UW-New Mexico Q&A swap I

As I did during football season, I hope to do question-and-answer swaps with beat writers that cover Mountain West men’s basketball. Since Wyoming opens leauge play with New Mexico Saturday, I got with Mark Smith of the Albuquerque Journal and we both exchanged five questions and answers.

The following are my questions for Mark, who by the way is one of the best in the business, and his answers. See Friday’s blog for my answers to his questions.

After being picked to win the league in the preseason, how would you assess the play of the Lobos in the nonconference portion of the season? Like most folks around here, it’s been tough to really gauge how good the Lobos are, or can be. I do think they are very good and will make a run at the title, but it’s just tough to tell how good they are because they only have one signature win (Saint Louis) and that came at home in a close game. They have looked a lot better since the start of the season, but I’ll be anxious to see how they match up in the league. As far as the preseason prediction, I think most people would vote them to finish third if the vote were retaken today.

How has the team filled the void left by guard Dariese Gary, and who has picked up most of that slack in terms of production and leadership? A number of players are filling the void, with freshman Hugh Greenwood looking very solid at the point and shooting guard and Tony Snell being the leading scorer. But the leadership aspect is still in question. Greenwood will be a very good vocal leader down the road, but right now it’s pretty much leadership by committee. As far as a go-to guy in the clutch, any number of players can take that big shot like Gary, but nobody can take it to the hole like he could with the game on the line.

What have been the Lobos strengths and weaknesses so far this season? They are very athletic and look to be very coachable. When they make mistakes, (coach Steve) Alford has gotten them corrected by the next game. They are deep and just have so many guys who can get hot outside that it’s tough for opponents to focus on one or two players. As far as weaknesses, they have shown few. Saint Louis caused them fits with defending the ball screens and keeping them from getting 3-pointers off, but they just drove the lane and picked up fouls all game. Drew Gordon is a great rebounder, but likes to drift outside too often and has trouble with any short jumper or taking a bigger man to the hole from the low post.

What have been your impressions of Wyoming, and are you surprised with the start its had? Actually, I’m not surprised. I really thought it had a good system and some good talent the past few years, but that (former coach) Heath Schroyer had some tough luck with injuries. I really did expect (new coach) Larry Shyatt to come in and get things turned around. He is a helluva coach and a great guy. And I tell you what, I sure hope the success continues the next couple of years because I’d love to see the fans start packing the A-A again. I’ve said it on your local radio shows many times over the years, but when that arena gets going and the Cowboys are good, it’s the toughest place in the league to win a road game. And it’s my favorite place to watch a game.

What are the biggest keys for the Lobos Saturday at Wyoming, and how do you see the game playing out? I think Gordon needs to play within himself and not get frustrated by Adam Waddell, who can come up with big games. The Lobos obviously need to knock down 3s, but I will be real interested to see how they respond if there is any kind of crowd there. Thus far, they really haven’t had a crazy, hostile road game. I still think they are talented enough to win, and they won’t take it lightly after the loss there last season. I’d probably pick UNM by five to seven points.