It has been anything but desirable for the Lobo men’s basketball team, or their fans. The Lobos will enter conference play on Wednesday night with an overall record of 6-6. Out of conference play was a nightmare for the Lobos, who hope to save their season with success in conference.
The Lobos started with a bang, beating Cal State-Northridge with an Anthony Mathis three pointer with three seconds to go to survive 87-84. Then they put together a solid second half to beat Iona at home, 90-83, a week later. Then a little bit of reality set in when New Mexico State came to Albuquerque on November 17th.
The Aggies were unstoppable as they led at one point by 19. The Lobos did rally to make it close at the end, losing 98-94, but the problems were evident; the Lobos weren’t going to be able to clamp down on defense very well.
Those issues were masked the next two games, thanks in large part to some wonderful shooting from Mathis. The Lobos beat UTEP 84-78, and pulled out a nice road win over Bradley, 85-75, on December 1st. From then on though, the wheels fell off.
The next two games saw horrible shooting nights from the Lobos, mixed with the inability to slow down the opposition on the offensive end, the Lobos were blown out by New Mexico State and St. Mary’s of California by a combined 60 points. To add insult to injury, a scuffle before the New Mexico State game involving Corey Manigault had head coach Paul Weir apologizing to fans for that incident, and Mathis apologizing to fans for the way the Lobos had played.
Against Colorado on December 11th it appeared as though the Lobos would get back on track. Instead a cold shooting final nine minutes saw the Lobos blow a 14 point lead and drop a 78-75 heartbreaker.
The Lobos finally broke through with a win in The Pit on December 16th with an 82-70 decision over Central Arkansas. The game was transfer Carlton Bragg’s first game as a Lobo, and he didn’t disappoint with 16 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes played.
The celebration was short lived, as the Lobos were beaten in their next two contests by a North Texas and Penn, both whom, despite what Lobo fans might think, are solid teams that can challenge for tournament wins come March. North Texas sits at 13-1 now on the season, while Penn is 10-4 with a win over defending champions Villanova.
The Lobos ended their out of conference play with a 103-47 win over Southwest on December 30th in a game played in Hobbs, New Mexico. Hoping that the game will prove to be a much needed tuneup before playing Air Force Wednesday night.
Now the Lobos do seem to be struggling sitting with a record of 6-6. What the Lobos can take from the out of conference part of the schedule is that they were beaten by some really decent teams. Of the six losses, none came against teams with losing records. New Mexico State is 11-3; St. Mary’s is 9-6; Colorado is 9-3; North Texas sits at 13-1; Penn is 10-4. From their six wins, only Bradley has a winning record. This might not bode well for the Lobos entering MWC play, but just four teams enter conference play with a winning record. So, given the history of this Lobos team so far, it might be a successful season on paper.
Games aren’t played on paper, however, which is kind of good and bad for the Lobos. The Lobos did get better in conference play last season in Weir’s first year, and Lobo fans should expect the same this season. Considering that the Lobos have a number of new faces, gelling as a team takes time, especially if that team is playing some really good out of conference games. The feeling is the more these guys play together, the better they will become. Lobo fans shouldn’t really expect challenging for a conference championship with this team, but a solid top three, or four, finish isn’t out of the realm of possibility with this team. Vance Jackson hasn’t lived up to expectations to date, but the sky’s the limit with his talent. Bragg has only played in four games this season, so the Lobos haven’t seen his true potential yet. The one player the Lobos would love to see get going in conference play is Dane Kuiper who has disappeared some contests this season.
All in all while it has been somewhat of a disappointing 2018-19 season to date, Lobo fans should be getting excited for conference play, as this team will continue to get better as the season goes along.