Oct 30, 2013, 2:00 PM EDT
All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.
In 2012-13, the New Mexico Lobos put together one of the best seasons in the history of the program, winning 29 games and earning both the Mountain West regular season and tournament titles. The Lobos won the regular season crown by a full two games, going 13-3 in conference play after not receiving a single first-place vote in the preseason poll, a fact made all the more impressive when you consider the MWC was the toughest, most balanced league in the country. Point guard Kendall Williams won Mountain West Player of the Year honors.
But the season ended on a sour note for the Lobos as they were knocked off by Harvard in the NCAA tournament Round of 64.
Just over a week after the defeat Steve Alford accepted the head coaching position at UCLA, leaving many wondering who UNM vice president for athletics Paul Krebs would hire to lead the program. Much to the pleasure of many involved Krebs didn’t have to go far to find his replacement, promoting associate head coach Craig Neal. Neal spent the prior six seasons on Alford’s staff, recruiting many of the players on the roster and being a valuable voice in the Xs-and-Os department. While there are some differences, the hiring of Neal has given the program continuity when upheaval wasn’t needed.
With four starters, including Williams and center Alex Kirk, back for another run, the hope in Albuquerque is that the Lobos will not only remain atop the Mountain West but also enjoy greater success in the NCAA tournament.
“It was a very smooth transition to Coach Neal because he’s been drawing up our plays since I’ve been here, and he’s been an integral part of what we’ve been doing,” Williams said of Neal in an interview with NBC Sports. “He’s taken on more of an executive position in a sense, but in my eyes it’s been really smooth and a lot of the guys feel the same way.”
Neal’s move to the head coaching position is one of two major changes New Mexico will have to address as they begin the 2013-14 season, with the other being the departure of guard Tony Snell. After posting averages of 12.5 points, 2.9 assists and 2.6 rebounds, the junior entered the 2013 NBA Draft, where he was a first round selection of the Chicago Bulls. With Snell off to the NBA, the task of accounting for the production lost likely falls upon the shoulders of juniors Hugh Greenwood and Deshawn Delaney. In the case of Delaney, he’s continued to show progress after having to sit out the team’s summer trip to Australia in order to attend summer school.
“He had to stay in summer school so he wasn’t able to go on our trip, which hindered him some,” Neal told NBC Sports. “He’s really starting to pick things up. He was a little behind the ‘8-ball’ because he didn’t get those ten [pre-trip] practices, but he’s done very well. He’s talented, can score and he’s just a great, great kid.”
Delaney was a two-time junior college All-American, averaging 17.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game during his time at Vincennes JC in Indiana, and the feeling is that he has the talent and athleticism needed to make an immediate impact. As for Greenwood he’s been more of a glue guy for the Lobos, and with an improved perimeter shot he’ll look to increase his production (7.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.4 apg) from a season ago. Also factoring into the equation are newcomers like freshman Cullen Neal, the coach’s son who was originally a Saint Mary’s signee before the coaching change at New Mexico.
But ultimately, how productive the backcourt is will fall upon the shoulders of the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year.
“I always work on my body and try to get stronger and more athletic, and I feel really good about where I am [individually] going into the season,” said Williams. “Also improving my leadership skills because we have some new guys and underclassmen to go along with the guys who returned. It was a matter of keeping everyone together and using my experiences to remain positive and lead a really talented group that’s expected to do a lot of things.”
For the season, Williams averaged 13.3 points, 4.9 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. But while his individual numbers may not have been on the level of those posted by the likes of SDSU’s Jamaal Franklin and Air Force’s Michael Lyons, Williams’ impact on the Lobos exceeded what can be seen in the box score. If New Mexico is to remain atop the Mountain West that will once again need to be the case, with both player and coach also pointing to consistency as a key for the Lobos in 2013-14.
It doesn’t hurt to have a second conference Player of the Year candidate on the roster either, as 7-footer Alex Kirk is back for his junior campaign. After redshirting in 2011-12 due to a back injury Kirk hit the ground running, averaging 12.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per contest with nine double-doubles. Now another year removed from the herniated disk that required surgery and once again joined in the front court by the improving Cameron Bairstow (9.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Kirk is expected to cement his status as one of the top big men in the Mountain West.
