In a season being touted as having one of the toughest non-conference schedules ever, the Davidson Wildcats will be the toughest non-conference game the New Mexico Lobos will host in The Pit this season – and possibly the entire non-conference slate
Mountain West and Lobo fans alike may not recognize this due to Davidson’s not being a marquee name. But college basketball fans will remember that the Wildcats, out of the Southern Conference, defeated Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse 80-74 last season.
Certainly UNM head coach Steve Alford knows what his team is up against when they tip-off at 11:59 p.m. tonight as part of ESPN’s 24 Hours of Hoops.
"They are extremely good," said Alford. "We've seen them on tape enough - extremely talented. They're about eight deep but they run the floor about as well as anyone we'll play all year long. They shoot the ball from every position from three. They guard you."
Davidson (1-0) and head coach Bob McKillop return their top eight scorers and five starters from last season’s squad that finished 25-8 and earned a 13-seed in the NCAA Tournament, losing to eventual Final Four participants Louisville in Portland, OR.
Among the vaunted returners are SoCon Player of the Year Jake Cohen, a 6-10 forward, and guard De’Mon Brooks. That duo averaged 30.0 points and 12.3 rebounds per game last season. Crafty guard Nik Cochran, who was also named to the SoCon preseason all-conference team, also added to the scoring, averaging 10.9 ppg with 3.6 assists per game.
"This is a very experienced team," said Alford. "All five starters are back from a team that won a championship last year and made the (NCAA) tournament. So my biggest concern right now is Davidson and we've got to get our guys prepared."
While the Lobos will be challenged to put the clamps on Brooks (that assignment may go to Lobo Tony Snell), they’ll also need to slow Cohen, a task that will likely be shared by center Alex Kirk and forward Cameron Bairstow.
Both teams are likely to try to run – and are good at it. The Lobos’ offensive keys in the transition game will be junior guards Kendall Williams and Demetrius Walker on the scoring end and sophomore Hugh Greenwood on the rebounding end.
Because of its thin reserves in the post, UNM must stay out of foul trouble (that will be the case the entire season). It also must try to control the pace whenever possible as the Lobos will be missing their spark plug reserve guard Jamal Fenton, who often helps UNM get its transition game going.
The challenge New Mexico faces may be mitigated by Davidson’s unfamiliarity with the altitude. But having succeeded in Allen Field House, the Wildcats will not likely be intimidated by atmosphere of The Pit. The Lobos will be pushed hard to earn a win in their season opener.