UW at New Mexico men’s basketball Q&A

Here is my question-and-answer session with Geoff Grammer, who covers New Mexico men’s basketball for the Albuquerque Journal, about Saturday’s game with Wyoming.

Tip off is at 2 p.m. MT at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M.

Follow on Twitter: @GeoffGrammer

Geoff Grammer

Geoff Grammer

After losing four straight heading into conference play, New Mexico ripped off three straight wins before a loss at UNLV Tuesday. Are the Lobos a MW contender in your opinion right now?

The Lobos can contend for a Mountain West title, but their margin for error is pretty slim. I’d probably predict them at this point to finish more along the third or fourth spot in the standings by season’s end. They have three very effective offensive weapons in Elijah Brown, Tim Williams and Cullen Neal and a couple of other very valuable pieces in the starting lineup that, depending on match-ups, can really cause problems on defense for opposing teams due to their length (Obij Aget is a 7-1 shot blocking center and Sam Logwood is a 6-7 guard). But the team doesn’t have much consistency off the bench, has lost for the year three post players between 6-foot-9 and 7-foot-1 and can get taken out of their tempo at times, forcing them into far too many careless turnovers. Basically, the team’s good is good enough to contend, but I’ve also seen their bad and that’s what keeps them probably right below the threshold of being a true contender this season. The good news for New Mexico is it doesn’t have a senior on scholarship and start three sophomores and two juniors. The Lobos are sort of building toward making a run next season.

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UW at New Mexico men’s hoops: 3 keys, notes, quotes and video

My three keys for Wyoming’s regular-season finale today at New Mexico. Tipoff is at 6 p.m. MT at WisePies Arena, aka, the Pit in Albuquerque.

Hugh Greenwood

Hugh Greenwood

1. Defend Greenwood: New Mexico senior guard Hugh Greenwood leads the Mountain West with 66 made 3-pointers, and he made five in UW’s 63-62 overtime win in Laramie in January. Perimeter defense has been an issue for the Cowboys, but they were better in Wednesday’s 76-53 win over Utah State as the Aggies shot just 6 of 18 from behind the arc. No one else on the Lobos roster that will play today has made more than 16 3s. UW needs to defend well against everyone on the perimeter, but especially on Greenwood.

“We can’t let New Mexico’s crowd and emotion take over because that will be tough to overcome,” senior forward Larry Nance Jr. said.

If Greenwood gets hot — or any of New Mexico’s players — that can easily happen.

Charles Hankerson Jr.

Charles Hankerson Jr.

2. Lobos have some size: New Mexico’s starting lineup will go 6-foot-3, 6-4, 6-5, 6-7 and 7-1. It also will bring a 6-10 center off the bench. Bigger teams, especially in the backcourt has given UW fits this season. UW  needs defend 6-5 senior guard Deshawn Delaney well. He leads the team with 12.1 points per game. Look for senior guard Charles Hankerson Jr. and redshirt sophomore Jason McManamen to see a lot of time on Delaney when UW plays man-to-man defense. The Cowboys will need to do a good job of getting out in transition and attacking the basket when they can, and also moving the ball around well in their half-court offense. And obviously, UW will have to hold its own on the boards and not allow a lot of second and third-chance opportunities from the Lobos.

One player that has played better for New Mexico inside is 7-1 sophomore center Obij Aget, who over his last four games has averaged 10.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocked shots and has shot 50 percent from the field.

Here is my video preview of the game:

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UW-New Mexico men’s hoops: 3 takes, notes, quotes and VIDEO

My three takes from Wyoming’s 63-62 overtime win over New Mexico Saturday at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie:

1. Similar to last week for Nance: UW senior forward Larry Nance Jr. missed a free throw with 14.9 seconds left to play in overtime that would have tied the game. But a few seconds later, he stole the ball and ended up with the game-winning dunk with 3.2 seconds left. In UW’s 70-65 triple overtime win at Fresno State last week, Nance missed two free throws with 0.5 seconds left in the second overtime that would have won the game. “Apparantly its my thing to miss clutch free throws late when we win,” Nance said. Still, Nance finished with a team-high 23 points, and was 11 of 13 from the line. He also had six rebounds, five turnovers, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot. Only one of those turnovers came in the second half and overtime.

Here are late-game highlights, including Nance’s steal and dunk in the final seconds, and player interviews after the game:

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UW-New Mexico men’s basketball: 3 keys, notes, quotes and video

Three keys for Wyoming in its game today against New Mexico, which tips off at 2 p.m. MT at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie.

1. No 3s for Greenwood: New Mexico senior guard Hugh Greenwood shoots 30.1 percent from 3-point range. But he made six 3s in each of the Lobos’ last two road games — both wins. A lot of different New Mexico players can hurt UW today, but the Cowboys can’t let Greenwood go off from the perimeter or it could be a long afternoon.

