Wolf Pack need to handle prosperity
February 3, 2017
Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .
The Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball team needs to learn how to handle prosperity. They can handle adversity just fine, having avoided losing two games in a row for almost a year. But lately the problems have popped up after they play well for a couple games. The Pack beat San Diego State, New Mexico and Wyoming from Jan. 4-14 and then sleepwalked through a narrow victory over Air Force and a loss to Fresno State. They then turned in two of their most impressive back-to-back Mountain West victories in school history against Boise State and New Mexico on Jan. 25 and 28 and then Wednesday night happened. The loss to the Aggies is the Pack's worst of the year, the first against a team with an RPI higher than 150. Everything the Pack cares about — a Mountain West title, NCAA bid — is on thin ice now with games against UNLV (Feb. 8) and San Diego State (Feb. 12) coming up. Oh, wait. Those games will be coming off a loss. The Pack will be just fine.
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Don't be too alarmed about the Pack's loss to Utah State. It took the worst shooting night for the Pack in the Eric Musselman era for it to happen. The Wolf Pack shot 32 percent from the floor, 15 percent from 3-point range and 45 percent from the free throw line. It is the team's worst shooting performance since a David Carter-coached Pack team lost 98-42 at Colorado State on Jan. 15, 2015, shooting 33 percent from the floor, 10 percent (1-of-10) on threes and 46 percent from the line. Before that you have to go back to a 59-48 loss to Wyoming on Jan. 12, 2013 (29 percent field goals, 46 percent free throws, 1-for-15 on threes) for a game when the Pack shot as poorly as it did on Wednesday. What we saw at Utah State just isn't going to happen anytime soon. It better not.
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Want another reason why you won't see what happened at Utah State happen again anytime soon? Marcus Marshall, who still leads the Mountain West in scoring at 20.3 a game, suffered through the worst shooting night of his four-year college career. Marshall was 1-of-12 from the floor against Utah State and 0-for-7 on threes and finished with two points. It is the most 3-point misses for a Pack player without making one since Jerry Evans also was 0-for-7 at UNLV on Jan. 8, 2014. Marshall had made at least one 3-pointer in 48 of his last 51 games, dating back to late in his freshman year at Missouri State in 2012-13. His 0-for-7 performance on threes against Utah State is his worst ever. His two points against Utah State is his fewest in a game since he failed to score in just eight minutes (for Missouri State) against Hampton on Nov. 24, 2013. He had scored more than two points in 76 of his 80 career games before Wednesday.
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If there is an issue to be concerned with about the Wolf Pack, it is the bench. Musselman just isn't getting consistent minutes from anybody coming off the bench on a night-by-night basis. The wear and tear on the starters' legs might be catching up to the Pack. And it might show up in dreadful shooting nights now and then like the one we saw on Wednesday. The Pack bench played just 20 minutes at Utah State and scored a mere two points. The Pack bench has scored just 19 points over the last four games and 96 minutes combined. When the starters are struggling to score, like at Utah State, Musselman doesn't have any offensive spark to go to on his bench.
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Wolf Pack football coach Jay Norvell insists the Pack added speed, grit, playmakers and versatility to the roster on National Letter of Intent signing day on Wednesday. Norvell stocked up on wide receivers and defensive backs to fit his pass happy "Air Raid" offense and 3-3-5 defensive scheme. The Pack didn't sign one running back and added just two linebackers, two areas that seem to be a luxury in this new Pack offense and defense. And it might be a while before we hear anyone in silver and blue even utter the words "tight end." Although Rivals.com ranks the Pack recruiting class ahead of just three teams (San Jose State, Air Force, UNLV) in the 12-team Mountain West, it seems like Norvell accomplished his goals with his first class. We'll find out in two or three years.
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We might be reading too much into what Norvell has said publicly (and not said), but it seems like David Cornwell is going to be the Pack's starting quarterback the next two years and Ty Gangi is headed back to the bench. Cornwell transferred to the Pack last month from Alabama and has two seasons of eligibility remaining. He was one of the top high school quarterbacks in the nation (from Norman, Okla.) in the fall of 2013 but hasn't throw a pass in a game since. He's also dealt with knee, ankle and foot injuries since his senior year in Norman. Cornwell is big (6-foot-5, 228 pounds) and strong and seems perfectly suited to handle the huge workload (40-50 passes a game) that the Air Raid will dump on a quarterback. It's hard to imagine that a one-time highly sought after recruit would leave Alabama to come sit the bench at Nevada.
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It is always a shock when Tom Brady and Bill Belichick lose a Super Bowl. Yes, it's happened twice before and if it wasn't for the worst play call in Super Bowl history it likely would have happened a third time. So nobody is saying the Patriots are unbeatable in the Super Bowl. All four of their Super Bowl wins, after all, have been by four points or less. So a Patriots' loss on Sunday wouldn't shock the world. The Falcons' offense, after all, is every bit as good as the Patriots offense and might be more explosive. The Falcons could win a wild shootout on Sunday, especially if the two teams combine for 70 or more points. But the difference Sunday will likely be the Patriots defense. The Pats allowed just 15.6 points and 326 yards a game in the regular season. Yes, they didn't play Matt Ryan and the Falcons but the Falcons' defense was mediocre at best (25 points, 371 yards) and they didn't play Brady and the Pats. Patriots 31, Falcons 28.