Oct. 28, 2012
New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball - 2012-13 Season Preview
Exhibition Opener: Wednesday (Oct. 31) 7 p.m. vs. Victory -- The Pit
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
In considering the various challenges in pushing his Lobos toward another season of excellence and titles, Lobo Coach Steve Alford said a main one was, "Figuring out how we're going to play."
Yeah, there are pieces in this Lobo puzzle that can be pushed this way and that. There is lots of talented perimeter depth. UNM can go big and it can go small. But one thing is certain: The Lobo will run.
"We're going to get out there and go," said Jamal Fenton, New Mexico's spark plug off the bench. "We have lots of guards and any guard can take it (and go)."
Said Hugh Greenwood: "We are going to be very athletic and very up-and-down. It will be fun to watch."
The proven strength of these Lobos in 2012-13 obviously is on the edge. Alford lost his one-two inside punch of Drew Gordon and A.J. Hardeman and return five proven warriors on the perimeter: Tony Snell, Kendall Williams, Hugh Greenwood, Demetrius Walker and Fenton.
"Those are five explosive guards," said Alford. "Those are five guys who can really defend. They are athletic guards. They are fast guards. They are strong guards. Those are five hard matchups.
"And I like our bench."
"We may pick up full court a little bit because we are deep at the guard position," said Alford. "People know I'm not a press coach. I'm not a zone coach. But we are athletic and to play all the guards that we have, and maybe to wear people down especially in this building, we could do things like that."
To press or not to press will be determined down the road - probably by how the Lobo guards take care of the ball at high frenzy. Alford also is not a turnover guy.
"We should be a team that can play faster, but I don't want our turnovers (to go up)," he said.
Alford and UNM's formula for success is simple enough: move the ball, be unselfish, take care of the ball, take good shots, rebound, play defense like a mean, mother bear, plug the gaps, rebound some more.
And do all that stuff with honest effort - play hard.
"There is a blueprint for success," said Alford, who returns eight lettermen from last year's 28-7 Mountain West championship team. "There is a championship demeanor in our locker room. Our guys understand that. They are going to be driven by it."\
"There is a championship demeanor in our locker room. Our guys understand that. They are going to be driven by it."\
COACH Steve Alford
"This is our drive for five (Mountain West rings). That's going to take a huge effort because this league has gotten better and better and better. It's constantly trending up."
The Lobos probably don't need a chip on their shoulders to take into the Mountain wars, but there is a little one there, if they want it.
The Lobos won the regular-season and MW tourney crown last year. This season the Lobos (122 points) have been placed behind the San Diego State Aztecs (153) and the Runnin' Rebels of UNLV (151).
Fair enough. The Lobos lost arguably the best player in the Mountain (Gordon), and the Aztecs and the Rebels have this way of luring in raw talent. It's probably fair to label that trio as the big three and then see who rises out of the 2013 pack to challenge.
Still, the Lobos won't be overlooked. They have been too consistent on the road under Alford and they still play ball in one of the top venues in America - The Pit.
"We've had something to say about it every year," said Alford. The third-place pick also isn't much of a slap since the UNLV and SDSU programs are exceptional. But the gap is questionable.
Probably, it has something to do with the loss of Gordon and something to do with New Mexico looking to build inside behind what some would consider a power forward and a shooting power forward: 6-9 Cameron Bairstow and 7-foot Alex Kirk.
Those Lobos are good and can't be considered Achilles Heels on this talented squad, but they still have to go out and prove themselves in the paint - especially on the boards. Yep, all those quick-draw guards need someone to get them the ball.
"It's all about rebounding," said Alford. "That's probably our biggest concern going into the season. Where are those rebounds going to come from? We don't have Drew Gordon, who occupied 15 rebounds a game.
"We can play two bigs, but that's the only two bigs we have. I don't think that's going to be the majority of the game."
Probably not. The Kirk-Bairstow combo might work best as a tag team for two reasons:
1. Those guards need to be on the court.
2. If both bigs are on the court at the same time, foul trouble could be an issue.
Alford has to feel good about this position. He might have the best one-two and one-two-three combination in the West: Greenwood-Williams and Greenwood-Williams-Fenton.
