It's some what like playing little league baseball back when you were 11 yrs old - you have a couple of practices before your first game. The guys who played the year before know what's going to happen, what the sounds will be like. It's the first year guy who can only reallly imagine it though. It's the intensity and anticipation that can overwhelm you. And every player, no matter their respective class, never forgets their first collegiate game, and since the Bears have just shy of a half dozen Frosh - you know it'll be a memorable game for them.
The Pit can be an unforgiving place. If you have never seen a game at UNM's basketball facility, located right near the Airport off Gibson Blvd - it has earned its nickname for a very good reason. Here's some background info on one of the great homecourt advantages in all of college basketball. The Pit begins its 37th year as the home of the Lobos. UNM has an all-time mark of 512-121 (81%) in a building that resides 37 feet below street level. The Lobos have had a winning record in The Pit in 35 of their 36 years as tenants and tore off a school-record 41-game home winning streak from 1996-98. Since the beginning of the 1995-96 season, the Lobos are 113-19 (86%) at home. They have also won 38 of their past 41 Home Openers! Former UNM Coach Dave Bliss, who's now the head man at Baylor Univ - certainly had a ton of success there, and though that wasn't completely true for Fran Fraschilla - I think everyone was aware of the transistion period. Coach Ritchie McKay is the new BCOC (Big Coach on Campus), and he's very excited to be taking over. His father played for UNM between 1961-63, so I'm sure he grew up hearing and enjoying Lobo Basketball. New Mexico fans will see a youthful, but less energetic version of Fran when they see McKay on the sidelines. Pac-10 fans know McKay well, since he left Oregon State after 2002 - spending two seasons in Corvallis. McKay has bounced around the West quite a bit actually, spending two years at Portland State, two years at Colorado State, and two years at Oregon State. Might as well leave everything in the U-Haul at that point -
Let's quickly take a look at UNM's projected starting five, and the rest of their roster:
Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning starters in Bold)
PG- Senque Carey 6'4 200 Sr (6.0 ppg, 4.1 apg)
SG- Ruben Douglas 6'5 200 Sr (18.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg)
SF- Jamaal Williams 6'6 220 So (7.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
PF- David Chiotti 6'9 250 Fr (St Francis HS/San Jose, CA)
C- Chad Bell 6'11 255 So (3.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg)
Mark Walters 6'2 195 Fr - 2001-02 Redshirt (Highland HS/Albuquerque NM)
Javin Tindall 5'11 175 Jr - Transfer (Redlands CC/Wichita, KS)
Ryan Ashcraft 6'2 175 Jr - 2001-02 Walk-On, Scholarship for 2002-03
Laurence Metz 6'0 195 Fr - (St. Ignatius HS/San Francisco, CA)
Jeff Hart 6'1 160 Fr - (Sandia HS/Albuquerque NM)
Mikal Monette 6'6 210 Fr - 2002-03 Walk-On (Cibola, HS/Albuquerque NM)
Michael McCowan 6'7 245 So - Transfer (Northeastern JC/Oklahoma City, OK)
With four returning starters, Ritchie McKay may look like he has quite a bit of ammo to start his Lobo coaching career with. Unfortunately, there are some very good reasons most national publications picked UNM to finish nearly dead last in the Mountain West Conference. For starters. the Lobos ended the 2001-02 season with a record of 16-14, 6-8 in the Mountain West Conference. They were eliminated in the first round of the MWC Tournament, 120-117 (double overtime) to UNLV, and in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament, 96-62 at Minnesota. Most fans around the New Mexico program that I recently talked with spoke mostly about how former Coach Fraschilla had lost control of the team - and that was evident from the in-fighting, suspensions, and sudden transfer of Marlon Palmer. It's safe to say that little went right for the Lobos last year.
When it comes to an analysis of the Lobos, it really starts with the backcourt tandem of Carey Douglas - two 5th year Seniors with strikingly similar backgrounds in how they started and are finishing their careers. The Bears know Carey well, a Palo Alto native who was one of the top young point guards in the Bay Area and the Pac-10 before he transferred two years ago to Albuquerque for Fraschilla. Every Cal fan remembers when ‘Q shot them down with a last second three when he was a member of the Washington Huskies. Douglas is also a Pac-10 transfer, and came to New Mexico when Fraschilla took over. Douglas is really a three-point specialist who left Arizona when the fans rode him for his lack of effort, and for his inability to be a Khalid Reeves iind of player. Beyond Carey and Douglass is a very young crop of players, with newcomers like Walters, Tindall, Metz, Hart, and Ashcraft. Walters is certainly the one to watch from this group, but Hart - a walk on from nearby Sandia HS, played very well in the two Exhibition games. Both Walters and Hart played quite a few minutes too. Tindall might be the best scorer off the bench this year for the Lobo's - but missed the 2nd exhibition game - so I do not know his status for the Cal game.
The frontcourt is about as thin as an Ally McBeal bracelet. They do have one excellent young player in Jamaal Williams, a talented wing who was very impressive against the Bears a year ago. Williams is a California native to boot (from L.A area though - a disqualification?), and hits the boards quite well for a player of his size. Without his 12 pts and 10 boards, UNM would have blown out a year ago by Cal. In fact, he was the only Lobo player who shot over 50% in that game. Beyond Williams is a major question mark and there are some early signs that things are already unpleasant in the paint for Ritchie McKay. I expect Chad Bell, the only Center on this team, to start tomorrow night - but Bell was basically benched and played just 9 minutes (scoring 2 pts) in the last exhibition game - and didn't start. David Chiotti, a frosh from San Jose, also didn't start after starting the first game. He did play 20 minutes though, so I think he'll be back in the starting five. It's tough to read Coach McKay's line-ups, if only because Williams didn't start the first exhibition game either.
Offensively, the Lobos are going to have three primary shooters - and you can bank on them shooting 70% of the shots. Douglas Carey shoot their fair share of threes too, averaging about 12-15 per night, combined. Williams works all over the court, especially the baseline, and he can jam with the best of them. Defensively, McKay is known for predominately using the man-to-man, but I think with the lack of adequate size beyond Bell on the frountcourt that we'll see some zones from these guys.
Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning Starters in Bold
PG- A.J Diggs, 5'9 165 Jr. (3.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.5 apg)
SG- Brian Wethers