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.
Sep 29, 2014, 11:45 PM EDT
Long Beach State has four commits in 2015.
Sep 29, 2014, 9:50 PM EDT
Pauley Pavilion has gone under plenty of changes in the last few seasons and dealt with a flooding issue several months back.
Sep 29, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
UNLV continues to tap into the local powerhouse.
Sep 29, 2014, 7:47 PM EDT
All four commits are ranked in the Rivals150.
Sep 29, 2014, 7:15 PM EDT
Spoiler: Kentucky is going to dunk a lot this season.
Sep 29, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
A decision could come within the next three weeks.
Sep 29, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT
John Calipari’s loaded roster has required a new position on the Kentucky staff.
Sep 29, 2014, 3:54 PM EDT
Logwood had previously signed with Auburn.
Sep 29, 2014, 3:13 PM EDT
Spoelstra is now the head coach of the Miami Heat.
Sep 29, 2014, 2:36 PM EDT
New head coach Mike Rhoades is from the Shaka Smart coaching tree.
Sep 29, 2014, 1:36 PM EDT
Will this hurt Cuonzo Martin’s program?
Sep 29, 2014, 12:47 PM EDT
Deville Smith has completed the tough task of playing for four different schools in four seasons.
Sep 29, 2014, 11:53 AM EDT
This provides more context into why Smart did what he did.
Sep 29, 2014, 11:05 AM EDT
There is only one truly strange ranking in this top 25.
Sep 28, 2014, 11:40 PM EDT
The Yellow Jackets will have new uniforms as they look to account for the loss of four of their top five scorers from last season.
Sep 28, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT
After having to worry about rehabbing from two hip surgeries last summer, Omar Calhoun could simply work on his game this summer.
Sep 28, 2014, 8:36 PM EDT
The task of rebuilding the USC program will be a difficult one, but these two forwards will help matters next season.
Sep 28, 2014, 7:05 PM EDT
The Gamecocks are looking to add even more depth to their front court in the Class of 2015.
Sep 28, 2014, 5:04 PM EDT
If the Red Storm are to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001, their guards will have to be as good as they say they are.
Sep 28, 2014, 3:28 PM EDT
The junior forward started 26 games last season for the Blue Devils.
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- Four-star point guard verbally commits to Clemson 0
- Top 2015 and 2016 prospects comment on high school-to-pro move in new report 0
- Four-star 2015 shooting guard commits to Illinois 0
- Florida State gets commitment from 7-foot-4 2015 center 2
- CBT’s Recruiting Roundup: Nebraska invades Chicago, Wake Forest lands big recruit, Wisconsin gets another system fit 0
- Four-star forward becomes Nebraska’s third 2015 commitment 0