Nobody around UNM basketball is enjoying the slower-than-hoped-for transition into a new system with new players, new roles for returning players and new coaches trying to implement it.
But none of that means the 3-5 Lobos, who take their rocky start to Boulder Wednesday night for a road game against the Pac-12’s Colorado Buffaloes, are ready to panic.
“What we’re seeing is that when we do play with a lot of energy, the outcome is pretty good,” said junior point guard Chris McNeal. He and senior forward Sam Logwood have been the two most consistently productive UNM players.
“We all understand that the problem is what it is: energy. We know the things we have to do to win.”
When the Lobos watch film, and lately they’ve watched a lot of it, McNeal says what they’re seeing is not a system that won’t work, but one that is bogged down with self-inflicted errors — sometimes in execution, sometimes in effort. The players still very much believe in the philosophy of intense defensive pressure for the full length of the court, lots of running and a 3-point-heavy offense.
“We see it as mistakes we can fix,” McNeal said. “For the most part, every game we lost this year has kind of been on us. … (The system is) the way it has to work because we’re not the tallest, we’re not the most athletic. In order for us to get wins, we gotta be very scrappy.”
But the feast-or-famine approach (none of UNM’s three wins has been by fewer than 19 points, and three of the five losses have been by double figures) leads to a team that is hard for fans to read.
First-year head coach Paul Weir understands their frustration. He feels it himself. But that doesn’t mean he’s ready to abandon the process of building a foundation he believes will be the best for UNM.
“I would like quick wins just like everybody else would,” Weir said. “But unfortunately it doesn’t always come that way, particularly with change. We’re just going to keep pounding the rock, doing what we’re doing, and hopefully at some point that will begin to turn for us.”
So is it as simple as the Lobos are stubbornly sticking to the desired game plan of the future instead of doing the things necessary to have the best chance at success now?
“I think defensively, no,” Weir said. “We’ve talked about that consistently as a team. When you don’t have size, I think you’ve got to do something to make up for that. So the things that we’re doing defensively, I feel as though definitely give us the best chance to win.
“Offensively, you can look at it a few different ways. I think it’s a little bit of the same thing. Without having one or two go-to guys down in the post, or in particular areas of the floor, you don’t really want to slow it down for that reason and allow other teams to set up their size and their length.”
So the Lobos, who last started 3-5 in the 2002-03 season, the first under Ritchie McKay, aren’t ready to scrap the press, the emphasis on scoring in transition or the frequent substitutions.
But that doesn’t mean they won’t if Weir thinks he has to.
“If at some point I feel as though we need to make a drastic change, and I feel as though by changing we will win tonight’s game, or tomorrow’s game, or whatever it happens to be, I would do that,” Weir said. “I’m not married to something in the sake of defeat.”