Whenever New Mexico is
mentioned, I envision The Pit, dreaded home of the Lobos. At least dreaded by
their opponents, but bringing comfort to the Lobos even in years when the
overall record was not good. For example, in 2003-2004, while enduring a 14-14
year and going 0-7 away in conference, at home they were still 9-2 OOC and 5-2
in conference, though admittedly against a cupcake schedule and still managing
to lose to 11-17 Portland. Of course, their other home loss was to Tech,
67-58. The Lobos have had a few glory years like some under Stormin' Norman
(Norm) Ellenberger, later on an assistant coach to Coach Haskins at UTEP, and
after that an assistant to Coach Knight for ten seasons. Under Ellenberger, at
times it was a disappointment to lose even one game per season at The Pit. For
example, in the magical season of 1977-1978, the Lobos went 24-4, were ranked
as high as #4, and ended UNLV's 72 home win streak in a run and gun clinic,
I know, the basketball history lesson is nice, but what does it have to do with the game against Tech? Perhaps a lot, even though the game is not at
the Pit. The point is that this year, New Mexico is at it again. They are 9-0, with a slightly tougher than usual home schedule, and 0-2 on true road
games. Their third loss is away, but on neutral ground in Las Vegas, and to a team they already beat at home. This propensity for great records at home and a less than stellar performance away, makes it hard to figure the Lobos. UNLV's profile also made them look inconsistent at first glance, but they really weren't.
Good news, bad news. The bad, New Mexico appears to have much better athletes than UNLV. The good, I believe the Lobos really are inconsistent. Starting from that premise, I believe Texas Tech should win. But then, should win and winning are two very different stories.
By The Numbers
To determine relative strength, I use my Composite Power Rating. Texas Tech has a much higher CPR. With the home advantage, Tech is favored by about 7 points. Since UNLV had a high RPI, the loss, while painful, was not that damaging to Tech's RPI. With Tech's opponents holding their own, Tech still has solid NCAA- like numbers in the low to Mid thirties. As a reminder, given that New Mexico's RPI is the 90's, in this instance, a home loss would be not only painful, it would cause a serious plunge in RPI because of the NCAA home loss penalty.
|Per Game Statistical Comparison (Rounded Off)|
Except for a small difference in steals and a substantial difference in 3 point accuracy, the statistical profiles are very similar. While a four
point scoring average difference isn't very meaningful without a close look at the quality of opposition, a glance at New Mexico's last two games shows the difference really is miniscule. While Tech's average went down one point with the loss to UNLV, New Mexico's went up almost three points in feasting on Alcorn and getting into a scoring match against Pepperdine.
Unlike Tech's last two opponents, New Mexico's' defense is not that great. Even some of their cup cake opponents have shot well against them, even in Albuquerque. NC A & T, 3-9, while losing, 86-78, at the Pit, outshot them overall 46% to 43%, and made the same number of 3's (9) but with a
better average. A couple of other bad to mediocre teams have come close.
Their strength in getting a record of 11-3 must be their offense. But where? The Pepperdine game, which New Mexico won by the skin of their teeth, 101-96, highlights a great asset, an ability to get to the freethrow line often. Though Pepperdine, 4-10, rebounded even with them, made four more baskets on two more shots, and outshot them with a sterling 57% average to a good 52%, making 22 out of 28 FT's is what saved New Mexico's bacon. Against then undefeated #8 Wichita, in their best win, in Las Vegas, New Mexico was slightly outshot, but the major factor in the win was outscoring their opponent 14-4 on FT's. Against NC A&T, FT's were the difference. In several games, their opponents have also shot a bunch, attesting to the Lobos' sometimes shoddy and inconsistent defense. However, in others they have made more FT's or almost as many as their adversaries have shot, and as we all know, that is a very good thing to do. In only three games has New Mexico shot fewer than 20 FT's/game, even in losing causes. Let Coach Knight figure out how to avoid it, but if New Mexico gets to the line for over 20Ft's away from home, that will spell trouble.
