You play to your strengths in college basketball.
And sometimes, you better spend just about as much time figuring out how to hide your weaknesses, too.
For the UNM Lobos a season ago, running and gunning was the strength and rebounding, without question, was the weakness.
UNM had two players 6-foot-8 or taller see significant game time (6-11 Vladimir Pinchuk averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game). That lack of size, and trying to figure out how to win without being able to control the glass, kept the coaches up at night.
That is why this season’s UNM roster, with five players standing 6-8 or taller and expected to see regular minutes, has head coach Paul Weir getting more sleep at night.
“It helps us on the glass,” Weir said of the added size in the frontcourt. “To play the scrimmage we had on (Oct. 27 vs. Northern Arizona University) and to have the rebounding numbers we did, when last year you couldn’t sleep at night thinking about how we’re even going to get a rebound. So, I think automatically, we’ve changed our margin in the rebounding category, which is really comforting.”
Last season, 6-9 Joe Furstinger (6.8 rebounds per game) and 6-8 Sam Logwood (5.2 rebounds per game, but missed eight games) led the charge on the boards. The Lobos ranked 278th out of 351 Division I teams in allowing foes to grab 31.0 percent of their missed shots. The offensive rebound rate for the Lobos, meanwhile, was just 26.1 percent, ranking 255th. To put it simply, even when the other team missed, it was getting second chances to score at a much higher rate than the national average.
UNM was 10-2 in games it held the rebounding edge last season and just 9-13 in others.
The Lobos are still waiting to hear from the NCAA on whether 6-10 Carlton Bragg can join the team before his scheduled return date of Dec. 16, but regardless of when he joins, it’s clear this roster has the size needed to be able to shift the rebounding advantage in its favor most nights. UNM has the 6-11 Pinchuk, 6-10 Bragg, 6-9 Corey Manigault, 6-9 Vance Jackson and 6-8 Karim Ezzedsine all expected to be regulars in the rotation.
Jackson should play the “three” or more traditional wing role most of the time, but the others are all frontcourt players who look to turn a weakness of the program a season ago into a strength now.
But, as Weir points out, the defensive and rebounding struggles weren’t only about the lack of taller forwards inside, but the small guards they played on the outside.
“Our issues defensively last year came from playing those smaller guys on the perimeter that really couldn’t affect the game defensively,” he said. “Now we’re getting a lot bigger on the perimeter and now all of a sudden when you’re playing these bigger guards – the Kells (San Diego State’s Trey Kell), the Loftons (New Mexico State’s Zach Lofton), the James (Wyoming’s Justin James) – these bigger guards that hurt us last year, we have now some bigger guards that hopefully we’ll be able to match up a little bit better.”
Of Ezzeddine and Manigault in particular, Weir had high praise for the performances of the two JC transfers in the NAU scrimmage.
Tuesday, when the Lobos open on the road at Cal State-Northridge, they face a team with a new coaching staff and system, but with some clear size. The Matadors have five players between 6-8 and 7-foot and 6-7 freshman wing Lamine Diane had a double-double in each of the team’s two exhibition games (30 points, 17 rebounds against NAIA Antelope Valley and 23 and 14 against Division II Cal. State-Los Angeles.
UNM at Cal State Northridge, 8 p.m., 610 AM/94.5 FM, Online: BigWest.TV