Nov. 11, 2010
Lobo Men's Basketball -- In The Pit
Saturday: Lobos (0-0) vs. Detroit (0-0
On The Air: KKOB 770-AM / Lobo Radio Network; No TV
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Up Next: vs. Arizona State, 8 p.m.; Tuesday - The Pit, VERSUS
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
It seemed that it was almost impossible for Steve Alford's Lobos to get younger. Almost!
The New Mexico Lobos open the season for real at 7:30 p.m., Saturday in The Pit with junior sharpshooter Phillip McDonald on the UNM bench.
"That just means it puts even more pressure on our young guys," said Alford.
For sure, there will be some Detroit Titan pressure thrown at the Lobos. This is not Eastern New Mexico or Manchester. Detroit is D-I and that jump up in competition is quickly seen with a glance at the Titans' inside: 6-10, 6-10 and 6-11.
The Lobos' height advantage suddenly comes down. "Eli Horton (6-10) is a transfer from Indiana, who is a big-time post," said Alford. "Their starting lineup is very talented. They present a lot of problems for us."
McDonald is out for at least two games (Detroit and ASU) with a partial tear to an elbow tendon. That pretty much turns the Lobo perimeter - minus senior Dairese Gary at the point - into a swirl of sophomores or under: Curtis Dennis (so.), Kendall Williams (fr.) Chad Adams (so.), Emmanuel Negedu (so.), Tony Snell (fr.) and maybe Jamal Fenton (so.), when he's not backing up Gary at the point.
That's a lot of youth and Dennis and Adams didn't log much playing time as freshmen.
The Lobos might win the perimeter battle with depth. They might have to pound away on Holman with numbers, too. The 6-10 center averaged 11.8 points and 8.9 boards in 2009-10 for the 20-14 Titans. He's a load.
The Titans also are loaded out front as they return their leading scorer from last year in Chase Simon (14.0) and have added freshman Ray McCallum, whom Alford says is a top 50 guard. Detroit lists McCallum as the highest ranked player to ever sign with a Horizon League school.
Detroit lost three starters from last season and, like UNM, has to plug some holes with youth. In one way, the Titans are younger than the Lobos as Detroit has no seniors on its roster. UNM has one, Gary.
"Detroit is a very dangerous team," said Alford. "They are very good in transition. Transition is a key. Both teams like to run. A big key will be which team controls defensively, backboard issues, those types of things."
A small factor - for both teams - might be how quickly they adjust to the D-I pressure thrown out by the other team. Detroit, like UNM, had two easy runs in exhibition action winning by 22 and winning by 40. The Lobos won by 22 and 45.
Things change on Saturday.
"Detroit presents a whole different animal than what Eastern New Mexico and Manchester presented to us," said Alford. "It's a much different step for our guys. They (Titans) got guys who can really hurt you in a lot of different ways."
It's too bad that UNM's Drew Gordon isn't available to bang with Detroit's Holman. That would be a war. Gordon, sitting out due to a NCAA transfer rule, can't play until Dec. 19 against Citadel.
The Lobos are still in good shape inside with 6-8 A.J. Hardeman. Detroit's inside muscle will be a good test for Lobo freshmen Alex Kirk (6-11) and Cameron Bairstow (6-9). The 6-7 Negedu probably will be sent into that paint battle, too.
It will be interesting to see how Alford uses Gary on defense. Simon is an established scorer, but at 6-6 more of an off-guard threat. McCallum is a McDonald's and Parade High School All-American, who came to play with his father at Detroit, turning down offers from Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma and UCLA.
McCallum is young, but good and quick at 6-foot-1. He scored 14 and 22 in Detroit's two exhibition games. UNM also has to keep a body on 6-2 Titan Jason Calliste, a Top 100 recruit, who hit 34 points (8-of-12 treys) in Detroit's second exhibition win.
"Whoever we respect the most in the backcourt for the other team, they'll draw Dairese Gary," said Alford. "I think that's what makes Dairese so special. He has to do it at both ends."
The Titans' starting lineup should be McCallum, Simon, Calliste, Holman and 6-8 Nick Minnerath, another transfer who averaged 21 points and 8.3 rebounds in JC ball. Maybe the top sub off the bench is JC All-American Chris Blake, who signed with Florida State out of prep ball. Blake averaged 18.9 points and 2.6 steals in JC ball.
Yep, as Alford said, these Titans look dangerous. But can they handle the pressure of The Pit?