2. Make perimeter shots: New Mexico will play 11 guys, and there is no shortage of post players it can turn to. UW needs its offense to feed off of senior forward Larry Nance Jr. inside, but the Cowboys probably won’t get New Mexico into foul trouble. The Lobos and a long and athletic squad, so to loosen things up inside, the Cowboys need to make some perimeter shots.

3. Feed off the atmosphere: UW’s largest crowd in 10 years is expected to be there today (10,000-plus). The players need to feed off that energy, especially early. They can’t be too amped up and make silly mistakes, but if they can grab some early momentum and go with it, it could be a fun afternoon at the A-A.

Here is my video preview of today’s game:

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UW-New Mexico men’s basketball Q&A

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Geoff Grammer, who covers New Mexico men’s basketball for the Albuquerque Journal, on Saturday’s game with the University of Wyoming.

Tip off is at 2 p.m. at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie.

Follow on Twitter: @GeoffGrammer

After losing so much production from last year’s team, how is this New Mexico squad different than ones from the last few seasons?

Not only did the Lobos lose their top three scorers from last season, they lost last year’s fourth leading scorer (Cullen Neal) to a season-ending ankle injury in the third game of this

Geoff Grammer

Geoff Grammer

season. So while the team knew it was going to be a rebuilding season, though it never would use that term, it wasn’t prepared for just how bad it got early in the season. The big difference in this and past New Mexico teams is the overall athleticism and length on this roster is better than in the past. That has allowed the Lobos to use far more zone defenses than they have in many years (they’ve been predominantly man-to-man defense in the previous seven seasons on the Steve Alford/Craig Neal era). That zone defense is the reason they are still in the title race in the Mountain West. They are one of only two Division I teams remaining in the country to have not allowed 70 points in a game (though they’ve allowed 69 now in back-to-back games). This is a defense first team now that keeps them in games when their often average offense struggles.

The season-ending ankle injury to guard Cullen Neal was tough, but who has stepped up scoring-wise for this team in his absence?

The two leading scorers for the Lobos are seniors Hugh Greenwood and Deshawn Delaney, last season’s No. 5 and No. 6 scorers. Greenwood can be a great shooter when set up well by teammates, but has struggled mightily to create his own shot. With very little help on offense at times, he’s resorted to forcing a ton of shots this season, often contested and often off balance, leading to an abysmal shooting percentage. But when getting help and on his game, he’s dangerous and has already had a pair of Mountain West games with six 3-pointers. Delaney is a slasher who is good when attacking the rim and not settling for jumpers. Maybe more to the point of the question, though, is that everyone on the roster has helped in the scoring department from time to time. New Mexico uses 11 players in its regular rotation and have had multiple games this season with 11 players showing up on the scoreline of the stat sheet.

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Pregame notes/quotes for UW-New Mexico men’s hoops

Wyoming (9-5 overall, 0-1 Mountain West) hosts the preseason favorite to win the conference in New Mexico (10-3, 1-0) at 7 p.m. tonight.

The Lobos have won four of the last five MW regular-season titles, and became the first school in league history to win back-to-back regular season and conference tournament titles. Four starters and six lettermen return from last season’s team.

Despite a new coach in Craig Neal, who was Steve Alford’s top assistant and got the job after Alford took the UCLA job, the Lobos do much of the same things — and they do them well.

It should be noted this game was originally scheduled to be played at 9:05 p.m. as a ESPNU/ESPN3 flex game. When ESPNU didn’t pick up the game for television, UW was able to move the game time back to 7 p.m. ESPN3 is an online only way to watch the game. Here is the link to watch it:

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UW-New Mexico men’s hoops Q&A

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Geoff Grammer, who covers New Mexico men’s basketball for the Albuquerque Journal about Wednesday’s game with the University of Wyoming at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.

Follow on Twitter: @GeoffGrammer

What are the major changes — good or bad — in the program now that Craig Neal is the coach after he replaced Steve Alford?

The Lobos do an awful lot of the same things. They had worked together for nine years, so it would make sense that they were on the same page on many practice drills and in-game philosophies to a certain extent. In general, Neal is far more animated and wears his emotions on his sleeve — good and bad. He speaks off the cuff and when he’s happy, he gushes over players more than Alford did and when he’s mad he tends to call people out more than Alford did. He says what’s on his mind and moves on. As for on the court, the defense has taken a bit of a hit as the players are still getting used to new associate head coach Lamont Smith, who runs the defense as Alford used to, but he has shown signs of them trending toward being pretty good again soon. On offense the players, at least the four returning starters, are more free to freelance if and when warranted. They get out and run more and create in the open court in transition when possible.

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