Expectations are sky high for Pack
June 1, 2018
Sports fodder for a Friday morning …
To almost nobody's surprise, twins Caleb and Cody Martin announced this week that they are returning to the Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball program for their senior seasons. All of the pieces — senior Jordan Caroline also said this week he was coming back — are now firmly in place for the Pack to make a run to the Final Four. There are no more excuses. Anything less than another Mountain West regular season title and at least two wins in the NCAA tournament will make this coming season a huge disappointment. There's never been such lofty expectations placed on a Wolf Pack team in any season and in any sport.
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Don't underestimate what it means to the Wolf Pack that both Martins are coming back. Caleb and Cody Martin are, quite simply, two of the best players to ever play for the Wolf Pack. The Martins could start on any Wolf Pack team in any season and make that team better. The two just might be among the top five players in school history when it comes to their overall game and amount of skills on the court. They are the total package. Work ethic, leadership, intelligence, competitive spirit. There is no way the Wolf Pack would have realized its full potential this coming season without the Martins.
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There are so many opportunities for this Wolf Pack team to establish itself as the best in school history for any sport. Yes, even the 2010 football team could pale in comparison to what this basketball team might accomplish this year. The Final Four and a national championship, of course, are the ultimate goal. And those are realistic goals. But it's not unreasonable for us to expect this basketball team to also break the school record of 29 victories in a season, to win the Mountain West regular season and, yes, the postseason tournament and be ranked in the Top 10 nationally all season long. This Pack team could also turn in a perfect home season. It could become the first in school history to be ranked higher than ninth in The Associated Press national rankings and also become the first to get a NCAA tournament seed better than fifth.
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The Wolf Pack is no longer just Northern Nevada's team. It is a national team with national talent and a national coach. Beating UNLV will always be a priority but the Pack's rivals are also now Villanova, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and anyone else ranked in the Top 10 competing for a top three seed in the NCAA tournament. And don't for a second think that coach Eric Musselman isn't aware of all those lofty goals. He didn't come to Nevada to simply beat UNLV and win Mountain West championships.
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This season is all about Musselman. The talent, experience, leadership and depth is on the roster. Musselman has put together the best team in Wolf Pack history. Heck, this roster might be good enough to split up and become two of the top 10 teams in school history. But right now the Pack has all the feel of an AAU team that is full of talent, egos and NBA dreams. Now, it's Musselman's job to make them a team. Don't bet against him.
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Can the Wolf Pack average close to or even over 10,000 fans a game? Last year's team averaged 9,048 a game, breaking the record of 8,923 set by the 2016-17 team. Before that the record was 8,903 by the 2006-07 team. An average attendance of 9,500-plus should not be a problem, given all the excitement surrounding this team. Northern Nevada has fallen in love with the Musselmans, especially Eric, Danyelle and Mariah, as well as the core players on this team (the Martins, Caroline, Lindsey Drew). And don't forget that freshman Jordan Brown is the most exciting thing to hit Reno since the first arch in 1926. But a five-digit average attendance might be too steep to attain considering the home schedule includes the likes of South Dakota State, Pacific, Arkansas-Little Rock and Cal Baptist.
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Musselman's biggest challenge with this overstocked Pack team will be trying to keep everyone happy. Now that the Martins and Caroline are back, that means the rest of the roster (as of Thursday, that included 13 other scholarship players) will have to somehow divvy up about 100 minutes a game. Musselman, of course, doesn't worry about hurting anyone's feelings. But he's never had a team this deep. It's one thing to coach a team that has about four guys who will play the vast majority of the minutes and take almost every shot, like the Wolf Pack has been since Musselman came to town. It's quite another to have about 10 guys who want a significant piece of the pie.