Starting five carries Wolf Pack to victory | RecordCourier.com

Starting five carries Wolf Pack to victory

Joe Santoro

Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .

The Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball team beat the San Diego State Aztecs Wednesday night at Lawlor Events Center with basically half a team. The Pack outlasted the Aztecs 72-69 without its bench scoring a single point. It is the first time the Wolf Pack bench went scoreless since a 64-62 loss in overtime at Wyoming on Jan. 25, 2014. The Pack bench on Wednesday consisted of just two players. Leland King played a mere three minutes while Devearl Ramsey played 18. The two combined to go 0-for-4 from the floor and never even got to the free throw line. The 21 minutes are the fewest the Pack bench has played in a game since Eric Musselman became coach before the 2015-16 season. What does it all mean? Well, we'll find out as the season wears on. But a couple things are becoming apparent. First of all, Cameron Oliver, D.J. Fenner, Lindsey Drew, Jordan Caroline and Marcus Marshall have to put this team on their backs. And, second, we might not find out what all this means until the Pack is faced with winning three games in three nights in the Mountain West tournament.

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Oliver, Drew, Marshall, Fenner and Caroline have to stay healthy and out of trouble for this Wolf Pack team to win the Mountain West and go to the NCAA tournament. All five of them played 31 or more minutes against San Diego State. One thing is certain with this Wolf Pack team. Musselman is not going to play anyone that he does not trust with the game on the line. And that trust must be earned on a game-by-game basis. King had been playing well, averaging 10.5 points, 8.5 rebounds in 22.5 minutes a game over the Pack's last two games before Wednesday. He entered the San Diego State game with 15:12 to go in the first half. He turned the ball over 34 seconds later and two minutes after that he missed two ill-advised 3-pointers 26 seconds apart. Musselman then sat him on the bench with 11:52 to go in the first half, ending King's night. "We need Leland King to play better than he did tonight," Musselman said after the game.

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You could argue that this is the weakest NFL playoff field in the history of the league. Three teams that got into the playoffs (Miami, Houston and Detroit) were outscored by their opponents this season. That is the most playoff teams that were outscored in the regular season by their opponents in one year since 1996 (Minnesota, Jacksonville and Indianapolis). Connor Cook and Matt Moore are playoff starting quarterbacks this year. Brock Osweiler, who lost his starting job this season, is starting this weekend in the postseason. Detroit is heading to the playoffs with a three-game losing streak. Houston, Oakland, Miami and Dallas all are coming to the postseason off a loss.

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Cook, though, might be the biggest sleeper in the playoffs. He had a terrific college career at Michigan State, beating Ohio State and Iowa in Big Ten championship games and he also beat Baylor in the Cotton Bowl and Stanford in the Rose Bowl. So he's not afraid of the big stage. And don't let the fact that he was picked in the fourth round last spring scare you. Dallas' Dak Prescott was selected 35 picks after Cook in the same draft and his team is favored to go to the Super Bowl out of the NFC. The Raiders can beat the Houston Texans and Osweiler this weekend without a quarterback.

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Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett said this week that Zach Zenner of the Detroit Lions is the best white running back in the NFL. Bennett was very complimentary of Zenner and said all nice things about the former South Dakota State running back. And Zenner took it well, thanking Bennett for the praise. Bennett, of course, was criticized by some members of the media and in social media for bringing up the subject of race. Zenner didn't take offense at what Bennett said so why should anybody else be upset? Bennett didn't say that Zenner is playing only because he is white. If there is a racial issue with Zenner, it's that he wasn't drafted at all after putting up three 2,000-yard seasons at South Dakota State. Why is that? That's a question NFL personnel directors must ask themselves.

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Duke University should have suspended Grayson Allen for more than one game. He blatantly tripped three players over the past year and embarrassed the university and the sport. But nobody should be surprised that Allen's so-called "indefinite suspension" lasted all of one game. If Allen was a marginal player he might have been kicked off the team. But he's one of the best players in college basketball and Duke needs him to make a run at a national title so an "indefinite suspension" turns into a one-game slap on the wrist. In case you haven't noticed, big-time college sports ceased to be about teaching and building character decades ago. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, a product of the Bobby Knight School of Coaching, obviously loves gritty players like Allen. The last thing he wants to do is mute Allen's competitiveness and drive. You might not see Allen trip an opponent anymore, but you can bet he's doing another dozen borderline things during a game just to get an edge.

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The San Francisco 49ers are about to hire their fourth head coach in four years. The once-proud franchise is now a train wreck. The Super Bowl season of 2012 seems like decades ago. And it might be another decade before the 49ers even get back to the playoffs. It's hard to feel confident about the 49ers future with CEO Jed York in control. You can give York credit for blowing up the ship this season. It would have been easy, after all, for York to keep coach Chip Kelly since Kelly still had about $18 million and three years left on his contract. But York just might be a spoiled little rich kid who gets tired with his toys quickly. When they don't work, he just throws them away and gets new toys. The 49ers, thanks to his mother Denise and uncle Eddie, are York's toy. You have to wonder if any coach with options would even want to coach York's toy.