It is that time once again, fans of the New Mexico Lobos are rejoicing, it is basketball season. And the 2021-22 UNM men’s team have a lot of excitement surrounding it just days before the season opens. With a new head coach, new players, and a return to play inside The Pit, this season is one of the most anticipated on record for UNM and their beloved men’s basketball team.
New Man on The Bench
New Mexico will begin the 2021-22 season with a brand-new head coach. Well, brand-new to the program. On March 16th of this year, UNM hired Richard Pitino as the new head basketball coach, taking over for Paul Weir who resigned following last season.
Pitino, the son of former Kentucky head coach and current Iona head coach Rick Pitino, had spent the previous eight seasons at Minnesota as head coach of the Golden Gophers. Pitino amassed a 141-123 record during those eight seasons at Minnesota. The Gophers made the NCAA Tournament twice under Pitino and won an NIT Championship as well. Prior to Minnesota, Pitino spent one season as the head coach of Florida International, going 18-14 in that season.
“My wife Jill, our children and I are very excited to join the Lobo Family,” said Pitino during his introductory press conference. “I want to extend my sincere thanks to President Stokes, Eddie Nuñez and David Williams for extending this opportunity. Lobo Basketball holds a special place in the hearts of New Mexicans, and I cannot wait to get started.”
With the namesake of Pitino and the expectations of Lobo fans of their basketball team, the pressure will be on Pitino to come out of the gates with winning teams. He’ll get his first taste of Lobo basketball inside The Pit in the opening contest on November 10th.
Back Home Again
Speaking of The Pit, the UNM Lobos will finally get to play a contest inside their nationally famous home arena this season after spending the entire 2020-21 season on the road due to state health protocols that were in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The last Lobo game inside The Pit was way back on February 29th, 2020, mere weeks before the pandemic struck New Mexico, and it was a 66-64 victory for the Lobos over Utah State.
During the 2020-21 season, the Lobos called various locations throughout the southwest “home” as they trudged through an historically embarrassing season. The Lobos finished last season at 6-16 overall and 2-15 in Mountain West Conference play.
After a full season of not playing in front of their home faithful, the Lobos will no doubt be itching to get on the court in front of their top fanatics, even the newcomers.
New Kids on the Block
Speaking of newcomers, the Lobos will have nine new players entering this season, to mix with the seven that return from last season.
Those that are returning are:
Jeremiah Francis III
New to the team this season are:
Jamal Mashburn Jr.---Transfer from Minnesota
Jaelen House---Transfer from Arizona State
Gethro Muscadin---Transfer from Kansas
Taryn Todd---Transfer from TCU
KJ Jenkins---Came from Junior College
Safi Fino-A-Laself---Came from Junior College
Sebastian Forsling---Freshman from Sweden
Jay Allen-Tovar---Came from Junior College
Birima Seck---Freshman from Senegal
One player that is on the list of returning players will not be playing anytime soon this season. Saquan Singleton, who averaged eight points per game, and was going to be a big presence in the backcourt for UNM, is sidelined indefinitely due to a heart abnormality that was detected in October.
Despite the abnormality, Singleton told the Albuquerque Journal that “doctors gave no indication that the heart issue won’t improve with some rest.” Singleton, along with the coaching staff and fans, is hopeful of a return at some point this season. As of now, no timetable is set for his return.
The leaders of the newcomers are House and Mashburn. House, a junior guard, averaged 5.3 points per game last season for Arizona State. He brings a ton of energy and will often look to run up and down the floor looking for quick passes and buckets. Mashburn, a sophomore guard, played in all 29 contests last season for Minnesota, averaging 8.2 points per game, and finished third on the team with 45 assists on the season. Mashburn will also exceed in up tempo as well as the halfcourt game. Standing at 6-foot-2, Mashburn can also guard perimeter shooting on defense, something that was an Achilles’ Heel for UNM under Weir.
The Lobos will have one exhibition game under their belts by the time the regular season gets underway, and that was November 5th against New Mexico Highlands. New Mexico also got a scrimmage in, behind closed doors, against Northern Arizona, winning 90-74.
The regular season slate, listed below, begins on November 10th at home in The Pit. Conference play begins December 28th. During Thanksgiving, the Lobos will play in the Las Vegas Invitational, playing both on Thanksgiving and on the day after. In all, there are 31 regular season contests for the Lobos this season, and you can find them below, home games are in bold:
Nov. 10th…..Florida Atlantic
Nov. 13th…..at Colorado
Nov. 15th…..Grambling State
Nov. 20th…..Montana State
Nov. 22nd…..Western New Mexico
Nov. 25th…..Alabama-Birmingham (Las Vegas Invitational)
Nov. 26th…..Towson or San Francisco (Las Vegas Invitational)
Nov. 30th…..at New Mexico State
Dec. 6th…..New Mexico State
Dec. 21st…..Norfolk State
Dec. 28th…..Colorado State
Jan. 1st…..at Nevada
Jan. 8th…..Utah State
Jan. 11th…..at UNLV
Jan. 15th…..San Diego State
Jan. 19th…..at Colorado State
Jan. 22nd…..at Wyoming
Jan. 25th…..Fresno State
Jan. 28th…..San Jose State
Jan. 31st…..at San Diego State
Feb. 5th…..at Air Force
Feb. 8th…..Boise State
Feb. 19th…..at San Jose State
Feb. 22nd…..at Utah State
Feb. 26th…..Air Force
Mar. 1st…..at Fresno State
What the media thinks of how the season will go
In October for Mountain West Conference media days, the Lobos were picked to finish tied for eighth this season in the MWC. Wyoming was the team that the media expects to tie with the Lobos for that eighth spot, while the Lobos are predicted to finish ahead of Air Force and San Jose State. Of Wyoming, Air Force and San Jose State, the Lobos will see those teams six times total this season.
Here at the Mountain West Connection, the Lobos were also picked to finish tied for eighth with the Wyoming Cowboys. Yours truly picked UNM to finish seventh in the conference, ahead of Wyoming, Air Force, San Jose State as well as Fresno State.
Final Thoughts and Season Prediction
Do I get to be a homer with this? Well Lobo fans may not be happy that I picked UNM to finish seventh in the conference, but honestly after the abysmal season last year, anything above six wins will be a marked improvement. This team has a nice mix of returning players to go with the newcomers that will don the Lobo uniform this season. This has me excited for not only this season, but what the future might hold for Lobo basketball. The biggest thing that Lobo fans will need to exercise this season will be patience. Patience with the coaching staff and with the players.
There is not a lot of exciting names with the non-conference schedule, but as I said in the early look at this season a few months back, I like how the schedule has a lot of regional teams in the non-conference portion. Having UTEP, Colorado and SMU on the schedule does make my heart happy given the fact that the Lobos could use more regional rivals, and it is also the continuation of the rivalry with UTEP.
As far as the record goes, this is a team that will easily get to 15 victories on the season. I like them to fall in the 18-13 and 19-12 range. That may not be good enough to get any post season tournament invitations, but it is a start in the right direction for the Lobos.
Do not forget to find previews and recaps of all 31 UNM basketball games right here on Mountain West Connection.