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New Mexico Basketball Preview: Can the Lobos make it back to the NCAA tournament

With New Mexico's annual Howl being this past Friday it is time to Preview this years Lobos.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

To most New Mexico fans Craig Neal's first season as the head coach of the Lobos was a disappointment. Even with a 27-7 record which is the most by a first year head coach, the Lobos fell short of  preseason expectations.  They were  favorite to win the Mountain West Conference regular season title which they lost to San Diego State.

The Lobos rebounded and beat the San Diego State Aztecs to win the Mountain West tournament, but once again they failed to make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. For Lobo fans, the Sweet 16 and beyond is the goal. Conference championships are no longer the mark, as they do not get the program national respect. Despite the Lobos losing their top three scorers from 2013-2014, fans will still expect the Lobos to make the NCAA Tournament this year and make a run. Lobo fans know good programs do not rebuild they reload with talent and that is what they expect from Craig Neal's team.

Key Returners:

Hugh Greenwood: Greenwood is the Lobos leader, he is a hard-nosed point guard that has tons of international experience.  He was Honorable Mention All Conference last year for the second year in a row and was in the final 15 for the Australian Senior team this summer.   He finished six in the country last year with a 3.5 assist to turnover ratio. He averaged 6.2 points per game and with 5.1 rebounds. Look for Greenwood to score more this year.  In the past he showed he can score but has never been asked to because up until this year the Lobos had plenty of proven scorers.  Greenwood averaged 31.8 minutes a game last year, look for it to be in the 35 minute range this year due to the Lobos only backups at the point guard position being starting shooting guard Cullen Neal and preferred walk on Tim Jacobs.

Cullen Neal: If you're a Lobo fan you either love Cullen Neal or you hate him. There were a lot of fans that took issue with the amount of time Neal saw on the court last year averaging 19.9 minutes a game. They wrote it off as him being the coach's son; there were even rumors that Nick Barnyards lack of playing time was linked to his displeasure with Cullen's.

What was discounted was that Cullen was one of the top rated the Lobos had landed in years; rated No. 82 in ESPN's top 100 and he was being counted on to replace Matthew Dellavedova at St Mary's University. He would have been a starter for the Gaels but playing for his dad in the city he graduated high school was too much to pass up. While Neal did struggle some during his freshman season, he did have a health scare during the Lobos preseason trip to Australia where he was hospitalized for 7 days and lost 20 pounds due to a severe infection. The time in the hospital and weight loss set Neal back and despite his periodic struggles he showed during his 24 point game against Marquette making six three pointers, proved that he can be a deadly scorer.  Neal was fourth in freshman scoring last year and is the Lobos leading returning scorer at 7.1 points a game. If Cullen can cut down on the turnovers and play within himself, he can have a big year.

Deshawn Delaney: Last year the former Junior college All-American missed summer work outs and a preseason trip to Australia with the Lobos due to extra course work needed to qualify academically to attend the University of New Mexico.  The missed time put Delaney behind Cleveland Thomas on the depth chart and for the first 10 games he did not see much time. It was not until the Lobos game against Marquette University that Deshawn would get his chance to start and was impressive scoring 10 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.

He never relinquished his starting position and showed flashes of what Lobos can expect this year in regards to scoring and athletic ability.  Delaney  could very well be the Lobos most talented player and he should have a break out season this year. The senior should be a dark horse candidate for player of the year and will be one of the Lobos leading scorers.

Top New Comers:

Jordan Goodman: Goodman is a first team Junior college All-American at Harcum College and was the second rated Junior College player of the 2015 recruiting class. The Lobos beat out the likes of Oklahoma State, Temple, Georgetown and La Salle. The 6'9 Goodman is already slated to be the Lobos starting power forward but is athletic enough to play all of the positions on the floor. Goodman is recovering from off season knee surgery but has already started practicing with the team. Goodman Averaged 18.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game as a sophomore so he will contend with Delaney for the Lobos leading scorer and should be considered a candidate for Mountain West Newcomer of the Year.

Sam Logwood: The 6'7 Logwood is a physical talent.  He is very athletic and he should compete for minutes behind Deshawn Delaney at the wing right away. Logwood who committed to Auburn out of high school was a late addition to the Lobos 2015 recruiting class, after being released from his commitment to the Tigers after a coaching change. He comes from national power house La Lumiere School in Indianapolis. Indiana was rated in Rivals top 150 in the 2015 recruiting class. Many of the people that see him play compare him to current Chicago Bull, Tony Snell. While he is not a 5-star recruit like some of the other freshman of the year candidates, if Logwood sees minutes this year for the Lobos he should be considered a candidate for the award.

Xavier Adams: Adams was considered one of Texas top 15 players for the 2015 class. He is a 6'5 guard and was the District Offensive Most Valuable Player for powerhouse Marcus High School in Flower Mound, Texas. He was chosen to participate in 2014 Texas High School Coaches Association All Star game and was also named the THSCA Slam Dunk champion as a senior. Adams should see minutes behind Cullen Neal at the shooting guard this year and has the talent to be considered one of the top freshmen in the conference this year.

J.J. N'Ganga: N'Gana attended Northwest Oklahoma College-Townaka for his first two seasons he averaged 6.0 points and 5.4 rebounds per game while battling injures the last two years. J.J is a big physical center and should help the Lobos fill the gap left by Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk. Look for N'Gana to battle Obij Aget for the Lobos starting center and he should see lots of minuets due to Lobos lack of depth at the position.

The Prediction:

Many were shocked when the Media picked the Lobos to finish third in the preseason poll but despite losing their top three scores from their 27 win team the Lobos return three solid pieces in Greenwood, Neal and Delaney. Coach Neal has also done a great job adding some new talent to the Lobos that should keep them from going through a rebuilding season. The big question would be if he can get everyone to play together like last year's team that had a couple of seasons to gel.

The Lobos will win around 25 games this year and will be in the top two teams in the Mountain West this year. The Lobos will either defend their Mountain West Conference Tournament Title or win another regular season title this year but to Lobos fans where they finish in the conference is not as important as how they fair in the NCAA tournament. Look for the Lobos to make history this year and advance to the sweet 16 led by Goodman and Delaney with Greenwood being the senior leader of the team.