New Mexico Lobos Men’s Basketball – The Pit
Saturday: 8:05 p.m, Alabama A&M Bulldogs at New Mexico Lobos
On The Air: 770-AM KKOB/Lobo Radio Network; ROOT Sports (Dish 414, Direct 683, Comcast 261)
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The era of Noodles begins – Saturday in The Pit. “It’s on now,” said first-year Lobo Head Coach Craig Neal. “These count.”
In looking for his first win as a Lobo, in puzzling in the pieces of the basketball puzzle that is supposed to be one of the top teams in the nation in 2013-14, Neal pretty much has four pieces set in stone.
He will try to get the ball inside to 7-foot-1 Alex Kirk and 6-9 Cameron Bairstow. He will let Kendall Williams and Hugh Greenwood do pretty much what they want to out front because they pretty much do exactly what Craig wants them to do.
“We have four guys who have made an impact on our program,” said Neal.
Now, for the rest of that Lobo mix…
In the season opener Saturday in The Pit vs. Alabama A&M, Cleveland Thomas will get the start at the wing left open by Tony Snell’s exodus to the NBA. This is really no surprise except that freshman Cullen Neal is making it an interesting battle for quality playing time.
Neal is showing the same skills he showed at Eldorado High, but his confidence level is allowing him to play with a high – and somewhat surprising -- level of composure and maturity. He can shoot, run the court and pass the ball. He doesn't look like a freshman.
But so can a lot of Lobos on this No. 23/20 ranked squad. That’s Neal’s challenge in the non-conference part of his schedule. He says the Lobos that embrace the team-ball concepts of Lobo basketball and unselfishly accept their roles will see some good minutes.
The others will be watching the game from pretty much the same spot as Neal.
“There’s not that many minutes,” Neal said of dividing a game clock amongst his talented squad.
It’s likely there will be some minutes passed around Saturday in The Pit. The Bulldogs of Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) are athletic, quick, not very tall and not expected to win in The Pit. The ‘Dogs went 3-13 on the road a year back.
Of course, the Bulldogs might have a bone to chew over those expectations. They return 11 players from last year and their top three scorers – two guards and a 6-5 forward.
The ‘Dogs challenge mostly is containing Neal’s top four Lobos. They Lobos have the advantage inside with Kirk and Bairstow. You also don’t want Williams and Greenwood to run in The Pit.
There is a chance that the Bulldogs will try to control the Lobos’ tempo and force UNM into a half-court game.
And then figure out a way to stop Bairstow and Kirk.
“I never think they get enough post touches,” Neal said of his Twin Towers. “But we are getting them touches in transition. We want to play inside-out and I think our team is trying to do that.”
It will be interesting to see how the rest of Neal’s crew responds to a Pit opener. “Pancake” Thomas is the only other returning Lobo who saw much action in 2012-13. He played in 33 of 35 games. But he has some proving to do.
Thomas also has competition on the wing besides Cullen Neal. The UNM edge has lots of options: 6-6 Arthur Edwards, , 6-7 Devon Williams, 6-4 Cullen Neal, 6-7 Merv Lindsay, 6-6 Tim Myles and 6-5 Deshawn Delaney. Coach Neal can go big or small on the perimeter, but he will also go athletic. These Lobos are long and lean and they can run.
“I like our pace. I think we were getting good shots,” Neal said of UNM’s two exhibition wins in The Pit. UNM had 75 and 77 possessions in those two wins. UNM averaged 63.2 possessions in 2012-13 under Steve Alford, now at UCLA.
Neal says his Lobos will play at a quicker pace this season and because of all that bench talent, there is a chance The Pit might be rocking to a full-court press – in certain situations. The problem with any press is that coaches tend to back off if they see too many layups at the other end.
“I want to be smart about it,” said Neal.
The Lobo bench looked extremely defensive in the final nine minutes of the 94-51 win over the Jamestown Jimmies. The Jimmies scored 20 points in the second half, didn’t score in the final nine minutes and missed their final 14 shots.
That’s Neal’s delight – and his dilemma – as he heads into his first game as the Lobos’ head man: So much talent, so few minutes, so many decisions to make.
“I’m excited,” said Neal.
The Lobos will auction off their camouflage jerseys during Saturday's season opener vs. Alabama A&M. The uniforms are allowed through the NCAA only with special permission, which was received by the Lobos. During the game on Saturday night, fans can head up to the North Concourse and bid on the jerseys in an auction. The proceeds from the auction will benefit the Wounded Warriors Project and the UNM Veterans Resource Center.
The 2013-14 New Mexico Lobos
|1||Cleveland Thomas||G||6-3||195||So.||1L||Baton Rouge, La. (Scotlandville Magnet HS)|
|2||Chris Perez||G||6-0||190||Sr.||SQ||Corona, Calif. (Centennial HS)|
|3||Hugh Greenwood||G||6-3||205||Jr.||2L||Hobart, Australia (Australian Institute of Sport)|
|5||Arthur Edwards||G||6-6||205||So.||JC||Temple Hills, Md. (National Christian Academy)|
|10||Kendall Williams||G||6-4||180||Sr.||3L||Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. (Los Osos)|
|11||Obij Aget||C||7-1||225||Fr.||HS||La Porte, Ind. (La Lumiere HS)|
|12||Devon Williams||F/G||6-7||205||RFr.||RS||Dallas, Texas (Woodrow Wilson HS)|
|13||Cullen Neal||G||6-4||180||Fr.||HS||Albuquerque, N.M. (Eldorado HS)|
|22||Merv Lindsay||F||6-7||205||RSo.||TR||Moreno Valley, Calif. (Canyon Springs HS)|
|23||Nick Banyard||F||6-8||205||So.||1L||Flower Mound, Texas (Marcus HS)|
|24||Tim Myles||F||6-6||225||Fr.||HS||Etiwanda, Calif. (Etiwanda HS)|
|33||Deshawn Delaney||G||6-5||190||Jr.||JC||Chicago, Ill (Vincennes JC) (Carver Military)|
|41||Cameron Bairstow||F||6-9||250||Sr.||3L||Brisbane, Australia (Australian Institute of Sport)|
|53||Alex Kirk||C||7-0||245||RJr.||2L||Los Alamos, N.M. (Los Alamos)|