New Mexico has undergone a basketball renaissance ever since Head Coach Steve Alford has taken over the reigns. In his 5 years (entering 6) at New Mexico he has brought the lobos to the NCAA Tournament 2 out of the last 3 years, and even managed to get the lobos ranked as high as 8 in the 2009-10 season. Last year's team was a perfect example of a Alford New Mexico team, and this year should be a duplicate what the Lobos accomplished in the 2011-12 season: an NCAA Tournament birth. The loss of double-double machine F Drew Gordon (13.7 PPG-11.1 RPG-1 BPG) will be a tough hole to fill, though with the rest of the starting 5 returning, New Mexico should have no problem getting to the big dance, especially when the Lobos non conference schedule is chalk full of NCAA Tournament hopefuls to boost the New Mexico Lobos resume.
Coach: Steve Alford (6th year)
Key Returnees: PG Kendall Williams: 12.1 PPG-4.2 APG-1.4 SPG
SG Tony Snell: 10.5 PPG-2.7 RPG
SG Hugh Greenwood: 6.3 PPG-3.7 RPG-2.5 APG
SG Demetrius Walker: 7.4 PPG-2.7 RGP
SG Jamal Fenton: 6.5 PPG-2.4 APG
Key Losses: F Drew Gordon: 13.7 PPG-11.1 RPG-1 BPG
Projected Starting 5:
PG Kendall Williams
SG Tony Snell
SG Hugh Greenwood
SF Chad Adams
Team Overview: The first impression that this New Mexico Lobos team gives is that is has depth in scoring and assist makers, the other impression that this team gives is that the lack of front court may hurt them. The back court may be the strongest in the MWC with PG Kendall Williams, SG Hugh Greenwood, and SG Tony Snell. C Alex Kirk returns to the court after a season ending surgery and is the only notable big man in the Lobos starting 5. The scoring presence should make it self evident as the season gets going, though a match up with a team with a great front court make pose problems for this experienced Lobos team.
Key Opponents: @ Saint Louis, @ Cincinnati, VS Valparaiso
Saint Louis: The Billikens may lose their leading scorer F Brian Conklin (13.9 PPG-4.6 RPG), but Saint Louis is not a basketball team to take lightly. The Billikens are considered to be a favorite for the Atlantic 10 title as they return PG Kwamain Mitchel (21.4 PPG-3.7 APG), PF Cody Ellis (10.1 PPG-3.4 RPG) and SF Dwayne Evans (7.9 PPG-7.3 RPG). The frontcourt is defiantly evident in this Billikens team as SF Evans may break out into a double-double big man, though without the guidance of head coach Rick Majerus, the team may struggle early on in the season.
Cincinnati: Head Coach Mike Cronin has the Bearcats on a roll, as of late, as they have made consecutive trips to the big dance including a sweet 16 appearance in 2012. While the front court has taken a blow with the loss of F Yancey Gates (12.2 PPG-8.9 RPG), the back court will be as strong as it was last year as leading scorer SG Sean Kilpatrick (14.3 PPG-4.6 RPG), PG Cashmere Wright (10.9 PPG-4.6 APG), and SG JaQuon Parker (9.4 PPG-5.6 RPG) all return for the Bearcats this year. This match up between New Mexico and Cincinnati will be a battle of whose back court is stronger, though Cincinnati has the advantage playing at home and should add a loss to the Lobos schedule.
Valparaiso: Not to many people are aware of the talent on the Valparaiso Crusaders basketball team. Head Coach Bryce Drew got his Crusaders team to the NIT in his first year at the helm, and has already mad his team into the pre-season favorites to win the Horizon League. The Crusaders return tandem Forwards Ryan Broekhoff (14.9 PPG-8.5 RPG) and Kevin Van Wijk (14.1 PPG-5.2 RPG) and has depth in the form of Guards Matt Kenney (7.3 PPG-4.5 RPG) and Will Bogan (7.2 PPG-1.5 RPG). The Crusaders have a balanced team, more leaning towards front court offense, and have a huge rebounding presence though with the New Mexico-Valparaiso match up being in Albuquerque the game should make check a in the win column for the Lobos.
The Rest: VS Davidson, VS Illinois-Chicago* (Paradise Jam), VS Idaho, VS Portland, VS Mercer, @ Indiana State, VS USC, VS New Mexico State, @ New Mexico State, VS South Dakota State
Non-Conference Schedule Prediction: 13-2 (Losses @ Cincinnati, @ Saint Louis)
The New Mexico Lobos have an usually good non conference schedule, littered with NCAA hopefuls such as Davidson, Illinois-Chicago, New Mexico State, Mercer, and South Dakota State, all of which should be won by New Mexico, and should bulk up their NCAA resume. Though the Lobos have talent, they may need more time to develop their front court before they play @ Cincinnati and @ Saint Louis, both of which should be losses. A 13-2 non-conference record, with good losses against Saint Louis and Cincinnati, should help their goal of reaching 20 wins, and making a case for a NCAA Tournament birth.