Coach Craig Neal and the Lobos host the University of San Diego Toreros on Saturday November 30 at 3:00 p.m. ET (1:00 p.m. MT).
The Toreros are off to a hot start (7-1), led by six-foot guard Johnny Dee who averages 16.6 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. Dee is a bit undersized, but he makes up for it with solid footwork and a quick release. Duda Sanadze and Christopher Anderson accompany Dee, each averaging 12.3 points per game. 6-11 Dennis Kramer takes care of business in the paint with 10.6 points and 6.6 boards per game.
Saturday's match will conclude a tough, four-game road trip for the Toreros. USD took its first loss against the University of Illinois-Chicago (74-70) on Monday. The next two days the Toreros defeated UNC Greensboro (83-71) and then barely took down Southern Illinois (56-53).
The 4-1 Lobos are led by the usual suspects: Alex Kirk (20.8 ppg/12.2 rpg); Cameron Bairstow (19.6 ppg); and Kendall Williams (18.2 ppg/6.9 apg). Next in line are Cullen Neal (9.0 ppg) and Hugh Greenwood (5.6 ppg). Interestingly, UNM Associate Head Coach Lamont Smith played basketball at USD and is a '99 Torero graduate.
This is the 9th meeting between USD and UNM with the Lobos leading the all-time series 6-2. The Lobos have won the last four meetings with the last Torero win coming during the 2005-06 campaign (63-56 in San Diego). USD owns one win at The Pit, a 64-53 win in USD's second game of the 1988-89 season.
The Lobo's only loss came against UMass in the Charleston Classic Tournament (the eventual winners). Before that game the Lobos were ranked 19th and the Minutemen were unranked. After that game the Lobos are unranked and the Minutemen are 24th. UNM quickly rebounded with a persuasive victory over Davidson to take 3rd place in the tournament.
This is not going to be an easy game. "We're going to have a really good team coming in to play," said Lobo Coach Craig Neal. "So our guys will have another challenge."
Dee and Anderson are going to be a handful for the Lobos who have struggled against the dribble-drive. The new (or existing, but ultra-enforced) foul rules are affecting the way the Lobos play. "The bottom line is they (fouls) are called," said Neal. "You have to adjust." The Toreros have been successful in attacking the rim and getting to the line. The Lobos will have to play smart and avoid the whistle.
While the Toreros tend to play from the outside-in, the Lobos like to play from the inside-out. Twin towers Kirk and Bairstow collectively average 40.4 points and 18.8 boards. USD has size, but I don't think they will have a definite answer for the Lobo's big men.
I also expect Hugh Greenwood to get more involved in this game. He has been relatively quiet this season, most of the time due to foul trouble. Greenwood is a pure shooter and the Lobos need him to pick up some of the scoring void left by current Chicago Bull, Tony Snell.
Cullen Neal is off to a nice, if not occasionally careless, start. Neal is a much-needed offensive spark for the Lobos, but his field goal percentage (34%) and turnover rate (3.8 per game) leave something to be desired. Nonetheless, Neal has a ton of talent and is sure to clean up his act. Keep in mind, he has only played in 5 NCAA games.
The Lobos would definitely like to win this one. If not for the record, for the momentum it offers. After this game New Mexico faces the toughest stretch of their non-conference schedule. UNM plays New Mexico State, Cincinnati, #2 Kansas, NMSU again, and finally #25 Marquette.
A win at home would righten the ship and bolster confidence for a team that has high expectations (especially among fans). Look for the Lobos to play an up-tempo game and give their fans a nice Thanksgiving-weekend win.