The Anthony Mathis experiment at point guard isn’t going as well as hoped for the UNM Lobos.
But it might not be due to the pitfalls some may have predicted.
The Lobos’ dead-eye shooter, some thought, might see his offensive production suffer by transitioning from an off-the-ball shooting guard to a more ball-in-his-hands point guard. That would require him to create his own shot more than had ever been asked of him.
Through just three games, Mathis’ offense and shooting haven’t been the problem. He’s still getting up shots and still hitting plenty of them (he’s averaging 16 points and four 3-pointers per game on a blistering 60-percent clip from beyond the arc).
The problem has been keeping him on the court without having to protect him for long stretches in case they need him in the closing seconds to hit a big shot – as he did with the Nov. 6 game-winner at Cal State Northridge or almost had the opportunity to do in Saturday’s loss to New Mexico State.
The 6-foot-3 senior has committed four fouls in each of UNM’s three games, including three in the first half vs. NMSU that limited him to just 20 minutes of action.
The alarmingly high rate at which he’s been picking up fouls has led Paul Weir and the rest of the UNM coaching staff to break down each one he has committed. The objective is to determine how many would happen to any player and how many might be avoidable by Mathis either changing what he’s doing or by the coaches changing how they’re using him. As the Lobos roster has gotten taller this year, he’s often the smallest Lobo on the court and is asked to defend quick point guards.
“So far, we’ve broken down his fouls and gone over it with him,” Weir said. “I’d say half are kind of an overzealousness. He’s just being too aggressive. I don’t know if that really matters what position he is, but he’s just trying to do too much.”
Mathis is committing 7.16 fouls per 40 minutes played. Only three Mountain West Conference players who have played at least 40 percent of their teams’ minutes so far have fouled at a higher rate. Including 6-8 teammate Karim Ezzeddine (7.55), they are post players standing between 6-8 and 6-11. Each has at least three blocks this season, and the three have combined to hit four 3-pointers in 13 games.
To say the least, Mathis and his fellow high-foul players in the league don’t exactly fit the same profile.
Weir said Mathis has to eliminate the unnecessary fouls that, for some reason, he has started to draw.
“When those one or two (fouls) that just happen on a loose ball … (combined with the one or two avoidable fouls), now all of a sudden you’re at four fouls,” Weir said.
“You’ve got to eliminate those one or two that are yours – the commissive errors as opposed to the omissive errors.”
Ultimately, dialing back the point guard experiment with Mathis isn’t exactly an option for the Lobos, even if Weir does feel it is the reason Mathis has been in foul trouble. Junior college transfer Keith McGee and freshman Drue Drinnon, the two point guards on the roster who could be getting those minutes and move Mathis back off the ball, haven’t gotten up to Division I speed enough to give Weir the confidence to play them more. It’s also worth noting JaQuan Lyle was also expected to be able to run the point, but is out for the season with an Achilles injury.
NOT JUST MATHIS: Of those 68 MWC players who have appeared in at least 40 percent of their team’s minutes, UNM has many of the frequent foulers, with five ranked in the top 20. Corey Manigault (seventh), Mathis (fourth) and Ezzeddine (second) are in the top seven.
UNM’s total of 24.3 fouls committed per game is exceeded by only nine of 353 Division I teams and is most in the 11-team MWC.