On offense, New Mexico's shooting average looks decent, on par with Tech's, though overall against lesser competition. The Lobos shot a low of 36% in a loss against a pretty good K St on neutral ground, after having beat the same team at home by shooting 48%. The same story, 52% winning at home against arch rival NM St, and only 43% at Las Cruces. At UTEP, losing 87-63, New Mexico only shot 38%. The Lobos have shot once over 50% away from home, four times at home . But here, the apparent inconsistency is actually consistent with the norm, which is to shoot worse away from home. Hopefully for Tech, the Lobos will continue the trend and shoot below their home average in Lubbock. Of course, I'm sure Coach Knight won't let his defense stand around and hope the Lobos miss of their own accord.
This has to do with that same usual suspect, rebounding. As with UNLV, I see this as an opportunity, not to dominate, but to be competitive. New
Mexico has one monster rebounder, Aaron Johnson, but the Lobos have not consistently out-rebounded their opponents. As in shooting, even lesser
opponents have at times outperformed New Mexico, or at least stayed close to even.
I almost fell into a trap. I looked purely at the numbers and almost blithely asserted for the third straight game, that Tech could outperform
the opposition on 3's. UNLV's numbers are deceptively low because of individual inconsistencies. There is that word again. Although Giddings is
a prolific scorer, he is only shooting 3's at a 31% rate even though he is shooting them with abandon. Against Pepperdine he hit six of 13, but in
other games he has been skunked. It is only in comparison to Tech's lofty numbers that New Mexico's don't look that great. Shooting at a conversion
rate of 54.6% on 2's is of course very good.
In fact, New Mexico is pretty scary as a 3 point threat regardless of their average. They have six players making them at better that 33% which is my
standard for a good 3 point shooter, since it equates to shooting 2's at a 50% rate. I don't understand why most "analysts/sports writers" seem to
consider such numbers as being paltry. UNLV has it right as far as I can see. If you are not a 50% shooting team, launch away. It is productive and
forces the defense to extend outward, plus you might even grab a long rebound if your team is not rebound proficient.
In terms of team weakness, inconsistency rears its ugly head in the form of what I perceive as a lack of that intangible quality, team chemistry, and
perhaps a lack of leadership. As pointed out in the preview, this is largely explainable in that six of New Mexico's top players graduated or
transferred. They were replaced by seven newcomers, two transfers, two Jucos and three freshmen. Of these, three are being depended upon as
regular starters and two more as major contributors. Integrating everyone into a cohesive unit has not been easy. Further, this is a young team with
only two seniors, one of those being a transfer, Aaron Johnson.
Scouting Tip of the Day
If either Kellan Walter, the only senior holdover, or Jeffrey Henfield, is out on the floor, they are out there offensively for a single purpose, and
that is to shoot 3s. Henfield has only taken 22 shots and made 11 of them. Of those 22 shots, 18 were from 3 point range and he made 10 of those for a great 55.6%. Walter is even more singleminded. He has only shot 15 times all season and made 7, for a very good 46.7%. Every single shot has been a 3 pointer.
New Mexico's OOC schedule is more challenging than usual, but not nearly as arduous as Tech's. They have a good assortment of cream puffs. Maybe I'll start calling them doughnuts or éclairs, since commenters are starting to throw my own trite terms back at me. The Lobos played their blood rivals UTEP and New Mexico State on the road and got buried by both. One has to understand the animosity among these three to realize that this was even predictable in the case of NMSt after the Aggies only lost by three earlier in the first phase of the yearly home and home, at New Mexico. Only the margin was surprising. These are games where rankings can mean nothing and pride and revenge everything. In fact, from 1932-1951, Texas Tech was the fourth member of this feud, while all were members of the old Border Conference. New Mexico may just be looking for some payback. unbeknownst to most. Since 1966, when the Pit was finished, Tech has played New Mexico fifteen times, seven of them at the Pit. Tech has only won four and only two at New Mexico. Coach Dickey won in 1991 and Coach Knight in 2004, in a down year, but still a tough game. While Tech has played New Mexico only twice under Coach Knight, it has defeated them both times, thus making Coach Knight the only undefeated Texas Tech coach against New Mexico (research dating back to 1952-1953 season). Therefore, it would be doubly sweet for the Lobos to foil Coach Knight's 880th win and break his win streak.
