The New Mexico Lobos men’s basketball team will finally return to the court after a whirlwind and emotional week.
Friday will mark the start of the Lobo Classic, three games over three days for the Lobos, all on the home floor of The Pit.
The Lobos had last week’s game against in-state rival New Mexico State called off due to an on campus shooting that resulted in the injury of NMSU player Mike Leake and the death of UNM student Brandon Travis.
That incident, coupling with the fight that occurred between students at the UNM-NMSU football game earlier this season, prompted both athletic directors to mutually agree to calling off the December 3rd contest that was scheduled at the Pan-Am Center in Las Cruces.
That will mark the second time in three seasons that the Lobos and Aggies will have not played in basketball. In 2020, it was due to COVID-19.
As for the Lobos Classic, UNM will play host to three schools that they should be able to beat.
First up for UNM, a game against Jacksonville State on Friday evening. The Gamecocks boast a 2-2 record on the season with wins over Shorter and Elon, and losses to Illinois-Chicago and Alabama.
JSU has three players that average in double-figures in points, led by Skyelar Potter. The 6-3 guard is pouring in 13.8 points on average this season and 16 points against Elon in their last game.
Demaree King and Amanze Ngumezi average 13 points per game for JSU, the other two that average more than 10 points per game for them. Ngumezi did not play in the game versus Elon but did score double figures in each of the first three games for JSU.
The key matchup in this game will be Potter against Jaelen House. The UNM guard is averaging 20.7 points per game and 6.3 assists per game this season. He has frustrated opposing players with his quickness and aggressiveness of getting to the rim and drawing fouls. House should do the same in this game, early and often.
On Saturday, the Lobos will take on North Dakota State, in a game that will tip at 5 p.m. in Albuquerque again.
This Bison has a 1-4 record right now and will face Northern Colorado on Friday. NDSU’s only win on the season is against Division II Crown College.
The Bison have four players that score in double figures with forward Andrew Morgan leading the way. The 6-10 sophomore is going for 13.2 points and 8.2 rebounds a game. Morgan has 23 points and 14 rebounds against Crown College and has gone for 13 or more points in the last three games.
The one caveat for Morgan is that he has not played more than 25 minutes in a game this season. NDSU will need more minutes from him against UNM if they expect to contend.
The key matchup in that game will be Morgan versus Morris Udeze. The 6-8 senior forward is coming into his own at UNM with two guards dishing him the rock. Udeze averages 16.7 points per game this season and will bring his experience to this one versus Morgan’s size.
Finally, the Lobos will square off with Northern Colorado on Sunday. Those two will tipoff at 5:30 on Sunday in the Duke City.
Right now, the Bears are also 1-4 on the season, with their only win coming against Texas A&M-Commerce. The Bears have lost to one Mountain West Conference team already, falling 80-69 to San Jose State.
Northern Colorado has three players that score in double figures, with guard Dalton Knecht with 16 points per game. The 6-6 guard has length to go up against the smaller guards usually playing at his position. He went for 20 points against Colorado College and 16 points against San Jose State.
Knecht plays a lot like House where he drives to the hoop to draw fouls, which he has with great success this season.
The key matchup in this one will be with Northern Colorado’s Daylen Kountz and UNM’s Jamal Mashburn Jr. These two guards are the ones who will dish the orange to their teammates and are also not afraid to shoot it when they need to. Kountz has 14.6 points per game with 3.6 assists per game. Mashburn averages 18.7 points and 2.3 assists per game. Mashburn will be a huge factor in the assist game with House having to deal with Knecht’s length.
For the other teams participating, the schedule will be as follows:
Northern Colorado vs. North Dakota State on Friday.
Northern Colorado vs. Jacksonville State on Saturday.
North Dakota State vs. Jacksonville State on Sunday.
This feels like it will be the Lobos running the gauntlet and winning each of their three games and will be 6-0 after Sunday.