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Which Wolf Pack will show up in Las Vegas this week?

Deonte Burton and the Nevada Wolf Pack have endured a rollercoaster season.
Deonte Burton and the Nevada Wolf Pack have endured a rollercoaster season.
Nevada Media Services

If you believe you've finally figured out this Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball team, well, you are fooling yourself.

You have no clue. Nobody has any clue. When Dr. James Naismith invented the sport over a century ago he had no idea a group of young men would endure a wild and unparalleled season such as this Wolf Pack season. If he did he would have named his new invention Rollercoaster Ball, installed seat belts on the benches, and would have recommended that every coach's office have padded walls.

Predicting the way this Wolf Pack season would play out on a game-by-game basis has been sort of like predicting which Corn Flake in your bowl would get soggy first.

Did you predict that the Pack would beat UNLV on Saturday night? Well, maybe you did. It wasn't, after all, the Larry Johnson-Stacey Augmon-Greg Anthony Rebels. But did you know the Pack would fall behind by 17 in the second half before waking up?

Yeah, sure you did.

Did you predict a loss to New Mexico last Sunday? OK, you probably did. But did you predict the Pack would be up by 17 late in the first half, too?

No you didn't.

Did you know the Pack would win at UNLV back in early January? Did you think they'd lose at Bakersfield back in November? Did you also think they'd lose at home to Morehead State in November and Nebraska-Omaha in December?

What about losing to San Jose State at home last month? Did you see that coming? Did you think they'd go to Boise State and win last week after losing to the Broncos at home just a month earlier?

You didn't know. But don't feel bad. Nobody knew.

Wolf Pack coach David Carter is proving this year that a bald man can indeed lose his hair during a trying and frustrating season. Carter probably thought of growing his hair this year just so he could pull it out.

It is has been that kind of year up on north Virginia Street. Nothing makes any sense.

The football team loses to UNLV at home and the basketball team beats UNLV twice. Do you know how many times that has happened before in the same season? Never. That's how many.

There is no rhyme or reason for anything that has happened this year. The only consistent thing about this Pack basketball season has been its inconsistency.

The Pack has been good against good teams and bad against bad teams and vice versa. They've been good on the road and bad at home. They've played with passion and other times it looks like they are complaining that the band and bright lights are keeping them awake.

The Wolf Pack lost four games to the teams that earned a first-round bye in the Mountain West tournament this week and they lost four games to the teams that have to play on Wednesday in the first round.

They were up by 14 on New Mexico before losing by 14 and they were down to UNLV by 17 before winning by four. They lost to Boise at home and won at Boise. They go to UNLV and win and they lose to San Jose State at home. They lost 8-of-15 games at home and won 8-of-16 away from Lawlor Events Center.

At one point this season, A.J. West was the savior. Now he's a guy that can barely get off the bench in the second half. He played a whopping total of 48 seconds in the second half Saturday against UNLV.

Point guard Deonte Burton has, at times, looked like the best player in the country. And on a few nights this year he has been the worst player in his own locker room. Carter, at times, has looked like the Mountain West Coach of the Year. And other times he wasn't even the best coach that day.

If you predicted exactly how this Wolf Pack season would go so far, well, you have wasted the greatest streak of good fortune in your life.You should have been immersing yourself in the stock market, buying lottery tickets or living in a casino.

There's no money, after all, in Wolf Pack basketball. Just heartache, amazing thrills, more heartache, more electrifying moments, followed by additional heartache followed by, well, you get the idea. Wolf Pack basketball is like the northern Nevada weather. If you don't like the way things are at the moment, just wait for the wind to shift.

To be honest, we expected a whole lot more moments this year like the one we saw Saturday night against UNLV. Big, appreciative crowd. Burton flying through the air and taking over the game. Emotional victory. Fantastic finish.

We expected this Wolf Pack team to win 20 games. That belief, coming off a ridiculously horrible 12-19 season, was based on a depleted Mountain West that smelled awfully similar like the old Western Athletic Conference and a Burton that would establish himself as one of the top five point guards in the country.

Well, the Mountain West is indeed depleted this year, no matter what the coaches will tell you this week. No team is unbeatable. More than half the teams are awful. San Diego State, the league champ, lost at Wyoming, for goodness sake, and barely beat Air Force twice and Boise State twice. New Mexico lost to Boise, got lucky against Wyoming twice as well as Colorado State and San Jose State once. They also choked away the regular season title Saturday night at San Diego State.

Burton has indeed established himself as one of the top point guards in the nation. We would argue that there isn't a better, more exciting, point guard in the nation. And forget point guards. He's one of the most gifted players at any position in the nation. But he's our little secret. If he was three inches taller he'd be a NBA lottery pick this summer. Then again, if he was three inches taller, he would have left for the NBA after last season. And then we wouldn't have enjoyed one of the greatest nights in Pack basketball history on Saturday.

Our prediction of 20 Pack wins, at second glance, really wasn't too far off. The Pack is sitting at 15 wins right now and should win its first game in the Mountain West tournament on Thursday night against either Boise State or San Jose State just by making sure its eyes are open, its shoes are tied and they have five players on the court at all times. That leaves us four wins short of our prediction of 20. Where should those four wins have come from? Well, how about Morehead State, Bakersfield, Nebraska-Omaha and San Jose State?

But, if we've learned nothing else this season, we've learned that this Pack basketball team is determined to prove that nobody can predict what it will do. It's almost as if they lose games on purpose to horrible teams just to prove everybody wrong. And as soon as everyone predicts that the season is circling the drain, like after the San Jose State debacle, they go out and prove everyone wrong again by playing their best basketball of the season over the next four games.

Want one more prediction that will likely be proven wrong? Well, here we go. The Wolf Pack will indeed beat Boise State or San Jose State on Thursday. And then they will stun the Thomas & Mack crowd on Friday by beating New Mexico, if New Mexico recovers well enough from its choke on Saturday and even gets to the tournament semifinals.

The Pack almost ran New Mexico out of the gym on March 2 at Lawlor Event Center. They made the Lobos look like exactly what they are -- a plodding, mechanical team with no quickness or team speed that lives on dunks and lay-ups inside by its big men Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk. Take that away and the Lobos don't know how to score.

Hey, it can happen.

The Wolf Pack will need tremendous energy for 40 minutes to pull off the upset. They'll also need a consistent effort from forwards West, Ronnie Stevens and Ali Fall and they also need Burton, Michael Perez, Cole Huff and Jerry Evans to hit some shots.

If all of those things don't happen, well, the season will end Friday night. If West, Fall and Stevens don't man up and keep Bairstow and Kirk at arm's length, the season will end. If Burton, Evans, Huff and Perez can't hit open shots, the season will end. And if the Pack doesn't play with the same energy all night that we saw the last 16 minutes against UNLV, the season will end.

But it can indeed happen. All those things can happen.

Anything can happen. Anything has already happened this year. It's just that we never know when it is going to happen. The Pack can beat New Mexico on Friday and San Diego State on Saturday and go to the NCAA tournament and, then, who knows?

Well, you know what? We don't know. The only thing we know about this Pack season is that we don't know anything.

That's the beauty of this Wolf Pack season.

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