PHOTO: Colorado State’s Kendie Moore (3) bounces a pass by the Lobos’ Dane Kuiper (14) during the Rams 91-76 rout in Fort Collins. (Michael Brian, Reporter-Herald)
By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
Wash, rinse, repeat.
And if the New Mexico Lobo men’s basketball team doesn’t turn things around soon, you can probably add “drain” to that sentence.
Because that’s where this season could be heading without some serious fixing.
It’s only four games into the Mountain West conference season, but it’s been 16 games overall and the Lobos (8-8, 2-2 MWC) continue to be plagued by the same inept issues time and time again. On Saturday, they were routed 91-76 by a Colorado State team that had lost nine of its previous 11 games. And that final is truly deceiving.
New Mexico actually closed with a 10-0 run in the final 88 seconds against what little bench the Rams (7-10, 2-2) had.
Yes, that means it was a mind-numbing 91-66 with 1:28 left.
Frankly, there were very few, of any, positives out of this one. The game was held in docile Moby Arena in Fort Collins in front of an announced crowd just more than 3,000. The setting couldn’t have been better for a team that was in desperate need of a bounce-back road victory.
This debacle, however, has to be in the running for the growing list of Lobos’ worst-yet loss this season.
Suddenly, their remarkable destruction of then unbeaten and sixth-ranked Nevada feels like it was a decade ago, and not just a week.
OH, NO ZONE: I’ve been amazed at some of the accolades I’ve heard from fans and media alike about how great New Mexico’s zone defense has been, and how it has turned around the season.
Sure, the Lobos used the zone in the shocker against Nevada, but that win wasn’t as much about the defense as it was about a magical Pit Game. The Lobos could do no wrong in front of an amazing crowd that was champing at the bit even before tip-off.
Outside of that game, the UNM zone has been as bad as its man-to-man.
UNM did use the 2-3 zone in its MWC opener against Air Force, a 65-58 Lobo win. But the Falcons couldn’t make wide-open shots all night, including ones in the final minute that would have tied the game. That allowed New Mexico to escape with a fool’s gold victory.
New Mexico came out juiced and ready again for UNLV on Tuesday in the Pit, racing to a nine-point lead late in the first half of that one. But the Rebels abused that UNM zone in the second half on the way to an 80-69 win.
On Saturday, Colorado State had those same open shots, but the Rams drilled them. CSU had open jumpers all day in the lane and unguarded layups and dunks after teammates penetrated and dished. The Rams also had a 3-point festival (7-of-15) with nary a hand in the shooters’ face. Air Force, a solid 3-point shooting team, was a miserable 2-of-15 – nearly all on open looks – in the loss to New Mexico.
On Saturday, CSU had more made 3’s in the first 2:23 of the game than the Falcons made the entire night in their loss to the Lobos. The Rams hit three 3s for a 9-1 lead and never trailed the rest of the way.
Yet again, this was not just a case of New Mexico having trouble defending quick guards. That has become a bigger and bigger cliché as the season progresses.
The Lobos have trouble defending any player on the floor.
On Saturday, Rams sophomore Logan Ryan was one of the biggest benefactors of the Lobo sieve defense.
He played a career-high 20 minutes while star center big man Nico Carvacho spent most of the game in foul trouble. Ryan was 4 for 4 and had a career-high 12 points and found plenty of room around the basket.
When the 6-foot-11 Carvacho was on the floor, he abused any and all of the Lobo big men trying to cover him. He had 16 points and eight rebounds in just 19 minutes.
No CSU player, however, had to be as happy to see the Lobo zone as reserve junior guard Hyron Edwards.
After sitting out the first semester, Edwards had scored a total of just 28 points on a combined 10-of-36 shots in his previous six games this semester.
PLENTY OF ASSISTANCE: The stat sheet was filled with numbers that showed how porous the UNM defense was, but the biggest were the amount of assists.
Colorado State had as many assists as the Lobos had field goals. The Rams made an insane 26 assists on their 32 field goals, finding the open man all game.
The Lobos had 14 assists with 26 field goals.
BASKETBALL Q&A: Back to cliches, I’m worn out by the phrase “high basketball IQ.”
I’m pretty sure if I’ve never heard a sportscaster use the term “low basketball IQ,” and I doubt I ever will.
The Lobos could change that.
UNM coach Paul Weir has shown his frustration with his team multiple times in recent weeks, and I can appreciate that. Too many times, the Lobos look to have limited experience in organized competition.
They simply make so many errors that show a lack of basketball instinct. And it’s not just on defense.
On offense, there are too many occasions when players toss chest passes into defenders instead of bounce-passing around them or lobbing over them, and other times when players are looking down while dribbling and a teammate is flashing open. They get silly turnovers by failing to recognize the shot-clock is expiring, camping out in the lane, lackadaisical passes and numerous others.
There has also been a tendency for a player to make a shot or two in a row, then rush a bad shot without the offense getting set.
POINT BLANK – STILL: Offensively, the biggest problem is obviously the lack of a true and experienced point guard. Ohio State transfer JaQuan Lyle was to be that guy, but was injured just prior to the start of official practice in the fall.
– Senior Anthony Mathis, one of the best 3-point shooters in the nation, has been playing the point but is a natural shooting guard. Mathis is not great at penetrating or dishing off the dribble-and-drive.
When he doesn’t have the ball, opponents have learned to shadow Mathis to keep him from getting open looks. He is deadly when he gets any kind of look, as he showed by hitting 4-of-6 from 3-point range and finishing with 16 points.
– Sophomore Keith McGee, who played just a combined two minutes with zero points in the last four games, had some very solid minutes in the first half, and is UNM’s best chance at developing a point guard this season.
He scored seven of his eight points in the opening half and finished with a team-high five assists but four turnovers. He was 3-of-7 from the floor in 24 minutes.
Freshman point guard Drue Drinnon has shown the ability to spot teammates on occasion, but still needs far more experience at this level before he can become any type of factor. He played 10 minutes, mostly in the second half, but 0-for-3 with one assist and one turnover and didn’t score.
TICKY TIDBITS: …. Vance Jackson, a 6-9 forward transfer, was again the Lobos’ best all-around performer on Saturday with 18 points, 12 boards and four assists. He was named the league’s preseason newcomer of the year, and he has looked very much the part much of the campaign.
…. Despite all their height, the Lobos were again outrebounded – this time 31-30. They did have more offensive boards (7-4), but much of that was due to the Rams making so many shots.
CSU hit 16 of its first 21 field goal attempts and finished the game shooting 56.1 percent (32-57).
The Lobos were solid from the floor, shooting 47.3 percent (26-55), but had 17 turnovers to CSU’s nine.
OUTLOOK: As I have stated before, when a team is filled with new players – particularly transfers – it takes time to mesh. But the season is more than half over, and it’s been rare when everyone has been on the same page.
Still, the individual talent is certainly there. That was evident just a week earlier. Ask Nevada about that.
Weir has been frustrated, the fans are frustrated and I guarantee the players are as well. Heck, any team that manhandles Nevada shouldn’t be losing to UNLV at home, barely escaping at Air Force or losing to Colorado State anywhere.
But it’s a very down year in the MWC, and there are plenty of pickings left on the slate. The Lobos are capable of rolling to a late-season winning streak like last year.
They truly could explode on this league.
As long as they don’t implode first.
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.