Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Wolf of Virginia Street ~ Save Mart Setback

The last two games of 2016 and first two games of Mountain West play were equal measures of kind and cruel to the Pack.

The Bullet Points

  • Nevada’s Mountain West slate started off with a huge crowd taking advantage of a dirt cheap ticket promotion to watch the Pack dismantle San Jose State 80-55. In a game reminiscent of some of the old WAC beatdowns they used to dish out, Nevada’s balanced scoring, smothering defense and near-permanent residence on the boards methodically vivisected the Spartans. But the game was much more intense and emotional than the final score would suggest, and some of that came to a head when Josh Hall fell awkwardly to the base of the hoop after a foul, and had to be carried off the court on a stretcher. Diagnosed with a concussion and released from the hospital two days later, Hall’s absence became the second in a series of unlucky setbacks for the team, and it arguably played a small part in the team’s frustrating 77-76 loss at Fresno State. The Pack got worked over in the paint — outscored 50 to 16 in that area — by a team who hadn’t had a win over a top-200 RPI team all season long, but also couldn’t fix its turnover issues or get to the free throw line as often as they’re used to doing. It all added up to a woulda, coulda, shoulda kind of night, and an unceremonious end to the team’s seven-game winning streak.

  • Although the Pack’s at-large profile is technically still chugging along, it took a hit roughly the size of Terrell Carter, the Bulldogs’ Sherman tank in basketball shorts. And on-court artillery aside, that ain’t good. Even with the Mountain West continuing to be more water than substance, you’re supposed to save your mulligan losses for places like San Diego and Albuquerque. Using one up in Fresno? That’s a bad look no matter how you angle it. And for the first time I can recall since he took the head coaching job, I have to put the team’s current predicament — if you can call it that, at the moment — on Muss. For all of the obvious good he has done and continues to do for Nevada basketball, his frequent use of scholarships on players who can’t play right away is deserving of some criticism. The Martin twins, Kendall Stephens and Hallice Cooke are all helplessly watching Nevada grit its way through another season with a thin bench. Even just one of them could’ve been swapped out for another freshman phenom to take some of the pressure off of Nevada's seven other currently healthy scholarship players. Marcus Marshall and Jordan Caroline did that same dance last year, and while both have turned out to be absolutely worth the wait, relying on transfers year after year who have to sit out gets harder to justify unless every one of them meets that same incredibly high standard. In the present, work on improving defense and taking better care of the ball, of course. But also consider recruiting tactics that don’t tie a hand behind your back when new challenges — injuries, suspensions and the like — inevitably arise.

  • The setback at Save Mart, coupled with the team’s continued thin bench, has made their already bumpy second week of Mountain West play even bumpier. Wednesday night’s tangle with San Diego State, in particular, might have gone from “statement game” to “must-win rebound game.” And thanks to the Aztecs’ own surprising loss on Sunday, it’s safe to assume they’re going to be in a similarly desperate mindset. Throw in a follow-up trip to the Pit — another arena where Nevada has been heinous of late — and a 1-3 start to conference play is a disturbingly real possibility. Now the team’s focus shifts back to Lawlor Events Center, where the team is still unbeaten as of today. The Wolf Pack went 4-5 in conference road games last season, and any remaining hope they have for an at-large bid depends on two things: beating that mark, and holding serve at home. Three or more losses at Lawlor in conference play would all but end the Pack’s at-large chances. More than ever, home court advantage will determine who wins this league, and if a lackluster scene like the one in Fresno can make a difference, you can bet Lawlor is capable of having an even bigger impact. That’s the good news in the long term. The bad news in the short term is that Nevada’s current handicaps have the potential to end those postseason aspirations before January is out.

The Beer

Mother Earth Cali Creamin’ Vanilla Cream Ale (Vista, California) ~ We’re dipping in to the San Diego beer scene once again for this week’s tilt with the Aztecs. Best described as the ale version of the classic American pale lager, cream ales are highly carbonated, easy-sipping beers with low hop and malt profiles. If you or a friend are new to craft beer, they can be a useful entry point. But as Mother Earth proves, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be bland or forgettable. Cali Creamin’ poured a clear, straw golden color with a pleasantly large, white head that smelled of vanilla and some cereal grains. The taste started with those same grains — a bit like corn flakes, to be honest — and gave way to just the right dollop of that same vanilla flavor. The medium-bodied, creamy taste finished nicely dry and crisp. Even though it had the feel of a homemade vanilla cream soda, it still wasn’t overly sweet, and that worked in its favor. It’s a classic lawnmower beer with appeal for beer snobs and novices alike. I give it four tipsy Wolfies out of five.

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