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New Mexico Basketball: Can the Lobos bounce back next year?

The Lobos will end their disappointing 2014-2015 regular season on Saturday but should Lobo fans be worried about the future of the program?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It's the end of the world, the sky is falling or at least that is the feeling in Albuquerque, as the New Mexico Lobos are now on an eight game losing streak headed into Saturday's regular season finale against Wyoming. The Lobos who were picked to finish third in the Mountain West Conference this year, but have failed to meet the lofty expectations set by the media for a team that lost a trio of players that accounted for most of the teams scoring in 2014.

Many around the program felt that they would be able to fill the void left by Alex Kirk, Cameron Barstow and Kendall Williams with existing players and recruits that could make an immediate impact.

Cullen Neal would be the scorer, Deshawn Delaney would have an NBA type season, Hugh Greenwood would be the glue guy, Jordan Goodman would show why he was the 2nd rated Junior College recruit, and freshmen Sam Logwood and Xavier Adams would be impact players in their first year.

After 29 games it is obvious the Lobos are a few pieces away from competing for the top spot in the conference which is hard for a lot of New Mexico fans to swallow. This season is proof that while recruiting is fun it is not an exact science and that it might not be possible for a team like New Mexico to sustain large losses and just reload.

While the odds are that the Lobos will not play in any meaningful post season games this season there is still the possibility that they can get hot and win four games in Las Vegas.

If the Lobos do not win a fourth consecutive MWC Tournament there is still the possibility that New Mexico might still receive an invite to the CBI post season tournament. The CBI would be good experience for the Lobos younger players like Devon Williams, Sam Logwood and Xavier Adams but is playing in the CBI which won't have any of the nation's top 100 teams worth the risk?

The risk would be losing to a team like Stony Brook or Radford in the first couple of rounds, and that could be a disaster for the Lobos but what would be worse not being invited to the CBI or not winning it. Mountain West Conference foe Fresno State made it to the final last year and the experience was good for them but the Lobos are far from Fresno the Bulldogs don't have the History that New Mexico does.

This season has already ended the love affair most Lobo fans had with Craig Neal, but is a 14-15 record reason enough for the backlash Neal is receiving?

The Lobos are in the same position that UNLV is in and they have two first round pick on their roster and the Rebel's do not have the recent success that the Lobos have had.

There have been various calls this year on the Lobos post game radio show asking for Craig Neal to pack his bags. Listen to Local radio, read the newspaper, browse the local speak up section and you can see the Lobos fan base is panicking.

There is a sense of unrest a feeling that last year was an anomaly because many feel Neal won with Steve Alfords players and that this year will be the norm, fans are comparing Neal to Ritchie McKay and Fran Fraschilla. People have started to pick at every little thing happens in the program like an article in the local paper critiquing where Cullen Neal sits on the Lobo bench in it there where letter from Lobo fans that have dissected every moment that the younger Neal spends and how they interrupt every interaction that he has with other players. There where quotes like "you're not the coach" and "move to the end of the bench".

Does Neal deserve this after one year or should fans be patient after all down seasons happen to everyone?

In 2013 after winning the national title, Kentucky lost in the first round of the NIT to Robert Morris. Kentucky is a program that has expectations that New Mexico will never have and they did not run John Calipari out after one year. The critics have come out in droves this year but Neal should be used to it by now he should have learned to live in the Albuquerque media fish bowl by now after all he was here for the Washington loss, he lived through Harvard and last year his team was upset by Stanford.

So what's next for the Lobos?  Saturday will be a changing of the guard as Hugh Greenwood is honored on Senior Night, but who does he pass the torch to? What happens after the final buzzer sounds this year for the Lobos, regardless if it's next week at the MWC tournament or after the CBI.

Will Craig Neal jump ship or will he be run out of town by angry fans. Is it possible that Lobo fans brave the storm band together support the team through a bad season and show up in full force to renew their season tickets next year?

Before making a decision, Lobo fans must keep in mind love or hate Cullen, he will be back next year which instantly adds an ESPN 100 player to the team that they did not have this year. Joining Neal will be two prized transfers in Tim Williams and Elijah Brown both of which should start for the Lobos next year. If Jordan Goodman decides to return and is fully healthy next year he can be the player that scored 26 points against George Mason this year.

The Lobos also have three recruits that were nominated to play in the Mc Donald's All-American team this year in Jordan Hunter, Anthony Mathis, and Dane Kuiper all of which have skills that will fill voids that this year's Lobos had.

Joining them will be a strong nucleus of young players In Sam Logwood, Xavier Adams, Obij Aget, Devon Williams and Joe Furstinger. On paper next year's team should be good, but if people won championships on paper teams like UNLV would have tons of MWC banners hanging from the Thomas and Mack Center.

As a Lobo fan even though I have been critical at times I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and I feel that next year will be better. I just hope I'm not the only person in Albuquerque that feels this way.