Lobo Points of Interest: Idaho State Bengals

The preliminaries are over and the New Mexico Lobos will open the 2014-15 season against the visiting Idaho State Bengals of the Big Sky Conference. Here's the scoop on ISU.Last year the Bill Evans-coached Idaho State Bengals finished 11-18 (2-13 on the 10th in the 11-team BSC, missing out on the league's seven-team post-season tournament.

Returning starters include leading scorer, 6’4” G/F Chris Hansen, averaging an impressive 16.6 ppg last season. Also returning is 6’4” Jeffrey Solarin, averaging a near double-double last season with 10.4 ppg and 8.5 rebounds per game. Rounding out the probable starters are Ajak Magot, a 6’11” center (2.4 points, 2.3 rebounds per game), 6'4" Evan Hall,  and Nnamdi Ezenwa, a 6’5” R-Sr. Ezenwa led ISU in scoring in their exhibition game against Montana Tech, scoring 19 points. Reserve Ian Fox scored 11 points off the bench. The Bengals have some additional size to mix it up with the inexperienced Lobo frontcourt with underclassmen 7’ Novak Topalovic and 6’9” Andre Slavik.

Last season, the Bengals shot .366 from beyond the 3-point arc while holding opponents to .379 (rank 319/345). UNM could use a translation of the Bengals poor 2014 3-point defense into this season, as the Lobos shot a woeful 5-of-24 from 3-point range against Adams State after missing their last 13 versus Western NM. Last season, the Bengals proved to be adept in team rebounding, averaging a +3.1 rebounding margin (79 best in NCAA). The Lobo guards and wings must stay on task to help the Bigs both by blocking out (particularly on Solarin) and mixing it up inside to grab boards—especially Greenwood and Delaney, who are two of the best rebounding guards in the West.

The Bengals, whose philosophy has been to take the air out of the ball in recent seasons (e.g. a poor man’s Wyoming), will try to play faster this year, which Coach Evans admits he’s never done. That includes defensively, where ISU plans to try and place more pressure on the ball to steal a few easy baskets out transition. This strategy seems appropriate given the Lobos’ turnover-fest (18 turnovers) against Adams State. However, ISU does not boast the speed of the Adams State backcourt; the Lobos may be able to leverage this pressure into some easy transition baskets of their own to force ISU out of this scheme.

ISU believes their physical strength, especially at the guard positions, can wear down opponents. This provides interesting matchups, as Greenwood and Delaney are exceptionally physical players; expect some *** action in the frontcourt. The Lobos should have no problem with the first cupcake on the 2014-15 menu; their length and athleticism should prove too much for the Bengals to overcome. ISU may keep it close early, but look for the Lobos to pull away for a double digit win and some much needed early season confidence building in the friendly confines of Bob King Court.

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