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Without Bragg, Lobos may have to alter their offense

When Carlton Bragg was suspended prior to the Lobos’ Dec. 22 home game against Houston Baptist, there wasn’t enough time for the UNM coaching staff to wrap its head around the decision, let alone alter its game plan.

After all, the Lobos this season have had a rather drastic identity shift — from relying on 3-point shooting in head coach Paul Weir’s first two seasons to being a clear ‘get the ball inside first and score at the rim’ type of team thanks to two of the most offensively gifted forwards in the Mountain West in 6-foot-9 Corey Manigault and the 6-10 Bragg.

So, during a Christmas break for players mixed with a three-game stretch of not knowing when Bragg would return, the Lobos decided to stay the course and not alter much, at least until after the game at San Jose State on Jan. 1, when it would have a week between games to work on some rather drastic changes.

That was when Weir and Co. shifted JaQuan Lyle to the point guard spot to replace the still-suspended J.J. Caldwell and were about to increase the role of Jordan Arroyo, hoping the 6-7 walk-on would be capable of stealing a few minutes a half in the front court to give Manigault a breather without having to shift 6-9 wing Vance Jackson into playing the 5 spot too much.

Instead, Bragg was reinstated on Jan. 3 before any front-court alterations were needed and the one-two punch of Bragg and Manigault could again go at opposing teams relentlessly.

That was until Bragg’s Sunday’s DWI arrest and removal from the team.

Now, as the Lobos (15-3, 4-1 Mountain West) head to Fort Collins on Wednesday night to start life without him — and against one of the best centers in the conference in Colorado State’s Nico Carvacho — UNM has some decisions to make on the fly.

Are the Lobos still an inside-out team? Or will they now become more dependent on perimeter scoring?

For the first two seasons in the Weir era, the Lobos were among the most reliant on the 3-pointer in the country.

But it was also clear after last year’s disappointing 14-28 season that the Lobos just weren’t very good with a 3-point shooter as its primary scoring option, even if former Lobo Anthony Mathis was (and is, now at Oregon) one of the better outside shooters in the nation.

Even if Mathis had stayed instead of using his graduate transfer to return to his home state, the Lobos were going to shift their focus and play inside-out to maximize a roster ranked 25th in the country in average height (pre-Bragg’s removal) and to take advantage of having gifted scorers down low.

Last season, UNM ranked 81st in the percentage of points it got from 3-pointers and 335th on 2-pointers. Through 18 games this season, it’s 62nd in the nation in 2-point scoring distribution (54.8% of the Lobos points come off 2s) and 331st in 3s (22.3%).

Here is a look at scoring distribution (the percentage of total points coming from each of the three types of baskets in a game) and where that ranks the Lobos nationally in the Weir era out of 353 DI teams in parentheses:

2019-20: FTs 22.9% (20th), 2s 54.8% (62nd), 3s 22.3% (331st)

2018-19: FTs 21.8% (36th), 2s 42.5% (335th), 3s 35.8% (81st)

2017-18: FTs 20.1% (106th), 2s 40.4% (347th), 3s 39.5% (18th)

Just days since the Bragg arrest, it’s unlikely there will be an immediate major schematic shift in what the Lobos have been doing all season. But the ability to all but ignore the 3-point shot might now be diminished for the Lobos offense with Bragg gone.

BURGER BALL: While the Lobos start figuring out life without their former McDonald’s All-American forward in Bragg, two players who have already signed their National Letters of Intent with New Mexico are among the couple hundred players nationally who were nominated for the 2020 McDonald’s All-American game for high school seniors.

Point guard Nolan Dorsey from Middlebrook High School in Raleigh, N.C., and power forward Bayron Matos of Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tenn., each were nominated.

There were no players nominated for the boys game from the state of New Mexico.

 

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