Joe Santoro: Nevada Wolf Pack is one of nation’s top 25 teams | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Nevada Wolf Pack is one of nation’s top 25 teams

Joe Santoro

Joe Santoro

There's absolutely no reason why the Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball team shouldn't be ranked in the Top 25 of both the Associated Press and USA Today Coach's polls. The Wolf Pack is 10-2 with both losses coming against Top 25-caliber teams away from home. The Pack received just 13 points in the latest AP poll and didn't receive a single vote in the USA Today poll. That alone makes the USA Today poll a meaningless joke. The coaches who vote in the poll should be embarrassed. Boise State, picked to finish below the Wolf Pack in the Mountain West this year, got nine votes in the USA Today poll. Rhode Island, a team the Pack beat this year, received six. The Pack is 17th in the nation in RPI, the strength-of-schedule metric the NCAA tournament selection committee looks at closely. The Wolf Pack is clearly one of the best 25 teams in the nation.

•••

It shouldn't be long before the Pack returns to the Top 25 of both rankings and stays there for a long time. The Wolf Pack's schedule is extremely friendly until the final two weeks of February. That's when the Pack must go to Boise State, UNLV and San Diego State in a span of three weeks starting Feb. 14. Before then, though, the toughest stretch of games will be from Jan. 20 through Feb. 10 when the Pack has to play Boise, Fresno State, UNLV and San Diego State. But all those games are at Lawlor Events Center, a place where the Pack simply refuses to lose. The first Mountain West game of the year, at Fresno State Dec. 27, will be a good test. But we could be looking at a Wolf Pack team that's 12-0 in the Mountain West and 24-2 overall going to Boise State on Feb. 14. The Pack might be in the Top 10 by then.

•••

It's difficult to argue with most anything coach Eric Musselman does with the Wolf Pack because, well, he wins. But Musselman is tinkering with his starting lineup (or his players' minds) lately for reasons only he knows. In the last two games against Radford and UC Davis, both 15-point Pack wins, Musselman has used a starter for just one minute (Elijah Foster against Radford) and four minutes (Darien Williams against Davis) the entire game. It's almost as if Foster and Williams got their names picked out of a hat in the crowd and won a ceremonial starting spot for the one game. Caleb Martin, arguably the Wolf Pack's best player (he leads the team in scoring and 3-pointers), is now coming off the bench. Martin, though, played 59 minutes combined against both Radford and Davis. Musselman's strange reasoning for putting Martin on the bench at the start of games is he likes to have Martin coming off the bench all throughout the game. That logic, though, makes no sense because Martin basically just comes off the bench once all game (within the first four minutes) and then stays on the floor.

•••

Recommended Stories For You

Here's all you need to know about the importance of who starts and who comes off the Wolf Pack bench: nothing. Caleb Martin, despite playing with a sore toe all season and starting just six of the 12 games, is third on the team in minutes played (32 a game). The Wolf Pack basically has seven starter-worthy players — Caleb and Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline, Lindsey Drew, Kendall Stephens, Josh Hall and Hallice Cooke — fighting for five spots. But the only real value of starting is the spotlight shines on you in a dark Lawlor Events Center as the public address announcer screams out your name before the start of the game. That's nice but when it's the highlight of your night (like with Foster and Williams this week) it's not that nice. The important thing is minutes. Musselman could start Foster, Williams, Charlie Tooley, John Jones and Alphie every game but it doesn't matter. They'd all be on the bench two or three minutes (more like 30-40 seconds) later and the Martins, Caroline, Drew, Stephens, Cooke and Hall would still get the most minutes.

•••

The best thing to come out of the Wolf Pack's wins over Radford and Davis is point guard Lindsey Drew returned to the offense. Drew was non-existent in the losses to TCU and Texas Tech, taking just three shots and scoring just two points in the two games combined. Against Radford and Davis he combined to score 15 points and take 10 shots. Drew has the ability to do much more on the offensive end — he could easily average 15 points a night if he attacked the rim and took about eight shots a game — but that doesn't seem to be his personality. He still only scores in brief spurts (all seven of his points against Davis came in the first half and six of his eight points against Radford came in the second half). Drew, though, might be the Pack's hidden offensive weapon. Musselman just might be keeping Drew's offense a secret until he needs him the most in the biggest games (the NCAA tournament?).

•••

The San Francisco Giants are not that far away from competing for a playoff spot in 2018. Yes, that seems like a strange statement to make about a team that won just 64 games the year before. But the addition of third baseman Evan Longoria shows the Giants are serious about making a run in 2018. The key, though, is the trade for Longoria needs to be just the start of a string of acquisitions. The Giants must add at least two outfielders who can produce runs. How does a starting outfield of J.D. Martinez, Carlos Gonzales and Jay Bruce sound? Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera, Carlos Gomez, Lorenzo Cain and Colby Rasmus are also waiting for free agent offers. Matt Kemp, Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury could also be had in a deal for a low level prospect or two. The Giants, who don't have an outfielder on their roster right now who deserves as many as 350 at-bats, need to add at least two of the above.

•••

The Giants, ever since they moved into their shopping mall ballpark almost 20 years ago, have never been afraid to spend money. The Miami Marlins can gut their roster every five or six years just to save money but the Giants refuse to go that route out of loyalty to their fans. If the Giants were in Miami there's little doubt after last year the organization would've already dealt Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey to the New York Yankees for a couple of souvenirs from the Empire State Building and Madison Square Garden. The Giants, though, wouldn't do that to their fans, a dedicated and faithful group who even supported that dreadful 64-win team a year ago.