“Alex has to turn into a dominant low-post player as far as I’m concerned,” said Neal. “Getting space offensively where he can catch it on the block and make teams play him and kick it out for shots, and be able to work with his left hand a little bit more. He really worked on that last year and it got to the point where he could go either way, and that’s tough to guard.”
“He’s also shooting the ball well,” continued Neal. “The one thing I’ve really been working on with Alex is agility and moving when he doesn’t have the ball offensively and defensively, because he’s a really good defensive player who has great timing.”
But regardless of what honors teams pick up in league play, the ultimate judge in the eyes of many is what happens in the NCAA tournament. In 13 NCAA tournament appearances, New Mexico has won multiple games just once — that was back in 1974 — so it goes without saying that there’s a strong desire to buck the program’s postseason reputation.
The 2013-14 season represents a new era in New Mexico basketball, and while the comfort level remains the same under Craig Neal the hope is that these Lobos will be able to go where they’ve been unable to in recent years.
Mar 26, 2015, 9:59 PM EDT
After Dekker scored 15 points in the first half, Kaminksy scored 15 in the second half for the Badgers.
Mar 26, 2015, 9:24 PM EDT
It’s Notre Dame’s first Elite 8 since 1979.
Mar 26, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
New Mexico is losing a wing.
Mar 26, 2015, 6:20 PM EDT
Dukes averaged 2.1 points in 7.2 minutes of action per game.
Mar 26, 2015, 5:35 PM EDT
Josh Jackson, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2016, is down to nine schools.
Mar 26, 2015, 4:24 PM EDT
Adam Smith averaged a team-high 13.4 points per game as a redshirt junior.
Mar 26, 2015, 3:13 PM EDT
This is a strong stance from the NCAA.
Mar 26, 2015, 1:53 PM EDT
Dean Smith was unique, that is for sure.
Mar 26, 2015, 1:25 PM EDT
Here is the schedule for the Sweet 16
Mar 26, 2015, 1:16 PM EDT
Will Tyndall be able to survive the investigation?
Mar 26, 2015, 12:53 PM EDT
Archie Miller is one of the hottest names in coaching, and Dayton is trying to keep him around as long as possible.
Mar 26, 2015, 12:10 PM EDT
Xavier’s reached the Sweet 16 in five of the last eight seasons, but is there a point where that won’t be good enough?
Mar 26, 2015, 11:52 AM EDT
Frazier is projected as a second round pick.
Mar 26, 2015, 11:37 AM EDT
Did they really call Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless college basketball experts?
Mar 26, 2015, 11:01 AM EDT
Ross has led Delaware to the best stretch in program history.
Mar 26, 2015, 9:43 AM EDT
Lie Witness News is always a classic.
Mar 25, 2015, 9:31 PM EDT
Freeman’s shot came just a couple seconds after Murray State’s Jarvis Moss tied things up at 69 apiece.
Mar 25, 2015, 8:50 PM EDT
In his attempt to challenge an NCAA stenographer in Los Angeles, Hayes didn’t realize that the mics pick up everything.
Mar 25, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT
Meeks’ status for Thursday will be determined by whether or not he experiences any pain or swelling after going through a workout Wednesday morning.
Mar 25, 2015, 7:06 PM EDT
Traevon Jackson hasn’t played since late January, and how much he’ll be able to play against No. 4 North Carolina remains to be seen.
- No. 3 Notre Dame knocks off No. 7 Wichita State to get to the Elite 8 4
- Tradition of success through change raises expectations at Xavier 1
- Sweet 16 Preview: The top 16 players left in the tournament 10
- Sweet 16 Preview: The x-factor in each game this week 1
- Ranking the Sweet 16 matchups 8
- Kentucky’s John Calipari is the National Coach of the Year, and it’s not close 36
- Sweet 16 Power Rankings: Reseeding the NCAA tournament field 15
- Kentucky’s John Calipari is the National Coach of the Year, and it’s not close (36)
- Updated tournament records: Five ACC, three Pac-12 teams headed to Sweet 16 (22)
- Reports: Indiana coach Tom Crean said ‘you suck’ to referee after loss to Wichita State (19)
- West Virginia freshman on Kentucky: ‘They’re going to be 36-1′ (19)
- Sweet 16 Power Rankings: Reseeding the NCAA tournament field (15)