The main point is that while the lopsided victories by NMSt and, especially by common foe UTEP, may give Tech fans some comfort, it would be foolish to discount New Mexico as an easy opponent. While tainted by the fact that Wichita's second best scorer, averaging 12 PTS/game could not play because of a stomach virus, still beating Wichita, 71-69, on a neutral court, was a quality win. While hard to evaluate how good the win is against KSt, even at home, it seems a lot harder to do than beating your average éclair. The subsequent beating,72-56, inflicted on the Lobos by this same team in Las Vegas is in part explainable by being away from home, but more in my opinion by ABW vs. BBW, That is after vs. before super freshman, Bill Williams, was eligible to play. First game eligible, he scored 15 points, and grabbed four rebounds, though against Kennesaw State. In his third game, against the Lobos, he scored 13 points, had 8 rebounds and was a disruptive force. There is little more to say about New Mexico, except that while inconsistent, New Mexico still has a lot of talent I'm about to discuss.
One of the newcomers includes Juco starting point guard, Jamaal Smith, who as predicted has taken charge of directing the team. His assist stats are
pretty ordinary at 1.3/1 and his shooting is an unremarkable 41.5% with 33.9% on 3's. However he does lead the team with 82.5% on FT's. He and J .R. Giddings, shades of Kansas have started every game except for Alcorn, when Giddings was injured.
One the most talented Lobos, Johnson at 6' 8" is a superb athlete who is a rebounding machine, averaging eight per game. As noted, he led the Big 10
the season before he transferred. However he should probably be scoring at a better pace than his 7.6 PTS/game, although when he doe shoot he makes his shots, almost all gimmes, at an excellent 61 % rate. He has been inconsistent, attaining three double doubles, including two in a row at home
against good opposition. Then in the very next game against UTEP, he got four rebounds and only scored one point. Also, if he is in the game late and Tech is in need of fouling someone, he is the designated target, shooting a meager 469 on FT's.
The best athlete on the team is J. R. Giddings. He is a very dangerous shooter, scoring 18.2PTS/Gm, making 45.7%. He is a decent FT shooter and a slightly less than average 3 point shooter. He has been described as very quick, capable of slashing to the basket much like Zeno. He only had 12 points, however, against KSt, the second time around, though he was injured sometime during the game, so perhaps his performance was impaired, though he was 5/11 on field goals.
The other most usual starter is Tony Danridge, although lately Darren Prentice and Chad Toppert are getting a lot of time and Daniel Faris started
several times. The only freshman getting substantial minutes is Ramon Martinez, who has even started several games. In all, ten player including
also Ryan Kersten and designated 3 point shooter, Henfield, are getting ten minutes or more per game. Scoring, except for Gidding, is fairly evenly
distributed with four players scoring eight to twelve points per game and five other contributing from three to seven.
New Mexico is pretty scary as a three point threat regardless of their overall average, They have six player making 3's at better than 33%, which
is my standard for a good 3 point shooter, since it equates to shooting 2's at a 50% rate. I don't understand why many "analysts/sports writers" seem
to consider that a paltry average. UNLV has it right as far as I can see. If you are not a 50% shooting team, launch away. It is productive and
forces the defense to extend outward. You might even grab a long rebound if your team is not particularly rebound proficient.
To cut to through the stats and games, New Mexico can score quickly at times and, except for defense which is generally spotty, plays well enough to beat an overconfident, nervous, or under- performing Tech.
The xfactor again is injuries, perhaps on both teams. Giddins did not play against Alcorn because of a severe ankle sprain against KSt. In Friday's
game against Pepperdine, I got the feeling Coach McKay would have preferred to rest Giddings against the rigors of three games in five days, but he had to play thirty-five minutes because the game got pretty dicey.