If Alford wants to go cerebral and somewhat structured, Greenwood is the guy. It's not that the 6-foot-3 sophomore is slow. He's not. He's a playmaker with vision and plays older than his years because of his international experience on the Australian national team. Greenwood also returns healthier this year which should improve his ability to run the court.
Greenwood averaged 6.5 points and actually is UNM's leading returning rebounder with a 4.3 average in MW games and a 3.7 rebounding average overall. He had 83 assists in 33 games last year for the 38-7 Lobos.
There is no question that Williams adds another dimension to the point: speed. Alford calls this jet one of the fastest players he's ever coached. Yes, sometimes Williams' quickness is too quick for his decision making to keep up with, but that aspect improved with game time last year. Williams, a preseason All-MW First Team pick, averaged 12.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and dished out 142 assists in 2011-12.
Williams might be the fastest Lobo, but Fenton doesn't take a backseat to anyone in quickness and energy. He has been Alford's sparkplug off the bench and has unselfishly accepted the role as a badge of honor. He averaged 6.5 points in 35 games with six starts last year. He had 84 assists.
"We need Jamal to give us that energy off the bench," said Alford. "He gives us a different point guard."
THE OFF GUARDS/WINGS
This label is one of convenience. These guards/wings can do a lot of things, especially put the ball in the basket.
Of course, Williams falls into this position, too. When Greenwood or Fenton are running the point, expect to see Williams on the wing. Heck, if Williams is on the point, don't be surprised if Greenwood or Fenton are on the court. Alford has lots of choices.
Demetrius Walker returns to the edge and his presence in UNM's stretch run last year was pivotal. He made good decisions. He made shots. The 6-2 Walker averaged 7.7 points in 35 games last year. He is UNM's No. 3 returning scorer behind Snell and Williams.
"I might be on a few scouting reports this year, but that doesn't bother me," said Snell.
Said Alford: "There isn't that much pressure on Tony to be somebody he's not. If Tony will be Tony, that will be a good guy."
Alford's perimeter also gains strength from 6-3 Thomas, 6-4 Alford and 6-7 Devon Williams, who played post in high school and might need a redshirt season to hone his perimeter tools. The 6-foot Chris Perez also returns this year.
Thomas is a guard out of the Dairese Gary mold and capable of using his size on both ends of the court. He shows good defensive potential, but his playing time might hinge on decision making and shot making. There are a lot of Lobo guns on the edge.
Kory Alford has a chance to make an impact on the outside. Teams love to have a guard come off the bench, who can hit the big 3-pointer (Phillip McDonald). Alford has that capability. He gained strength and weight in his redshirt season of 2011-12, is a good passer and has a high basketball IQ. He needs to prove he can defend D-I guards.
"We have guards who have been here a while," said Alford. "They understand it. They get it."
The 7-foot Kirk is the only Lobo listed on the roster as a post, but the 6-9, 250-pound Bairstow is no pushover inside. He has the strength and the moves to play inside. He averaged 3.7 points and 3.6 boards a year ago, but had to scratch for playing time inside behind Gordon and Hardeman. Bairstow averaged 15.4 minutes a game and shot 44 percent last year.
Kirk has a nice inside-outside touch and can pull a big defender out of the paint opening up lanes for the UNM guards. He needs to show toughness inside on defense and needs to be passionate about rebounds.
"Our bigs are a handful inside," said Coach Alford. "If they demand double teams, that will really affect us in a positive way with the guys we have circling the perimeter."
Obviously, Alford needs Bairstow and Kirk to be factors on the glass. But it never hurts any team to have rebounding by committee. The Lobos have some nice rebounding guards and also look to 6-8 Nick Banyard and 6-6 Chad Adams to be a factor on the glass.
Banyard is an athletic big man and if UNM goes up-tempo, he won't be holding down the break. Ditto for Adams. Banyard can shoot, but with all the shooters on this team, his rebounding and inside defense might be his key to playing time. The 6-7 Devon Williams also could play the forward spot as could the 6-2 Demetrius Walker.
Again, Alford has lots of choices.
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and Sports Columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.