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1,000 Words: How good is Nevada basketball? We're about to find out

Jordan Caroline
Jordan Caroline and the Wolf Pack are loaded with experience. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

Nevada Sports Net columnist Chris Murray is known to be a bit wordy, so we're giving him 1,000 words (but no more than that) to share his thoughts from the week that was in the world of sports.

* THE NEVADA BASKETBALL TEAM has done everything you could have expected this season. It is 7-0. It is one of the 17 unbeaten teams in the nation. It has played the fourth-hardest schedule of those 17 perfect squads. It has won each game by double-digits. Its average margin of victory is 19.7 points. The Wolf Pack offense has been lethal, the best in the country. Its defense has been improved over last year. And it has won at home, on a neutral site and in front of a sellout crowd on the road. So, just how good is this team? We’re about to find out as the Wolf Pack readies to play USC and Arizona State, both gamesx in Los Angeles.

* THE WOLF PACK’S NEXT TWO GAMES – against Pac-12 teams – are going to tell us as much about Nevada as the first seven combined. The Wolf Pack played some decent teams in the season's first three weeks, but none are a lock to get to the NCAA Tournament (only Loyola Chicago has a solid shot). USC and Arizona State are no lock to the make the Big Dance either, but they have NCAA Tournament-caliber talent. USC’s Kevin Porter is a likely lottery pick. Arizona State’s Luguentz Dort should be drafted in the first round, too.

* “WITHOUT A QUESTION, USC is the most talented team we’ve played this year,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. There’s no arguing that, and it’s the most talented team Nevada will face all regular season. These are the kinds of games the Wolf Pack has to play in order to be fully prepared for the NCAA Tournament. While Nevada tried to upgrade its non-conference schedule, it doesn’t play a lot of top-50 programs this season, only Arizona State and USC potentially fitting that mold (SDSU is always talented, too). Nevada needs these kinds of tests to truly be ready for the NCAA Tournament because you don’t get to the Final Four without going through pro-laden teams.

* IF NEVADA SWEEPS THESE Pac-12 teams, then watch out. The Pack could go undefeated in non-conference play and push for the No. 1 ranking in the nation before MW action begins. The Pack will be favored in both games, its experience being a huge point of differentiation between Nevada and the rest of the Top 25 (the Pack starts five fifth-year seniors, an unreal development in college’s one-and-done era). “These next two games are going to be our most challenging to date just because of the name and the brand of the opponent and university,” center Trey Porter said. “These next two opponents, them being in the Pac-12, will be a big test for us. It’s kind of like a way we can prove ourselves.” We certainly think Nevada is one of the nation’s 10 best teams. Go out and thrash USC and ASU and they’ll be no doubt about that.

* NEVADA’S COLLAPSE AGAINST UNLV was one for the ages, the Rebels’ 23-point comeback being the largest in the Fremont Cannon series and the biggest in UNLV history. The Wolf Pack had received some good late-game breaks earlier this season, but it did catch them last Saturday. The Wolf Pack has largely been poor in the fourth quarter the last two seasons, being out-scored 74-40 in the final frame against FBS foes this season and 67-58 in 2017. Nevada nearly gave back big second-half leads against Oregon State (up 30-7) and Air Force (up 28-10) earlier this year before pulling things out in the end. For Nevada to take the next step as a program, it has to be better in the fourth.

* THE WOLF PACK NOW MOVES on to a to-be-determined bowl game, but the sting of the UNLV loss has dulled the fan excitement to some degree. Winning a bowl is great, but keeping the cannon every year is more important. If you gave Nevada fans the option of winning the New Mexico, Arizona or Potato bowl or beating UNLV, the large majority of the base would take the win over the Rebels, as they should. The No. 1 goal is every season should be to keep the cannon blue.

* THE WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM used a waiver claim on LB Reuben Foster less than 48 hours after he was arrested for alleged domestic abuse for the second time in 2018 (it was his third arrest overall this year). This is the same franchise that signed Mark Sanchez instead of Colin Kaepernick earlier this month when starting quarterback Alex Smith busted his leg. Washington wasn’t the only team to put a claim in on Foster. It also isn’t the only team to shun Kaepernick. The message is clear: Get arrested twice for allegedly hitting a woman and you have a spot in the league. Kneel during the anthem in an effort to bring attention to social inequality issues and you don’t.

* THIS IS WHY I LAUGHED when Tony Romo said at last summer’s American Century Championship that Kaepernick would one day get an NFL job. “I think he'll probably get back in at some point,” Romo said in July. “I just think it's going to take an injury or two.” There have been plenty of injuries, yet guys like Sanchez, TJ Yates, Matt Barkley, EJ Manuel, Paxton Lynch and worst of all Nathan Peterman (who has three TDs against 13 INTs in his career) have gotten workouts with NFL teams before Kaepernick. As I wrote a year ago, Kaepernick’s NFL career is over, which is unfortunate because I’m interested to see what could still do on an NFL field.

* THE SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS have floated Madison Bumgarner’s name is trade discussions. The World Series hero only has one year left on his contract and the Giants won’t be competing for a 2019 playoff spot, so trading him makes sense, although he wouldn’t fetch more than one top-100 prospect given the short length of his remaining deal. But new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi can’t want his first big move on the job to be trading a guy who led the franchise to three World Series titles. It's a tough situation for Zaidi, but he needs to tear the Giants down to the studs, even if that means trading Bumgarner and Buster Posey. San Francisco has an old and expensive roster and a bad farm system. It's a bad combo that required trading the faces of the franchise.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

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