On Tech's part, it would be helpful for Tech if Burgess and Valentine were at close to full strength, to at least pose a threat and relieve some
pressure from Zeno and Jackson. I still feel that Tech should win this game without having to give a much better performance than what its averages
indicate, even somewhat lower on 3 pointers. Otherwise, the team too much resembles the situation last year where adversaries could focus purely on
Zeno and Jackson, virtually to the exclusion of anyone else except Dora, as the only viable offensive threats.. There is more depth, but the performance off the bench has been, to coin a phrase, inconsistent.
From College Hoops Net preseason rankings:
New Mexico Lobos
Overall Rank: #135
Conference Rank: #7 MWC
2005-06: 17-13, 8-8, 5th
2005-06 postseason: none
For a team that lost six of its top eight players, there sure is a lot of hope at New Mexico. And rightfully so. The Lobos needed a star and
go-to-guy; now they have two. J.R. Giddens and Aaron Johnson, a pair of transfers, will immediately create a dangerous inside-outside combination.
However, there are problems. With such a large turnover of players, the team chemistry will be interesting to watch and that will mostly fall on the
shoulders of Giddens.
Who's Out: The inside-outside combination of Mark Walters and David Chiotti were the senior leaders last year. As a senior, Walters averaged 15.5 points and 3.1 assists. Chiotti added 11.8 points and a team high 6.3 rebounds. Kris Collins, who started 18 games, and Jeff Hart, the main long range threat off the bench, have also run out of eligibility. If that wasn't enough, Anthony Teague, Joel Box and Kyle Prochaska are all transferring.
Who's In: Giddens averaged 10.1 points and 3.8 boards two years ago as a sophomore at Kansas. The 6-5 wing has an amazing amount of athleticism and will provide some fun finishes at The Pit. Johnson, a transfer from Penn State, is a monster on the glass and led the Big Ten in that category two seasons ago. The 6-9 Exton, Pennsylvania product is solid on the offensive end as well, averaging 11.8 points per game as a junior. Jamaal Smith is a high scoring point guard who averaged over 20 points per game last year at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa. One of the top point guards in the juco ranks, Smith should be running the show from the get go. Fellow junior college transfer Jeffrey Henfield will fill in some minutes at the shooting guard spot. Incoming freshman Roman Martinez will need some time to develop his game, but the two guard has the skills to contribute this year. Forward Sean Imadiyi and center Derek Oestreicher will battle for minutes in the post. Imadiyi is an athletic player who can play on the wing as well as the post. The 6-7 Tempe, Arizona native averaged 17.5 points and 9.5 rebounds as a senior at Corona del Sol High School. Oestreicher is a true paint player. The 6-10, 230 pounder isn't afraid to battle inside, but could use a redshirt season to gain some strength.
Who to Watch: Tony Danridge is the only player returning who started over half of the games last season. The 6-5 swingman didn't put up great numbers, averaging 8.4 points and 2.5 rebounds. Danridge, despite playing at the two and three spots, isn't a three-point shooter. With the decent shooting newcomers headed to Albuquerque, Danridge will be confined to the small forward spot. The lack of long range shooting has been a hindrance to New Mexico, but it shouldn't be anymore.
Final Projection: The depth isn't too bad in the backcourt with Ryan Kersten and Blake Harden having starting experience. The frontcourt, outside of
Johnson, is worrisome. Forward Daniel Faris saw very limited minutes as a freshman, but given the opportunity, could become an impact player off the bench. Walk-on Kellen Walter is another frontcourt option. The 6-10 senior played in all 30 games last year, averaging just 5.9 minutes per contest. Walter did prove to be a productive option though and could see some more minutes if the other choices take a while to adjust. In the end, with the newcomers, it's all about team cohesion. It might take a little while, but this could end up being a dangerous team.
Projected Post-season Tournament: none
Projected Starting Five:
Jamaal Smith, Junior, Guard, DNP last season
J.R. Giddens, Junior, Guard, DNP last season
Tony Danridge, Junior, Forward, 8.4 points per game
Sean Imadiyi, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season
Aaron Johnson, Senior, Forward, DNP last season