Wolf Pack athletics are now solid overall | RecordCourier.com

Wolf Pack athletics are now solid overall

Joe Santoro

Sports fodder for a Friday morning …

The Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball team is not going to sneak up on anybody next season. The Wolf Pack is not going to be a Cinderella story. The Pack is not going to be the Biggest Little Basketball Team in the World next season. The Pack is not 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 is 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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The Wolf Pack men's basketball team, according to Joe Lunardi of ESPN, will be a No. 3 seed in next March's NCAA tournament. Talk about pressure. Lunardi is basically saying the Wolf Pack will win the Mountain West regular season and tournament titles (no other Mountain West teams are picked to even go to the tournament) and likely lose less than five games. Of course, tournament brackets and rankings (ESPN says the Pack is the No. 10 team in the nation for 2018-19) put together a little less than a year before the tournament starts are meaningless. But it does shine a light on what the Pack will be facing next year. Ever game will be like a tournament game next year. Every loss will be meaningful. The Wolf Pack will play under a national spotlight all year. Anything less than a trip back to the Sweet 16 will be a disappointment.

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The general feeling among Wolf Pack fans is that the men's basketball team will be competing for Mountain West championships and NCAA tournament berths as long as Eric Musselman is head coach. And it's difficult to argue against that feeling. But will the 2018-19 season be Musselman's best chance as long as he is at Nevada at getting to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament? Caleb and Cody Martin, Lindsey Drew and Jordan Caroline will all be seniors. The team might never be more respected heading into a season as it is right now. The Pack will likely always be good as long as Muss is around. But this might be its best chance at being truly great.

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Do not be shocked if you are watching the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers this June for the fourth consecutive year in the NBA Finals. Yes, the Warriors went 7-10 to close the regular season. And, yes, the Cavs roster around LeBron James seemingly changed every month this year. But both teams treated the regular season as if it was simply one long NFL pre-season schedule. There has never been a NBA regular season as meaningless as the one we just witnessed. The 16 teams that made the playoffs just might have been the only 16 teams that even wanted to make the playoffs. The vast majority of the other 14 seemed to be tanking. The playoffs are the only part of the NBA schedule that matters. The Cavs and Warriors know how to win in the playoffs.

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If LeBron James does indeed win a championship with this Cavs team, well, you can stop debating about who is the greatest player in NBA history. You can already make a solid argument for LeBron as the greatest ever. Pick any position on the floor and LeBron could play it at a high level. His career numbers will be staggering once his career ends. He's already been to eight NBA Finals, the last seven in a row. If he makes it eight in a row this year and adds his fourth championship with this rag-tag group of teammates, well, it just might be the single greatest achievement by a superstar in NBA history.

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It's time we all start to appreciate the brilliance of Russell Westbrook. There is no doubt that he is one of the most selfish players in NBA history. So, go ahead, call him selfish. But there have been a lot of selfish players in NBA history. See Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant as examples 1 and 1A. But none of them have ever come close to what Westbrook has done, averaging a triple double over the last two seasons. Westbrook dominated the NBA last year averaging 31.6 points, 10.4 assists and 10.7 rebounds as the first player in league history to average a triple double since Oscar Robertson in 1961-62. But most fans and many media types simply labeled him selfish. So what did he do this year? He took 254 fewer shots overall compared to a year ago (257 fewer 3-point attempts), tried to get new teammates Paul George and Carmelo Anthony involved in the offense, and still averaged a triple double (25.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, 10.3 assists).

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NHL Stanley Cup fun facts: There are more teams from the state of California (San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim) in the Stanley Cup playoffs than from the country of Canada (Winnipeg and Toronto). There are also more teams from the states of Nevada (Las Vegas), Tennessee (Nashville) and Florida (Tampa Bay) combined than from Canada. It's great for hockey in California, Nevada, Florida and Tennessee that their teams are doing well. But hockey is mere entertainment in those places. In Canada, not to mention cities like Chicago, New York, St. Louis and Detroit, which are all void of playoff hockey this spring, it is a lifestyle.

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Not much has gone right for the San Francisco Giants so far. The pitching staff has been gutted by disabled list trips for Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija, Johnny Cueto and Mark Melancon. Evan Longoria can't buy a hit and Andrew McCutchen and Hunter Pence haven't been much better except for a few bright moments. The two Brandons — Belt and Crawford — have combined for 27 strikeouts in 64 at-bats. Joe Panik has had three good swings. And the team was still a respectable 5-6 on Thursday morning. Keep the faith, Giants fans.