Santoro: Pack has path to repeat its magic from No. 10 spot

Nevada forward Nick Davidson (11) defends against Colorado State guard Joe Palmer (20) during the quarterfinals of the Mountain West men's tournament on March 14.

Nevada forward Nick Davidson (11) defends against Colorado State guard Joe Palmer (20) during the quarterfinals of the Mountain West men's tournament on March 14.
Ian Maule | AP

Sports Fodder:

The Nevada Wolf Pack should have no complaints about how the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee treated them on Sunday.

Yes, the Wolf Pack deserved a better seed than a No. 10. But seeding is just for your program’s ego and media members who have nothing better to talk about. It is meaningless window dressing by the time the dust settles late Sunday night.

What is important is, thanks to the selection committee’s generosity, the Wolf Pack has been put in position for success in this year’s tournament.

The Pack was handed a first-round opponent (the Dayton Flyers) it can certainly beat in a location (Salt Lake City) it certainly knows well. What more can you ask for?

Well, the Pack got more. Much more.

After beating Dayton on Thursday, (1:30 p.m., TNT), it will get a second-round opponent (Long Beach State or Arizona) in Salt Lake it can also beat to get to the Sweet 16.

The Pack’s Sweet 16 opponent would be either Clemson, New Mexico, Baylor or Colgate. None of those teams should also frighten the Wolf Pack. The Packs’s Elite Eight opponent would be either North Carolina, Howard or Wagner, Mississippi State, Michigan State, Saint Mary’s, Grand Canyon, Alabama or Charleston. Yes, that is a bit more frightening. Nobody ever wants to play North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament. But it’s nothing a Wolf Pack team that has already won its first two tournament games couldn’t handle.

Want some more good news for the Pack? After winning two games in Salt Lake this week, the Pack would then go to Los Angeles to win two more and go to the Final Four.

That means Pack fans would have either a short flight or a long but manageable car ride to see the Pack’s first four NCAA Tournament games.

What more can you ask for, Pack fans?


Dayton, a 24-7 team out of the Atlantic-10, certainly does not deserve a No. 7 seed. The Las Vegas oddsmakers agree, making the 26-7 Wolf Pack, a No. 10 seed, a slight (1.5 points) favorite on Thursday over the Flyers.

NCAA Tournament seeding, of course, has nothing to do with reality. It’s just a random designation attached to teams so the selection committee can fill out its 68-team bracket. Pay no attention to seeding. It’s just an opinion-based number created by people who likely have never seen your team play in person.

The initial reaction out of the Mountain West on Sunday, though, was that the seeding was a measure of disrespect by the selection committee. That is ridiculous for a number of reasons, especially considering the Mountain West received six invitations to the tournament, the most in the conference’s history.

San Diego State, a team whose reputation this year was based on getting to the NCAA tournament title game a year ago, received a No. 5 seed. The Aztecs lost 10 games this year and are a shell of the team that went to the Final Four a year ago. They were just a No. 5 seed in the Mountain West Tournament.

New Mexico won the conference tournament last week but that was only because the top four seeds, with a NCAA Tournament bid already in their pockets, mailed it in and went a combined 1-4. They should have lost their first game to Boise State and headed to the NIT.

The Lobos got a No. 11 seed this week and probably deserved better, especially considering the Mountain West is now a six-bid league. You win the league tournamet and get the worst seeding of any Mountain West team in the NCAAs? That doesn’t make sense.

Boise State and Colorado State were given the indignity of having to play First Four games this week with a No. 10 seed as the prize if victorious.

Colorado State beat the Pack in the conference tournament and ends up having to sing for its supper in a First Four game just to get a No. 10 seed while the Pack is handed a No. 10 seed and goes right to the first round. Nothing the NCAA does tends to make sense.

But both Colorado State and Boise State are 10-game losers and should send the selection committee a thank you note for even being included in the NCAA Tournament, even though, of course, they are not actually in the field of 64 yet.

Utah State (27-6), which won the league regular-season title and exited the tournament in its second game, was seeded about right at No. 8. Utah State overachieved in the regular season and was, in reality, about the sixth-most talented team in the Mountain West this year.

So where, exactly, was all the disrespect the Mountain West received from the selection committee? Nevada and New Mexico probably have the most legitimate complaints but, really, what does it matter now?

The bottom line is that the Wolf Pack, a No. 10 seed, has the very same path to a national title as No. 7 Dayton. The most important thing about Selection Sunday is hearing your name called. Seeding is just the bow on the package. You rip it off after getting the package and never see it again.

