Stevens: Are Lobos Surrounded By Desperate Teams In MW Tournament?
March 12, 2013
LOBOS TO PLAY COWBOYS -- Wyoming 85, Nevada 81: The adage about it being tough to beat a team three times in the same season was something the New Mexico Lobos were not going to dodge with the winner of this Mountain West Tournament first-round game. The Lobos stood 2-0 against both Wyoming and Nevada, but it is the Cowboys who hope to make the third time the charm vs. UNM as they advanced with a four-point win.
The Wolf Pack had two costly turnovers in the final two minutes and the Cowboys make big plays and big shots in a game in which the tempo favored the run-and-gun Wolfpack. The new-look, run-and-gun Cowboys had four players in double figures: Larry Nance Jr. (19), Leonard Washington (18), Derrious Gilmore (17) and Josh Adams (10). Wyoming almost had all five starters in double figures as Riley Grabau had nine points. Gilmore had eight assists and Nance Jr., pulled down eight boards.
Wyoming shot 57.4 percent against a Nevada team that tries to beat you more with offense than with defense. The Cowboys were 24-of-37 from the free-throw line.
"At this time of the year you want to play the best and they're the best," said Wyoming Coach Larry Shyatt of the upcoming battle with New Mexico.
New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball -At The Mountain West Tournament
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The stakes in the Thomas & Mack are Las Vegas high. This isn't a $2 blackjack table in some dingy casino off the strip. This is a no-limit, back-room game of high rollers and maybe the question at the 2013 Mountain West Tournament really isn't who is going to win?
Maybe it's who is going to lose out?
"I think our league is deserving of five teams right now," said New Mexico Coach Steve Alford, whose No. 1 seed Lobos play at 7:30 p.m. (MT) Wednesday against No. 8 Wyoming which beat Nevada 85-81 Tuesday night in Vegas.
"That could grow depending on what happens this week."
But could that number also shrink?
If you aren't the team with New Mexico on your jersey, what happens this week at the MW tourney could be NCAA salvation or maybe an NIT invitation. Some teams will surely take to the Thomas & Mack floor with the desperation of a gambler looking at his last chip.
The Wyoming Cowboys, who started the season 13-0, also could end the season on a bright note by knocking off the New Mexico team that won the regular season and has been a fixture in the national rankings.
The No. 14/15 Lobos are an NCAA lock. There is no Selection Day pressure on the UNM horizon. The resume of the 2013 Mountain West champs has a ton of highs and really no lows. The Lobos finished strong, won the race to the top of the Mountain, won on the road, beat Top 50 teams.
The Lobos aren't wondering if they will be an NCAA dancer. They are wondering what seed is going to be on their backs when they put on their dancing shoes.
"We need to do as good as we can in Vegas and get the (NCAA) seed that we think we deserve for the big dance," said UNM's Kendall Williams, the 2013 Mountain Player of the Year. "It's a major focal point for us."
Sure, the Lobos want to win this Vegas dance and grab another big trophy. However, a favorable seed for the next dance also is motivation. But what are the rest of the MW teams thinking?
If you are Boise State or San Diego State at 21-9 and 9-7 in league play, do you really think you are a lock to go NCAA dancing, if you drop out of the Thomas & Mack after a single game. Those seven league losses do not look good even in a league as tough as the Mountain.
And one of those teams will drop out of this tourney. Boise and SDSU play each other at 10 p.m. (MT) Wednesday in the Mack. The winner is expected to advance to play the Lobos. Would you like to have ten losses on your resume and go one-and-done in the Mack?
You kind of figure that the UNLV Rebels will like their NCAA odds more if they can notch a single win in their home gym. The Rebs have a national reputation. They once won a NCAA title. But they are 23-8 and have six league losses. It might behoove the Rebels to push their way at least into the Mountain semis.
The four Mountain team with the best shot at joining New Mexico in the NCAA bracket are Colorado State, UNLV, Boise State and San Diego State. Still, you have to figure those teams would be happier if they did not fall out of the Thomas & Mack after a single game.
It would be difficult to envision an NCAA bracket without Colorado State. The Rams finished second to UNM and own a gaudy 24-7 mark. But the Rams might breathe a sigh of relief with a first-round win over Fresno State.
Air Force, Fresno State and Wyoming will play in the Thomas & Mack with an air of desperation. These teams need the NCAA automatic bid that comes with the tourney title. They need to string out a series of upsets to reach their miracle finish.
And they are all capable. The Lobos will be facing a disciplined, slow-down Wyoming team that, with a good shooting night, probably is good enough to beat any team in the conference. The Cowboys had such a shooting night vs. Nevada.
"We're comfortable knowing who they are and what they are about," said Alford.
The Lobos swept Nevada and Wyoming during the regular season. Alford said he might look for several MW teams to make a few changes, but his Lobos will do what they did in racing to the 2013 title.
"We don't have to change things," said Alford. "I think there are going to be some teams in the tournament, as good as they are, who have to change some things. They have to do things a little bit better. They have to be a little more special or put some (new) wrinkles in."
To beat the Lobos, you have to beat a complete team. The Lobos have balance. The starting five has Williams, Tony Snell and Hugh Greenwood on the edge. The inside has 7-foot Alex Kirk and 6-foot-9 Cameron Bairstow. The Lobos can beat you inside or outside, but they prefer to combine both elements of their game.
"Both those bigs have been terrific. They haven't just been OK," said Alford. "We're obviously our most dominate when we are big-big."
A nice thing about UNM's big-big look is that it doesn't hurt the Lobos defensively. Kirk takes care of the opposition's post muscle inside and Bairstow's foot work allows him to guard a more mobile forward. Heck, Bairstow can even defend some big guards.
The Lobos' defense on the perimeter is outstanding behind Greenwood, Snell and Williams - and there is good defensive help coming off the bench.
"Defense wins games," said Snell.
Said Alford: "If we are going to advance in the conference or advance in the NCAA Tournament, we have to be the defensive team we have been all year. If we're not, then we're not going to advance. It's that simple."
"This is not a mediocre league. You are not going to play average and win on a neutral floor. You have to play well."
NEW MEXICO LOBOS 2012-13 ROSTER/STATISICS