Red Raiders were 26-of-38 from the line while the Pack was just 14-of-17. That's what happens on the road against good teams. But you can be sure the Pack will learn from the loss. Musselman will make sure of it. This Wolf Pack basketball team is no Mountain West mirage. It's the real deal.

•••

We will find out even more about the Wolf Pack when the challenge is No. 20 TCU at the Staples Center. TCU, which has won 14 in a row dating back to its five-game sweep to win the NIT a year ago, averages nearly 90 points a game. The Horned Frogs are similar to the Pack. Both teams have an impressive ability to share the ball (TCU is 6th in country with 20.2 assists a game, the Pack is 30th at 17.9 a game) and score the ball (both average more than 80 points a game). TCU and the Pack are also two of the best 3-point shooting teams (both shoot more than 40 percent) in the country. It could be a wild game if both teams adjust to Kobe Bryant's old rims. There will be a NCAA tournament atmosphere Friday at the Staples Center with two good teams playing on a neutral court. Watching Musselman work the bench and the refs (against a top coach like TCU's Jamie Dixon) will be fun all by itself. A Wolf Pack victory on Friday could propel Musselman's men to the greatest season in school history.

•••

The most disturbing statistic to come out of the Texas Tech loss, though, was the lack of production from the bench. Musselman saw fit to use just three players (Elijah Foster, Hallice Cooke and Josh Hall) off the bench for a total of just 34 minutes. The trio combined for just three points (all by Cooke from the line), three assists and seven boards (five by Hall). The Wolf Pack bench was outscored 30-3 by Texas Tech's bench and is likely a big reason why the Red Raiders outplayed the Pack down the stretch in both the first and second half and in overtime. The Wolf Pack is talented but not talented enough to beat Top 25 teams away from home with just five players providing all of the production.

•••

Recommended Stories For You

If Wolf Pack quarterback Ty Gangi needs a reason to motivate himself for next season all he needs to do is look at the Mountain West All Conference teams from this year. Gangi was named Honorable Mention when he clearly deserved to be the Second Team All Conference quarterback. That honor went to Boise State's Brett Rypien. Gangi passed for more yards (3,012-2,495) and more touchdowns (27-14) than Rypien. Gangi had the only two 400-yard passing games in the conference this season. The Pack quarterback was also second in the conference in total offense (291.5 yards a game) while Rypien was fifth (206.7). Yes, Gangi was benched for two games this year but Rypien was basically a part-time player all season, sharing time at quarterback with Montell Cozart. Rypien was named Second Team because his team won its division (and later the conference championship) and Gangi's team won just three games.

•••

San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny deserves to be in New York on Saturday for the Heisman Trophy announcement. Penny, though, won't be there because the only three players given invitations to the party are Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield, Stanford's Bryce Love and Louisville's Lamar Jackson. Nobody is saying Penny should have won the award (though you could make a strong case for it) but he should've been invited to New York so the entire country could appreciate what he did this year. Penny led the entire nation in rushing with 2,027 yards. His 24 total touchdowns (19 rushing) were second in the nation. His 144 points were also second and, no, he didn't score them all against the Wolf Pack. The Heisman is a quarterback/running back award. The most productive running back in the country should be at the party. How difficult would it have been to invite five players to New York?

•••

There's only one bowl game involving a Mountain West team worth paying attention to in the next month or so. That's Boise State against Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl. Don't be surprised if the Broncos give the Mountain West its signature victory this bowl season by beating the Pac-12's Ducks. Oregon is more concerned right now with finding its next head coach. The rest of the Mountain West bowls, though, aren't worth the effort it takes to pick up the remote: Colorado State-Marshall (New Mexico Bowl), Wyoming-Central Michigan (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), San Diego State-Army (Armed Forces Bowl), Fresno State-Houston (Hawaii Bowl), Utah State-New Mexico State (Arizona Bowl). Nevada fans aren't missing a thing by not having to watch the Pack in a meaningless bowl this year.

•••

Jimmy Garoppolo breathed new life, as well as hope and promise, into the San Francisco 49ers last weekend. No, Garoppolo won't make you forget Joe Montana, Steve Young or even John Brodie or Jeff Garcia just yet, but his performance against the Chicago Bears was solid. He completed 26-of-37 passes for 293 yards and led the 49ers to five short field goals in a 15-14 win. As soon as the 49ers surround Garoppolo with some playmakers, those field goals will turn into touchdowns. Garoppolo, like the Pack men's basketball team, is the real deal. But be patient. He's not playing with Roger Craig, Jerry Rice, John Taylor and Dwight Clark.

•••

The Reno Aces did the right thing this week by naming Greg Gross as its manager for the 2018 season. Gross filled in as an interim manager last year (for Jerry Narron, who stayed with the Arizona Diamondbacks all season and never managed a game in Reno) and became one of the top managers in minor league baseball. The 65-year-old led the Aces to an 80-62 record and a spot in the Pacific Coast League playoffs. Gross, who has been with the Aces since 2013, has been a great example of what hard work and perseverance can accomplish. He didn't have any power or speed as a player but lasted 17 seasons in the major leagues and hit .287 with more than 1,000 career hits, turning himself into one of the best contact hitters (just 250 strikeouts in nearly 4,000 at-bats) and pinch-hitters in major league history.