Then again, if seeding truly does bother you, then there is one way to prove your point. Go out this week and win and keep winning.


The No. 10 seed is lucky for the Pack. This is, after all, the 20th anniversary of the Pack’s memorable run to the Sweet 16 in 2004. And they did two decades ago as a No. 10 seed, the only other time before this year the Pack was a No. 10 seed in its previous 10 NCAA tournaments.

The Pack upset both No. 7 seed Michigan State and No. 2 seed Gonzaga in 2004 in the first two rounds before losing to No. 3 seed Georgia Tech.

This year the path could be through No. 7 seed Dayton, No. 2 seed Arizona and No. 3 seed Baylor if the No. 10 seed magic repeats itself and takes it a step further. No. 9 Michigan State, which likely still holds a grudge against Nevada from 2004, is on a collision course with the Pack in the Elite Eight game.


Dayton is a team that loves to slow the pace and shoot threes. The Flyers are one of just three teams in the nation shooting threes at a 40 percent clip or better, along with Kentucky and Purdue.

Dayton is 295-of-734 from beyond the arc, with four starters (DaRon Holmes, Nate Santos, Koby Brea and Kobe Elvis) with at least 30 threes and shooting better than 37 percent. Brea is 91-of-185 (49 percent) and Santos is 50-of-117 (43 percent).

Holmes, which averages 20.4 points and 8.4 rebounds, is the only player in the country with at least 65 blocks, 65 dunks and 65 assists. He also makes nearly 40 percent of his threes (30-of-78).

Dayton, though, wants opponents to collapse on the 6-foot-10 Holmes so Holmes can toss it back out to Brea and Santos for open threes. If you don’t double Holmes, he just dunks on you.

The Wolf Pack, which features one of the best perimeter defenders in Tre Coleman, allows opponents just a 32 percent success rate on threes. Pack point guard Kenan Blackshear, a 6-6 powerhouse, loves to bully smaller guards. The Dayton point guards are Javon Bennett (5-10) and Elvis (6-2).


Holmes is the heart and soul of the Flyers, the sun around which everything Dayton does revolves. He led the Flyers in scoring in 21 of their 31 games this year and in rebounding 23 times. He’s projected to be a late first-round or early second-round pick in this year’s NBA draft. A great and extended NCAA Tournament might make him a late lottery pick.

The Pack doesn’t have a player that resembles Holmes in any way, shape or form. He’s basically the Wolf Pack’s Nick Davidson, if, of course, Davidson’s father would have been LeBron James instead of early 1990s Pack center Kirk Davidson.

Holmes is the type of player that will foul out Pack center K.J. Hymes in about five or six possessions. The Pack certainly doesn’t want the 6-9 Davidson to start picking up fouls guarding Holmes. Holmes, whose first instinct is to block your shot into the parking lot, will present enough problems for the dunk and layup-happy Davidson on the offensive end.


Dayton is not all that great when its leaves the University of Dayton (UD) Arena. The Flyers were 15-0 at home this year, selling out all 15 games (13,407 capacity).

But get the Flyers away from home and, well, you are looking at a team that would be thankful to be in the NIT. Dayton is just 9-7 when it leaves home this year, losing five of its last seven. All of those threes, after all, don’t nestle in the bottom of the net as often when they leave home.

The Wolf Pack’s game, though, translates to both home and away. The Pack won five of its last six games away from Lawlor Events Center and finished 11-5 out of town.

The Pack doesn’t rely on anything but defense, effort, focus and intensity. That works both home and away.


The Pack will feel much more at home in the state of Utah than the Ohio-bred Flyers. The Pack, course, normally plays one game a year in Logan, Utah, against the Utah State Aggies. The last time the Pack played a game in Salt Lake was an 86-71 win over Utah on Dec. 29, 2018.

Dayton rarely travels west of Iowa. But the Flyers have had much more success in Salt Lake in the NCAA Tournament than the Pack.

The Wolf Pack has played just one NCAA Tournament game in Salt Lake, a stunning 87-79 loss to Montana in 2006. That is still the Pack’s single most disappointing effort and result in its NCAA Tournament history.

Dayton, though, beat both LSU and Washington in Salt Lake in the 1984 tournament. They also beat Washington in the Sweet 16 that year in Los Angeles. Washington earlier eliminated the Pack from the first round of the 1984 tournament in Pullman, Wash.


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