New Mexico Lobos Men’s Basketball – At MGM Grand Showcase
Who: New Mexico Lobos (7-3) vs. Marquette (7-4)
When/Where: 7 p.m. (MT), Saturday -- MGM Garden Arena -- Las Vegas
On The Air: ESPNU (Dish 141, DirecTV 208, Comcast 281); 770-AM KKOB
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com.
It’s just another game maybe the same way Las Vegas, Nevada is just another town or the way the MGM Grand is just another casino.
“It’s Marquette,” said New Mexico’s Alex Kirk. “The same team Dwyane Wade played on. The team you saw on ESPN all those years you were growing up.”
Yeah, it’s Marquette. It’s the program Wade once led to a Final Four. It’s a Marquette team in December of 2013 heading to the MGM Grand looking for a big win with a specific target in mind: Lobos.
The Marquette media notes for this game gives the Vegas clash some perspective. The notes say the Golden Eagles are “in search of a resume-boosting victory when it comes for postseason selection.”
Sure, it’s early in a young season. Sure, the NCAA Selection Show is months away. A team’s resume might lean more on its February/March finish, but all this December stuff matters. It’s better to win Saturday’s game than it is to lose it – just in case you don’t nab your league’s automatic bid.
Marquette looks at the Lobos as a quality win and the Golden Eagles are right. The Lobos are a good team – a preseason Top 25 team that has a chance to return to the rankings. But that returns hinges on winning.
“It’s important because we need to win and we need to get better,” said Lobo Coach Craig Neal of the tip with Marquette. “We have to regroup and come back hard and see what we’re made of.”
The Lobos ride a losing streak onto the Vegas strip that lives off losing streaks, entertainment and other things. The MGM likes to throw out crowd-pleasing entertainment and Lobos vs. Golden Eagles should be exactly that. These are good basketball teams both looking to hit the jackpot on a Vegas scoreboard.
The Golden Eagles have a quality 76-60 win over George Washington but have too many quality losses: to No. 3 Ohio State (10-0), Arizona State (9-2), No. 24 San Diego State (7-1) and No. 4 Wisconsin (12-0). The SDSU Aztecs of the Mountain West beat Marquette 67-59.
Marquette has the potential to be excellent. The Eagles also were a preseason Top 25 pick, actually ahead of the Lobos in both The Associated Press and USA Today polls. The Golden Eagles ran into some quality bumps in the road, but those bumps still pushed them out of the polls.
They need a win. The Lobos need a win, especially coming off a Pit loss to New Mexico State.
“It’s a big game,” said Kirk. “They are going to come to battle and it’s going to be a lot of fun. I have a hard time remembering the last time we lost two in a row.”
The MGM Garden Arena and Vegas add excitement to this game. It’s Vegas – a city that throws out front-line talent so the people will come. ESPNU is coming too with former Lobo coach Fran Fraschilla sharing the microphone and former Albuquerque Journal reporter Andy Katz digging the sideline for tidbits.
“This one would help get our (confidence) back on track,” said Kirk.
One tidbit Katz might find out before the tip is the status of UNM guard Hugh Greenwood, who sat out the New Mexico State loss with an injured wrist. If Greenwood misses the Marquette game he might miss Monday’s tip in The Pit with Grand Canyon.
It hurts to lose Greenwood, who helps his team in so many statistical categories and a few intangible areas, too – like leadership and clutch play down the stretch.
If there is a silver lining here, it’s Neal being able to dip deeper into his bench with playing time. It would be nice to build some chemistry and find more quality production from Lobos besides Greenwood, Kendall Williams, Cameron Bairstow and Kirk.
“I don’t know if those guys are a little skittish. I don’t know what it is,” said Neal of his bench. “But hopefully they’ll come out and play better.”
UNM’s four returning starters combine for 61.2 points out of the team average of 77.7 and 25.2 rebounds out of 41.4. The next five Lobos, who average in double-figure minutes, have only one player shooting better than 35 percent from the field – Deshawn Delaney at 48 percent.
Delaney has some unreleased potential the Lobos could use in the upcoming Mountain West race. The two-time JC All-American averaged 17.1 points in JC ball.
“He’s an athletic guy who can do some things,” said Coach Neal. “I think he gives you that dimension that maybe some of the other guys don’t.”
Said Kirk: “The kid can fly. He just has to be a little more aggressive. When he is the open court, in the athletic-play area, no one can stop him.”
The Golden Eagles have some guys who are tough to stop, too. Marquette averaged 88.5 points and 59.3 shooting in its past two wins. Those are good numbers for a team that lists one starter –6-7 forward Jamil Wilson (12.3) – in double figure scoring.
However, if he doesn’t start, the Golden Eagles bring in 6-8 senior forward Davante Gardner off the bench. He paces Marquette in scoring (14.4) and rebounding (6.7). “Anybody who can lead your team in rebounding and scoring is really good,” said Coach Neal.
Said Kirk on Gardner: “He’s a really competitive guy. He’s undersized but he uses his (bulk) very well. He can shoot the basketball.”
Marquette has the 6-3 Todd Mayo scoring at a 9.2 clip and 6-11 center Chris Otule has an 8.1 scoring average.
Marquette Coach Buzz Williams has a reputation for his defensive squads, but Coach Neal says the whistles might have Williams backing off a bit on defensive pressure.
“I don’t think they are pressuring as much as they used to and a lot of that is because of the (new) rules,” said Neal. “But they are solid on defense and they rebound the ball well.”
Marquette has ten players averaging 10 to 29.5 minutes a game and the Golden Eagles get good production from their bench. Saturday’s game is the first time Marquette and New Mexico have played in men’s basketball.