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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MW men’s basketball power rankings

I thought I would wait until the start of conference play to do my first Mountain West men’s basketball power rankings of the season.

Who is good and who is not may be more uncertain now than at the start of the season. But you have to start somewhere, so here we go.

RPI rankings are from RealTimeRPI.com. As always, your feedback is welcome.

1. Boise State (8-4, 69 RPI): There was a head-scratching loss at Montana to start the season, but the only other losses for the Broncos have been to Arizona twice and now No. 1 Michigan State. A good mix of inside and outside production, and the team to beat as league play begins.

2. UNLV (9-4, 71 RPI): I’m a little hesitant to put the Runnin’ Rebels up this high, but they’ve not had any bad losses. However, UNLV let a double-digit second half lead at home to Arizona State slip away in a 10-point loss. As is the case most years, UNLV has the most talent in the MW, but can coach Dave Rice put it all together through the rigors of league play?

3. Utah State (8-3, 132 RPI): The Aggies have responded well after losing one of its best players — sophomore forward David Collette — who quit just prior to the season-opener. Utah State has not beaten anyone great, but has taken care of business against teams it should. This is a veteran team, which should help in the MW.

4. Fresno State (8-4, 129 RPI): A loss at Cal Poly was a surprise, but this is a big, physical and athletic team with enough talent to win the conference. Will see what the Bulldogs are made of this week as they play at UNLV and host New Mexico.

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Players weigh in on toughest places to play in MW men’s basketball

I caught up with players from all 11 Mountain West teams and asked them the toughest places to play in the league during MW Men’s Basketball Media Day in Las Vegas.

As you will see, no big surprises where some of the toughest places are, but it’s still fun to see some of the players’ reactions.

G Josh Adams, Sr., Wyoming: New Mexico. Packed house. Very loud. Their fans know everything about you, and they know basketball.”

G Marqueze Coleman, Sr., Nevada: San Diego State and New Mexico. The crowds there are incredible.

G/F Tyron Criswell, Sr., Nevada: San Diego State. Their student section was wild. You couldn’t hear anything. We had to coach ourselves.

G Joe De Ciman, Sr., Colorado State: The Pit at New Mexico. You walk down that ramp and that’s what college basketball is all about.

F Tiel Daniels, Sr. Colorado State: The Pit.

G/F Anthony Drmic, Sr., Boise State: Colorado State, Wyoming, Utah State. Especially Wyoming with the altitude. 

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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.

Tipoff is at 6 p.m. at WisePies Arena, or the Pit, in Albuquerque.

Follow on Twitter: @GeoffGrammer

Geoff Grammer

Geoff Grammer

Even in a worse-case scenario, could you see the Lobos struggle like they have this season with a 14-15 record and 6-11 mark in the conference?

No. I knew their selection of No. 3 in the preseason poll was generous, but was based as much on the home court advantage the Pit has been through the years as it was on question marks with other league teams. The fact that New Mexico’s two best offensive players, at least projected heading into the season (sophomore guard Cullen Neal and junior college All-American forward Jordan Goodman) never panned out due to injury was a huge blow to the team. Still, the Lobos went into Laramie in January and had every chance to win and be sitting at 7-2 at the midway point of the Mountain West season. Instead, the Wyoming loss really set them down the downward spiral they’ve been on since, which included an 0-for February eight game losing streak. The fact that they’re playing a walk-on (Tim Jacobs) 25-plus minutes per game is about as telling as anything in terms of how razor thin this team’s margin of error was this season, and injuries took that away.

Injuries to Cullen Neal and Jordan Goodman have led to those struggles, but where else has this team had significant shortcomings?

Craig Neal

Craig Neal

Coach Craig Neal’s offense has been predicated on having at least some sort of post offense, be it from the four or five spot. This year, there has been none, though Obij Aget has played probably four of his best five college games in the past few weeks. Couple that with there being only one plus-perimeter shooter on the roster (Hugh Greenwood, who has trouble creating his own shot but is great in catch and shoot situations) and the Lobos offense has just been dreadful at times. More specific to trends in the losing streak are five minute stretches of mental lapses and offensive hesitancy when players seem afraid to shoot or break down on defensive assignments. In five of the last six games, it’s been in the first half when they had that bad stretch. They’ve fallen behind by double figures in five of their last six first halves and it was 30-8 just 14 minutes into last Saturday’s loss at Fresno State before they rallied to make it a 2-point game late. Sometimes those lapses have been in the final four minutes of games (Air Force loss, Boise State loss, Nevada loss, Wyoming loss in Laramie). Regardless of when, the team has still mostly been good for about 35 minutes per game, just not 40.

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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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MW men’s basketball power rankings

A little late in doing this as we are two weeks into the conference season, but I wanted to see a few conference games to start my weekly power rankings. But based on what’s happened, the picture isn’t much clearer.

Anyway, here is this week’s rankings along with this week’s list of games. As always, your feedback is welcome and encouraged.

1. No. 25 Wyoming (15-2 overall, 4-0 MW): The only ranked team in the MW, the only team unbeaten in conference play and with the longest winning streak (seven). The Cowboys are far from perfect, but with the nation’s third-best scoring defense (52.2 ppg) and the league’s best player in senior forward Larry Nance Jr., UW sits atop the perch for now.

2. San Diego State (12-4, 2-1): Like Wyoming, the Aztecs are among the nation’s best defensive teams. The loss of senior wing Dwayne Polee II to an illness has had an impact, but there is no other team as long, athletic and versatile in the MW. This team may have trouble making shots, but as long as the defense remains solid, the Aztecs will be tough to beat.

3. New Mexico (11-5, 3-1): A little surprised to see the Lobos this high after losing guard Cullen Neal to a season-ending ankle injury, and dealing with a lot of other injuries. But the Lobos are grinding away and will be a factor in the conference race.

4. Fresno State (8-9, 3-1): Don’t let the overall record fool you, the Bulldogs are playing some good basketball, and own a 59-57 home win over San Diego State. They could get even better if point guard Cezar Guerrero comes back from his academic eligibility issues. Guard Marvelle Harris, the reigning MW Player of the Week, leads the conference in scoring at just over 18 points per game.

5. Colorado State (15-2, 2-2): The Rams have come down to earth somewhat after a 14-0 start. But this team is still very good and can win a lot of different ways. Point guard John Gillon is one of the quickest and toughest guys to defend in the league.

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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 about Wednesday’s 9:05 p.m. game with the University of Wyoming at The Pit in Albuquerque. The game will be televised on ESPNU.

Follow on Twitter: @GeoffGrammer

How is the shin injury for junior post Alex Kirk coming along and how much do you anticipate him playing against Wyoming?

He played 19 minutes Saturday against San Jose State in his first game back from the injury and all signs after the game were there are no lingering issues. He felt good so I’d expect his minutes to be more along the lines of 25-28 against Wyoming with him settling in down the home stretch at about 32 minutes a game.

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