It was a bold prediction, but one that UNM Lobos hoops coach Steve Alford isn’t backing down from.
The sixth-year head coach first told ESPN.com’s Andy Katz in August that he thought the team has a chance to be very good this year, in large part because “Alex Kirk is back and should be one of the best big men out West.”
When I talked to Alford last week for an article on Kirk’s health that published Wednesday, he said he didn’t misspeak, adding that not only is he confident in Kirk’s health (he missed last season after back surgery), but “if you take a look at the bigs in the west, there aren’t any out there that make me think Alex can’t be right there with them.”
So I took a look at not all the big men out west, but at least at all the big men in the Mountain West conference at least and it would appear the sample size is rather lacking in impressive hoops resumes.
Since Alford mentioned 6-foot-9 as a good cut off for a true college big man, that’s what I went with. Taking a look at this year’s rosters for MW team’s, there are 26 players standing 6-9 or taller on MW rosters this season, 19 of whom didn’t play last year in the league. Of the remaining seven, there are just five players 6-9 or taller who played more than 10 minutes per game last year. They are:
- Air Force’s Taylor Broekhuis (6-10, 220, Sr.), who averaged 29.7 minutes per game; 9.2 points; 4.7 rebounds
- Boise State’s Ryan Watkins (6-9, 229, Jr.), who averaged 15.5 minutes per game; 6.8 points; 4.0 rebounds
- Nevada’s Kevin Panzer (6-9, 225, Jr.), who averaged 12.1 minutes per game; 2.9 points; 2.5 rebounds
- UNM’s Cameron Bairstow (6-9, 253, Jr.), who averaged 15.4 minutes per game; 3.7 points; 3.6 rebounds
- UNLV’s Carlos Lopez (6-11, 215, Jr.), who averaged 11.5 minutes per game; 5.4 points; 2.7 rebounds
Of the 22 players named to last year’s First, Second, Third and Honorable Mention All-MW teams, there is one player returning who is 6-8 (UNLV’s Mike Moser) and one who is 6-7 (Wyoming’s Leonard Washington). The rest of the returning best are 6-6 and shorter.
So it would seem that if Kirk has a solid season he has a very good opportunity ahead of him to in fact prove to be one of the better bigs out west, and certainly one of the best in a league that is obviously lacking in size.
It’s worth noting that in the college game, many teams man the post with 6-8 guys, just as the Lobos consistently have in Alford’s run (maybe most notably when 6-8 A.J. Hardeman and 6-8 Will Brown manned the front court on the Lobos’ 30-win, NCAA Tournament team). And in the MW this year, UNLV’s Mike Moser stands just 6-8 but averaged 14.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game last year, making him the top returning big man in the league, even if at 6-8, 210-pounds it’s hard to consider him a classic big man.