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The Wolf of Virginia Street ~ Week 15

We're taking a little break from the rampant -- and soon-to-be-finished-anyway -- football coaching search speculation to focus on Wolf Pack basketball and its path to an NCAA Tournament bid.

The Bullet Points

  • But before I fully dive in to Wolf Pack stuff, I think a quick reminder is in order. The sudden arrest and suspension of Elijah Foster last Monday put a dark cloud over his future with the basketball team, to say nothing of his or his family’s current emotional states, both of which are doubtlessly frayed. While he and those close to him were left to grapple with serious life questions and an arraignment set for the 22nd, the rest of his teammates were faced with the much less serious question of how to move on without his considerable on-court presence. The difference in severity between these two situations should be obvious. Do not mistake my talking solely about Nevada basketball here as being dismissive of what transpired on Monday. My focus in this space, both before and after the events of that day, is on Wolf Pack sports. This focus is not meant in any way to downplay the seriousness of the allegations against Foster, or of any case of domestic abuse. I feel the program has taken appropriate action to address the situation at this time. For now, there’s nothing else we can do but let the justice process unfold further. With all of that said, here’s a look back at the team’s most recent efforts.

  • Luckily for the rest of the team, their next two games weren’t significant challenges, starting with a 77-67 home win over Pacific. This isn’t to say there wasn’t some difficulty, as the teams traded leads throughout the first half before the Pack went on a 22-2 run 30 minutes in, putting the game out of reach. Cameron Oliver led the way (17 points, 8 rebounds, 5 blocks and 4 assists), while Josh Hall and Leland King put in strong supporting efforts to take advantage of their new minutes. The whole team chipped in on a terrific defensive effort that held the Tigers in check without putting them on the foul line often. The Pack followed that up with a cross-country trip to Bradley, where they bucked their trend of strong second halves by racing out to a 20-point halftime lead before coasting to a 91-69 finish. A 2-2 tie in the opening minutes was as close as the Braves would ever get, as Nevada continued its improved 3-point shooting to go along with another big advantage at the foul line and another strong showing from its bench. In a game full of kudos-worthy performances, Lindsey Drew had perhaps the best one, with 11 points, 14 rebounds, and two assists shy of Nevada’s first triple-double since the Carter administration (Jimmy, that is — not David).

  • Up next, the Pack’s reward for taking care of business through a rough period of travel is a week-long break with no games before a quick flight up to Seattle for a date with Washington. Unfortunately for fans, that leaves us plenty of time to ruminate on the (mostly) sad state of Mountain West basketball. After a pretty good build-up that saw Colorado State upset Colorado and Boise State take out SMU, the conference laid an egg in its challenge series with the Missouri Valley. Most egregious among the offenders was San Diego State’s inexplicable loss to Loyola, followed by Utah State blowing a 14-point halftime lead at home to Indiana State, and ending with Fresno State needing overtime to beat one-win Drake. Even with Wyoming and Air Force scoring minor upsets in their wins, the damage to the league’s at-large profile had already been done. Because of its quickly deflating schedule strength, Nevada has a real chance to win each of their last four non-conference games for an 11-2 start, and still not have an attractive profile for an at-large NCAA bid heading into league play. Worse, they probably won’t be able to count on their peers to give them a decent assist in that quest. Take a deep breath and prepare for a potentially very stressful tightrope walk from January to mid-March.

  • Because of Nevada’s increasingly thin margin for error in the coming weeks, I’ve seen a few people on our message board advocating for the return of ESPN’s BracketBuster games. For younger readers, the BracketBusters were a series of games between mid-major basketball teams from conferences across the country, which included Nevada’s former home, the WAC. They were paired every January, and attempted to match potentially relevant teams from different non-power conferences against one another in order to boost their RPIs. The most attractive handful of games were selected for ESPN telecasts one weekend in late February, just in time for the selection committee to hopefully take notice. Some of Nevada’s BracketBuster opponents from those years included Vermont, Akron, Northern Iowa, VCU, Southern Illinois, Missouri State and Iona, and it’s true that some of those games were beneficial to the Pack. But the main reason the BracketBusters eventually ended after 10 seasons was because they were terrible. Or, mostly terrible. For every George Mason, Wichita State or Davidson that came along, there were a hundred other teams that derived absolutely no benefit from it. No TV games, no exposure, no meaningful RPI boost, no busted brackets. Just the headache of a long, cross-country trip in the heart of conference play on short notice to face a team you wouldn’t remember the following week. It should also be pointed out that the Mountain West never participated in the BracketBusters, because they didn’t need to. And while the league’s profile has taken a major hit from defections since the last time the event was played, they still don’t need it now. Don’t let the Mountain West’s current struggles or the Pack's unusual level of benefit from the event blind you to how bad the BracketBusters were for most of its participants. Nevada is better off continuing to invest in its own program, trusting in the league’s eventual recovery, and pursuing exempt tournaments and home-and-home series to boost their schedule strength.

The Beer

Deschutes Jubelale Winter Ale (Bend, Oregon) ~ Here’s the first of two similar winter beers I’m reviewing that get re-released with a tweaked recipe and a new label each year. This year’s Jubelale clocks in at 6.7% ABV, and features a label that looks part Spirograph drawing, part Radiohead album cover. It poured a slightly reddish brown with a small tan head, leaving some nice lacing in my glass with each sip. I detected some cocoa and dark fruits in the aroma, and the tastes included roasted malts, figs, toffee, and faint hints of cocoa and hop spiciness. The whole thing was medium-bodied and finished cleanly. I haven’t been too keen on the Jubelales of previous years, or even their barrel-aged counterpart, but I dug this one. The body could’ve been a little thicker and heartier, but that’s more my personal preference than anything else. It’s a pleasant drinking experience that’ll warm you up a bit on a cold night, so I give it four tipsy Wolfies out of five.

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