FEATURED PHOTO: The Lobos, in white, tip it off with NAIA’s University of the Southwest on Sunday in Hobbs. UNM crushed the Mustangs 103-47, but was it worth the trip heading into league play? (Courtesy/GoLobos.com)
By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
We’ve seen it forever in college basketball. A team turns the ball over 20-to-25 times, shoots less than 40 percent from the floor and gets pounded on the boards.
The most common post-game coaching cliché?
“We need to improve in a lot of areas. It was an ugly win, but a win is a win.”
are there times when wins are actually losses?
The New Mexico Lobo men’s basketball team might have had such a victory on Sunday – a 103-47 blowout of of the University of the Southwest – in their final nonconference game.
It was a win. Basically. But did it help prepare UNM for its conference opener today (Jan. 2) at Air Force, or for the rest of the Mountain West season?
The blowout of Southwest was played in the Hobbs High basketball arena in front of a sparse and docile crowd. Announced attendance was 1,200, which is about one-third of what the arena holds. Reporters at the game estimated there were actually less than 1,000.
Maybe it was a good tuneup for a team that desperately needs some tuning. But maybe it was a waste of time and energy – and created some delusions of grandeur.
The Lobos had just 10 turnovers to the Mustangs’ 10. UNM, one of the tallest teams in the nation, finally looked like one. It had a whopping 54-33 advantage on the boards. The Lobos didn’t exactly light it up from the floor (48 percent), but the Mustangs were horrendous (30 percent).
It was lopsided, indeed, and in now way could be called an ugly win.
But for all intents and purposes, it can’t really be called a win.
It came against an NAIA team. The NCAA rankings don’t count games against NAIA teams. So the Lobos are still 5-6 in the eyes of the NCAA.
And Southwest – which isn’t a training school for pilots or flight attendances – isn’t simply an NAIA team. It is a bad NAIA team.
The Mustangs, located in Hobbs, entered the game with a 3-8 record.
They also left the game with a 3-8 record. It only counted as an exhibition for them.
Maybe Hobbs High would have provided more competition.
Taking the Hobbs highway
So why play such a game at this point of the season, one that had to get special approval from the NCAA? And why Hobbs?
I get it, sort of.
There is a lot of oil money in Hobbs and there has always been plenty of hoop talent in the area. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to build a booster and recruiting bases there. And taking a high-flying, high-scoring world-beating Lobo team there, might build those bases. What better way to spread the gospel of Lobo basketball to prospective fans and players in southeast New Mexico and West Texas.
After the game, UNM coach Paul Weir said “I don’t think there’s anything we haven’t (gotten) that we wanted” out of the trip.
If that was the plan, the jury is still out. Maybe it will reap rewards down the road.
But as for packing Ralph Tasker Arena for this one, a funny thing happened to the super-talented, transfer-filled Lobos on their way to that red-hot start many of us – including me – thought would occur.
After a win at Bradley to open the month, the Lobos dropped five of six before heading to Ralph Taskerville – and four of those losses came in Dreamstyle Arena.
So staggering into Hobbs with a 5-6 record – and during a winter storm – wasn’t the best way to get a new fan-base energized.
But how about the Lobos, themselves?
The team’s bus trip to Hobbs took more about eight hours hours. because of the road conditions. Then came another bus ride out of Hobbs to Lubbock, Texas and a flight out of Lubbock to Denver, and another bus trip to Colorado Springs for tonight’s Mountain West opener.
The Lobos have been on the road for four straight nights, but maybe it will help them bond. It also allowed the coaches to keep an eye on things during New Year’s Eve and the days surrounding it. They are college youngsters, after all.
Maybe the Hobbs’ game and all the travel will be a nice wake-up call for a team that, many times, just seems to go through the motions as if its lofty preseason expectations will be fulfilled just by showing up.
Then again, maybe the Lobos will have trouble being wide awake for league play and NCAA opponents after a long trip and its Sunday stroll.
One thing is certain – they need to be wide awake by Saturday. After tonight’s game against Air Force (5-7), the Lobos play a team with slighly more talent than Southwest when they play host to sixth-ranked Nevada (13-0) in the Pit.
COWBOYS OR LOBOS?: It will be interesting to see how rocking the Pit will be for Saturday’s UNM/Nevada game. I have to think it will be one of those special Pit Games.
But the NFL isn’t helping matters.
While the hoop game is slated for 6 p.m., the Seattle Seahawk-Dallas Cowboy NFL wild card playoff game is scheduled to kick off at 6:15.
There’s a reason for DVRs, folks.
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for four decades, and is one of the most decorated sports journalists in the state’s history. Smith has won more than 30 combined awards in print, television and radio. He is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports. Contact him at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.