The Bullet Points
- I’m aware that other things happened in Wolf Pack land this week that didn’t involve basketballs. Baseball continued to struggle, softball’s still doing well for themselves in spite of their winning streak coming to an end, and the whole athletic department got a nice honor for all the volunteer work their players put in this year. But this column is about my experience in Las Vegas for the Mountain West basketball tournament, and I’ll be back to more multi-faceted stuff next week.
- With few exceptions, the fans attending the Mountain West tournament are the most dedicated and passionate followers of their respective teams, and they carry themselves the way you’d expect them to. San Diego State and New Mexico had the most fans in attendance, taking over whole corners of the lower bowl of the Thomas & Mack Center to the tune of a few thousand each. Nevada’s contingent was…significantly smaller than both of them. Maybe a few hundred, at most. Thursday’s game against the Lobos proved to be especially awkward, with its close final score and the fact that Nevada fans found themselves surrounded by red in every section they sat in. But even in defeat, the Lobo fans around us were humble and gracious, congratulating us on a good game in spite of being (obviously) dismayed at the outcome. They came out in droves to support a team and coach that haven’t done a whole lot to justify such support, and we would do well to follow their example. Same for the Aztec fans who hosted my Dad and I at their pre-game tailgates, serving up margaritas and being quick to compliment Cameron Oliver at any chance they had. Also, any students looking to infuse life into the currently comatose Blue Crew would do well to look up Youtube videos of The Show at SDSU, and take extensive notes. Your bar has been set.
- Seriously, if you enjoy college basketball, and you’ve never been to a conference tournament before…get off your behind. You’re going to want to go to this one. The last one I attended as a fan was the 2010 WAC tournament at Lawlor, and in pretty much every conceivable way, the Mountain West has those modest gatherings beaten by a country mile. The fan support is bigger and better, the atmosphere is bigger and better, and even in a year when two NCAA bids for the league were a long-shot, the Mountain West tournament still has the look and gravitas of a big-time event. While former WAC rival New Mexico State was getting ready for its title match with Cal State Bakersfield on ESPNU down the street, Mountain West fans were treated to a national anthem shredded by a Las Vegas Strip performer, a pre-game pyrotechnic display and a CBS telecast with Reggie Miller on the broadcast team. Even in a down year, the two conferences are still worlds apart. Don’t kid yourself: we’re very fortunate not only to be a member of this league, but to finally be putting together a team with real potential to add to that league’s already prestigious basketball history. Speaking of which…
- Any lingering doubts as to whether Nevada basketball is back (WHY?!) were utterly dashed like the hopes of every Lobo fan sitting around us on Thursday. Now let’s be clear on a couple of things first: this wasn’t a great New Mexico team they beat, and it wasn’t done in a way that won many style points. But Nevada took another step back towards national relevance when they finally got off the proverbial shneid and won a Mountain West tournament game. Beating a team that had soundly beaten you twice before — with the added challenge of your leading scorer and senior leader still far from 100%, to say nothing of the very pro-New Mexico crowd — is like making a three-course meal out of a package of bologna, some twigs and a can of frosting. Even after the ensuing loss to San Diego State, it was evident that this team had gone as far as they could go until even the fumes they were running on had been utterly spent. This Nevada team is many things: continually underestimated, clinically averse to hitting three pointers, and possessing a bench about as deep as a Rebel fan’s intellect. But they also have enough determination and good old-fashioned vinegar to clean every marble floor at the Bellagio. Twice. They’ve been a wholly unique delight to watch the whole year through, and they’re not done yet.
- Pivoting back to the fan support for a bit, I’d like to have words with you, my readers. Consider the following your call to arms: Nevada basketball needs us from this point forward. This pleasant surprise of a season has been our wake-up call, and the time for excuses has passed. If you want the first three years of their time in the Mountain West to become a distant memory, then go all in with where the program is heading right now. Buy season tickets. Join the Starting 5. Travel to a road game or two. Join Strengthen the Pack. Attend the Mountain West tournament. Attend a postseason game. Improve the basketball program’s foundation by investing in it now and lower its chances of sliding back into mediocrity later. Eric Musselman’s work at Nevada is becoming less of a secret with each passing week, and it’s imperative to do our part to give him as much incentive as we can for him to stick around. We had a chance to do this before in the WAC, when the NCAA Tournament bids and NBA-caliber players were regular and taken for granted. That opportunity was lost, but another one is fast approaching, and we can’t afford to miss out this time. We’ve already made lots of progress together, but there’s still much work to be done. It can start with Wednesday night’s CBI home game against Montana, and carry all the way over into November, when season tickets go on sale. Muss and his players believe in what can be done here, and if you do too, you have the power to prove it.
All fan mail (burning or otherwise) can be sent to:
c/o North RV Lot
Campus of THE University of Nevada
Reno, NV 89557