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Lobos press hasn’t been speeding up opponents — yet

There’s been a lot of waiting around with Lobo basketball.

And that’s not reference to the fact UNM (3-1) is in a 13-day stretch with only one game or that no Division I team has played fewer games so far than the Lobos’ four.

No, the waiting game that has second-year head coach Paul Weir most concerned as they are preparing for Saturday’s road game at Bradley in Peoria, Ill., is the one being done by his team’s defense.

“It’s just really our defensive possessions that have gotten very long,” said Weir, whose mimicking of the up-tempo ‘Run & Stun’ scheme is supposed to be predicated on a high-paced offense and a defense that lures opposing teams into playing faster than they want.

“We’ve got to do a better job of speeding up the opposing offensive teams of playing quicker possessions. That’s something we did a better job of last year, but we haven’t been able to do this year.”

Bradley (6-2), which has played eight games this season to UNM’s four, plays a much slower, more deliberate game than do the Lobos, leading Weir to call the matchup, “probably a huge contrast in styles.”

UNM ranks 33rd out of 353 Division I teams in tempo according to the statistical analysis web site Bradley, meanwhile, ranks 300.

And breaking down that figure a step further shows that the Lobos offense is doing its part, ranking ninth in the nation with an average offensive possession lasting just 14.9 seconds (last season, UNM ranked 84th at 16.6 seconds).

But on defense, opposing teams haven’t taken the bait when UNM has tried to speed them up. The average possession length for Lobo opponents – Cal State Northridge, Iona, New Mexico State and UTEP – has been 17.2 seconds. That ranks 199th in the country and is right around the national average (17.1 seconds), but clearly not in the wheelhouse of what the Lobos pressure defense is trying to accomplish.

By using a full-court press and in-your-face pressure defense no matter where a ball handler is on the court, the idea is to get the opposing team to play faster, make quicker passes and not have the time to progress through its entire offensive set. Often, the harassment leads the offense to take quicker shots, which is what the Lobos want.

Weir said his defense is holding teams to 0.82 points per possession when they shoot in the first 10 seconds of a possession – “we like those shots,” he said – while allowing more than 1.0 points per possession the rest of the time.

“There are some teams so far that have done a great job of getting over the (UNM) press and then just being very patient on the back end of it (in the halfcourt offense),” Weir said.

In fact, while teams a season ago often saw UNM’s weakness on the back end of their full-court press, teams now seem content on slowing down and resetting their offense once they get across half court.

That, Weir feels, is because his team has allowed opposing teams to be too comfortable bringing the ball up court. The press has too often been more token pressure than actual pressure on opposing teams.

At Thursday’s practice, the Lobos seemed to put on a renewed emphasis on actual full court pressure as opposed to just having defenders stand near opposing ball handlers as they comfortably dribble the ball up the court.

“We’ve got to get back to forcing more of that as opposed to expecting more of it,” Weir said.

ON COREY: Entering last week’s game against UTEP, Corey Manigault was the Lobos’ leading scorer at 18.7 points per game.

Then, he was benched after four first-half minutes against the Miners and never returned. Weir said he’d keep the reason for the benching between him and his player.

He wouldn’t elaborate Thursday, but said the matter is over.

“Saturday, in the game, we had what I consider a potentially positive, teaching moment, which I enforced,” Weir said. “He’s been terrific ever since. At this point, I don’t really expect anything long term or lingering with Corey going forward. … I’m fully anticipating Corey to take that as a teachable moment.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I had a lot of those last year that weren’t just one time things. I hope that (this) is a one-time thing that we can all move forward and grow.”

So, will Corey be available Saturday?

“In my mind,” Weir said, “at this point, we’re good to go.”

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