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:
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.
The team was selected by the coaches and selected media, and I was one of those selected to vote.
My first team was the same as the coaches and other media members. I also picked New Mexico junior guard Kendall Williams as the Player of the Year, New Mexico’s Steve Alford as the Coach of the Year, UNLV forward Anthony Bennett as Freshman of the Year and Colorado State’s Colton Iverson as the Newcomer of the Year.
For Wyoming and coach Larry Shyatt, Saturday’s 53-42 loss at No. 14 New Mexico had to feel a lot like last year’s loss.
The score was similar as UW lost last year’s game 48-38.
The Cowboys shot 28.1 percent from the field in this game, and 25.9 percent in last year’s game. The total points and shooting percentage in this game for UW were its second-lowest of the season.
The win last year was New Mexico’s fifth straight, as was this one.
Shyatt also didn’t like how the officiating went in this game, much like last year. Last year, he said he couldn’t tell the truth about the officiating. Saturday he used some humor to not answer how he felt — and showed numerous times during the game — after his team was called for 22 fouls compared to 12 for New Mexico, was outscored 21-3 at the free-throw line and where the Lobos shot 20 more free throws than the Cowboys.
“(New Mexico coach) Steve Alford and his staff, this personnel they’ve put together and this crowd deserves more attention than my comment. And, I really don’t think my wife would want to know if I got fined.”
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.
Wyoming (18-10 overall, 4-10 Mountain West) plays at No. 14 and first-place New Mexico (24-4, 11-2) at 3 p.m. today at the Pit.
Question: The Lobos seem to be the most complete team in the Mountain West this season. Can you elaborate on that and, in your opinion, what has made them so good this season?
Answer: Alex Kirk, UNM’s sophomore center, said something after the San Diego State win on Wednesday that seems to have become the team’s unofficial motto for the season. He was asked about how Kendall Williams was OK with going from scoring 46 points last Saturday in a win at Colorado State to making just one field goal but dishing out eight assists in the SDSU win. Kirk said, “You can’t guard an unselfish team.” The Lobos have embraced the notion of a different man stepping up each night and don’t seem to care who that guy is from game to game. That makes them hard to prepare for. When CSU keyed Tony Snell last week in Fort Collins (Snell had 23 points against the Rams in their first game), Williams went off. It’s hard to know which player will be the guy each game.
Tonight’s game for Wyoming, along with Saturday’s at Colorado State, will provide another test defensively for the Cowboys.
UW must contend with New Mexico sophomore center Alex Kirk, a 7-footer who also is 250 pounds. He averages 11.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocked shots per game. Kirk is a good story in the league after missing last season due to back surgery.
Does UW put senior forward Leonard Washington on Kirk, or sophomore forward Larry Nance Jr.? Not sure if Nance is physical enough to contend with Kirk.
Saturday, the Cowboys must deal with CSU’s 6-10, 260-pound senior Colton Iverson. He averages 14.3 points, 9.5 rebounds and shoots a league-best 56.1 percent from the field.
WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi exchanged email questions and answers with New Mexico men’s basketball beat writer Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal about tonight’s game at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie.
The first part is Grammer’s answers to Gagliardi’s questions. The second is Gagliardi’s answers to Grammer’s questions.
Look for Q&As with writers who cover UW’s Mountain West foes throughout the conference season.
Question: Aside from San Diego State being a good defensive team, what were New Mexico’s biggest struggles in last Saturday’s 55-34 loss on the road to the Aztecs?
Answer: The Lobos’ biggest weapon on offense this season has been the free-throw line, getting there 25.5 times per game. They’ve hit 377 free throws while their opponents have only attempted 304 (and made just 205). In fact, UNM is the only ranked team in the nation to have actually made fewer field goals than their opponents this season, yet have won 17 of 20 games. Saturday, a combination of SDSU avoiding foul trouble in general and UNM not adjusting to the game officials not calling the game very tightly led to UNM getting to the free throw line only 11 times. They seemed out of sorts on offense all game and I think it started with the fact that they abandoned what they do best: attack the basket looking for contact. UNM did not adjust to the officiating very well, as they failed to do in the first at Saint Louis on Dec. 31 when they scored just 13 points in a game the officials weren’t callinmany fouls. The lack of adjustment to the officiating took them out of everything they do on offense.
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.