BOSTON, Ma. --- University of New Mexico head men’s basketball coach Craig Neal has been named a finalist for a pair of national coaching honors from CollegeInsider.com. He is one of ten finalists for the Joe B. Hall Award, given to the nation’s top rookie head coach, and he is one of 15 finalists for the Jim Phelan Award, presented to the national Coach of the Year.
The honors will be announced in Dallas, Texas at The Adolphus Hotel on Friday, April 4, the night before the evening prior to the Final Four at Cowboys Stadium.
Neal set a UNM record this season with 27 wins, three more than the previous record, which was held by his predecessor Steve Alford, who went 24-9 in 2007-08. The 27 wins for Neal was also tied for the 12th-most wins by any first year Division I coach in NCAA history. He also became the first Lobo rookie head coach to ever led the team to the NCAA Tournament in his first season.
In addition, he led UNM to its third straight Mountain West Tournament title, one of only two teams in Division I that have won three straight conference tournament titles. The Lobo are the first Mountain West team to ever win three straight conference tournament titles.
He accomplished all of that with a team that returned four starters but lost one starter to the NBA draft, and lost its top two performers off the bench. Despite that, three of the starters (Kendall Williams, Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk) all saw increases in scoring, rebounding and assists, with Bairstow and Kirk also seeing an increase in blocked shots. Hugh Greenwood saw an increase in rebounds, assists and steals.
“We are very proud of the job Coach Neal has done in his first season as the head coach at the University of New Mexico,” said Vice President for Athletics Paul Krebs. “To win 27 games, a conference tournament championship and qualify for the NCAA Tournament is a testament to the job he has done. I am very excited about the future of Lobo basketball under his leadership.”
For the Joe B. Hall Award, Neal is one of 10 finalists, along with Mike Brennan (American), Tim Craft (Gardner-Webb), Pat Duquette (UMass-Lowell), Bobby Hurley (Buffalo), Robert Jones (Norfolk State), Dan Majerle (Grand Canyon), Nicholas McDevitt (UNC Asheville), Brad Underwood (Stephen F. Austin) and Will Wade (Chattanoonga). Only Neal, Underwood and Brennan led teams to the NCAA Tournament.
The award is named in the honor of Joe B. Hall who was given the task of following the legendary Adolph Rupp. In his first season at the University of Kentucky, Hall finished 20-8, won the SEC and advanced to the NCAA Regional Finals.
For the Phelan Award, Neal is one of 15 finalists, along with Steve Alford (UCLA), Rick Barnes (Texas), John Beilein (Michigan), Tony Bennett (Virginia), Ed Cooley (Providence), Billy Donovan (Florida), Steve Fisher (San Diego State), Danny Manning (Tulsa), Gregg Marshall (Wichita State), Sean Miller (Arizona), Greg McDermott (Creighton), Tim Miles (Nebraska), Brad Underwood (Stephen F. Austin) and Jay Wright (Villanova).
The Jim Phelan Award is presented annually to the nation's top Division I coach. The award is named in honor of Jim Phelan who coached his entire career at Mount Saint Mary's University. He led the Mountaineers to the 1962 NCAA Men's Division II Basketball Championship.