Joe Santoro: Nevada Wolf Pack now big bad wolf | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Nevada Wolf Pack now big bad wolf

Joe Santoro

Joe Santoro

The Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball team isn't going to sneak up on anybody next season. The Wolf Pack isn't going to be a Cinderella story. The Pack isn't going to be the Biggest Little Basketball Team in the World next season. The Pack isn't going to be the heartwarming Loyola-Chicago type of story for the 2019 NCAA tournament. That's because the Wolf Pack is one of the big boys. The Pack is now the big bad wolf and not Little Red Riding Hood. The Wolf Pack is ranked in the Top 12 of practically every 2018-19 college basketball rankings. NBC Sports ranks the Pack eighth. ESPN and CBS Sports has the Pack 10th in the nation. Sports Illustrated and Bleacher Report has the Pack as the 11th best team in the country. That's what winning two NCAA tournament games can do for a program. It can dump a truck load of national expectations on you. The Pack needs to get used to that gigantic bull's eye on the back of its uniforms. It's not going away anytime soon.

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All of the attention, respect and expectations placed on the Pack are warranted and justified. The Wolf Pack should win 30 or more games next year. The Pack should win the Mountain West regular season title and, if motivated, the conference tournament title. We should be watching the Pack play for a spot in the Elite Eight and maybe even the Final Four next March. The Pack loses just one significant player (Kendall Stephens) off of last year's 29-win team and will add roughly a half dozen new players who could all contribute. Coach Steve Kerr allowed the Golden State Warriors' players to coach themselves for one game this season and we wouldn't be shocked if Eric Musselman turns over the bulk of the boring Mountain West schedule to seniors Cody and Caleb Martin, Jordan Caroline and Lindsey Drew while he (Musselman) goes out on recruiting trips or national television and radio interviews.

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Nothing, however, is ever easy for Wolf Pack fans. Pack fans were served a jolt of anxiety this week when, as expected, Caleb and Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline all announced on social media they would test the NBA draft waters. Don't worry, Pack fans. This means nothing. Declaring for the NBA draft is just something every college basketball player who can chew gum and dribble at the same time does almost every April. College basketball players used to go to Florida or some island beach after the NCAA tournament. Now they get ready for the NBA draft combine. Going to the NBA draft combine and going through private workouts with NBA teams is just a fancy way for a player to get feedback and improve his game. Think of it as a free basketball clinic.

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Cam Oliver did the same thing a year ago and in the spring of 2016 and left the Wolf Pack last year despite not even getting drafted last June. That, too, didn't surprise anyone. Everyone close to the Pack program knew even back in the 2016-17 season Oliver was going to turn pro. That doesn't make Oliver a bad person. It doesn't make him any less intelligent than the Martins or Caroline, who will likely come back to the Pack for their senior seasons. All it does is make Oliver a young man who wanted to start his professional career. Oliver, who's still only 21 years old, had a solid rookie season in the G League (short for Gatorade), averaging 10.8 points and 7.1 rebounds in just 24 minutes a game with two teams (Delaware and Wisconsin). He's likely better equipped to play pro ball now than he would be if he stayed in college for another year. He's certainly not less equipped for the pro game now. And that was his goal all along.

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Lost in all of the hype and excitement surrounding the men's basketball team is the promise and hope for the Wolf Pack football team. The football team has started spring practices (the spring game is April 28 at Mackay Stadium) and, well, it should be an interesting season this fall up on north Virginia Street. In fact, it could be the breakout type of season Pack fans have been waiting for since things turned sour after the breakout 2010 season. Expect the Wolf Pack to score a ton of points with a senior quarterback (Ty Gangi) throwing to an experienced group of receivers (led by Brendan O'Leary-Orange and McLane Mannix). All the defense has to do is hold teams under 35 points for this Pack team to win at least eight games and compete for a Mountain West division title.

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Wolf Pack football is also going to get some national attention on April 26-28 during the NFL draft. Former Wolf Pack offensive tackle Austin Corbett is projected all over the internet as a possible second-round pick. The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Corbett (he'll add 10-20 pounds and play at 315-325 in the NFL) is one of the best stories in this draft. He'll likely play guard in the NFL, just like his former Nevada teammate Joel Bitonio, now with Cleveland. A walk-on out of Reed High, Corbett worked his tail off in the classroom and on the football field as a member of the Wolf Pack and now seems headed to a long NFL career.

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NFL teams seem to fall in love with most every so-called top quarterback available in the draft. This year it's Wyoming's Josh Allen, USC's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen, Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield and Louisville's Lamar Jackson and one of them will likely become the top pick by the Cleveland Browns. If this draft goes the way most end up, three of those five will likely be mediocre or busts in the NFL. In 1983 no less than six quarterbacks were taken in the first round. Three were indeed great (John Elway, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino) but two were mediocre at best (Tony Eason, Ken O'Brien) and one was a flat out bust (Todd Blackledge). And that's widely considered the best quarterback draft in history. This is what the Browns should do. Cleveland should take either Penn State running back Saquon Barkley or North Carolina State defensive lineman Bradley Chubb with the top pick and then come back at No. 4 and pick either Barkley or Chubb (if available) or Notre Dame offensive lineman Quentin Nelson. The Browns can always get a quarterback bust in round two. The Browns can't afford another first-round bust.