Colorado Springs, Colo. – In 2013-14, the New Mexico Lobos will be attempting to become the first team to win five Mountain West titles in the last six years. If you go by the media poll, most folks think the Lobos can do it.
New Mexico, with four starters returning for first-year head coach Craig Neal, was a near unanimous selection to win the Mountain West, as Lobos picked up 23 of 24 first place votes and are the preseason pick for the league title, according to media members from around the league.
Along with the poll, New Mexico earned some preseason individual honors as Kendall Williams was named the preseason Player of the Year, and he and Alex Kirk were both named preseason All-Conference. Joining them on the all-conference team were Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks of Boise State, Khem Birch of UNLV, and Deonte Burton of Nevada. This year six players made the preseason all-conference team due to a tie in the voting.
Joining Williams in the individual honors category were San Diego State transfer Josh Davis as Newcomer of the Year and point guard Kendall Smith of UNLV as Freshman of the Year.
The Lobos picked up 23 of 24 first place votes to finish with 263 points, easily ahead of Boise State and UNLV, which tied for second with 214 points. UNLV picked up the only other first place vote. San Diego State was right there with Boise State and UNLV with 212 points as the media has a pretty clear division of which teams they believe are the top four. League newcomer Utah State was fifth, followed in order by Colorado State, Wyoming, Fresno State, Nevada, Air Force, and San Jose State.
New Mexico has been getting plenty of preseason attention as the pick to win the league by national outlets such as Lindy’s, Athlon Sports, ESPN.com, CBSSports.com, and NBCSports.com. Last year New Mexico went 29-6 overall and 13-3 in the Mountain West, finishing two games clear of second place Colorado State. The Lobos won their fourth conference title in the last five years, one of only three current teams that can claim that fact (Kansas, Gonzaga). UNM is also one of only five that have won back-to-back conference tournament and regular season titles as well.
Williams is a three-year starter who received Associated Press All-American honorable mention last season in addition to being named the 2012-13 MW Player of the Year. A two-time All-MW honoree, he is only the second player in league history to earn both MW Freshman and Player of the Year honors in a career, joining Andrew Bogut of Utah. Last year he was second in assists (5.3 apg) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.5), eighth in steals (1.8 spg) and minutes played (33.9 mpg), ninth in free throw percentage (.706), 10th in 3-pointers made (1.7 pg) and tied for 10th in scoring (13.1 ppg).
He recorded at least three assists in all 15 MW games he played, including nine contests with five or more. He burst onto the national radar however with his career-high 46 points at Colorado State on Feb. 23, 2013 in a game that basically decided the regular season championship. He was named ESPN’s National Player of the Week after that contest, one in which he went 10-for-13 from three-point range.
Kirk last season was All-MW second-team, USBWA All-District and MW All-Defensive team. He accomplished all of that after sitting out the 2011-12 campaign following back surgery. He is the top returning rebounder in the Mountain West, ranking third in rebounding (8.8 rpg) and 13th in scoring (12.9 ppg) in Conference-only action in 2012-13, and he was also second in the league with 36 blocked shots in MW play.
The Lobos also had an eventful summer. Along with the change in coaches from Steve Alford to Craig Neal, Alford’s long-time associate head coach, the Lobos had two players try out for the United States’ World University Games squad in Williams and Kirk, with Kirk making the team and helping the U.S. to a ninth place finish in Russia. A third player, Cameron Bairstow, played for Australia and was their MVP as the Aussies won their first medal ever in international basketball competition, finishing second in Russia at the World University Games. They were the first Lobos to play in the World University Games since Kenny Thomas in 1997.
Bairstow’s performance earned him a tryout with the Australian Boomers national Olympic squad, which he made. Those tryouts came when the Lobos took a three-game Australian exhibition tour in August, with New Mexico going 3-0 against three professional teams, including the Sydney Kings of the NBL.
New Mexico has a challenging non-conference schedule to go along with the always difficult Mountain West slate. The squad will play NCAA Tournament teams in New Mexico State (home and home), Cincinnati (home), Kansas (away) and Marquette (neutral in Las Vegas).
NOTES: New Mexico was picked first in the 2011-12 preseason poll and did just that. Last year UNM was picked third behind San Diego State and UNLV … Kendall Williams was the 2011 Freshman of the Year and the 2013 Player of the Year … Williams will be attempting to become the second Lobo in school history with four seasons of 400 points, joining Kenny Thomas …
2013-14 PRESEASON MEDIA POLL
|Rk.||Team (First Place Votes)||Pts|
|1.||New Mexico (23)||263|
|4.||San Diego State||212|
|11.||San José State||30|
Preseason All-Mountain West
Anthony Drmic, Jr., G/F, Boise State
Derrick Marks, Jr., G, Boise State
Deonte Burton, Sr., G, Nevada
Alex Kirk, Jr., C, New Mexico
Kendall Williams, Sr., G, New Mexico
Khem Birch, Jr., F, UNLV
Preseason Player of the Year
Kendall Williams, Sr., G, New Mexico
Preseason Newcomer of the Year
Josh Davis, Sr., F, San Diego State
Preseason Freshman of the Year
Kendall Smith, G, UNLV