It’s finally here.
New Mexico men’s basketball, a team with a roster half full of guys who have never played a game in the cherry and silver and a coaching and support staff with four new faces as well, finally tips off the wild 2020-21 college basketball season on Sunday in Houston against the 4-0 Rice Owls.
And if you’re wondering just what you’re going to get from this new-look Lobos team so is the Lobos coaching staff.
“We’re waiting to know like you are, to be honest with you, as staff,” said Paul Weir, entering his fourth season as Lobos head coach with a record of 52-47 at UNM.
The Lobos have relocated to Texas for the season as the public health order in New Mexico prohibits the team from playing or practicing in the state. That is despite their own three-times per week PCR testing numbers showing their adherence to the COVID-safe practices urged for all New Mexicans seems to be working, at least relative to the continued high case counts across their home state.
Without being able to practice regularly in groups larger than five until they moved the operations to west Texas on Nov. 20, and with no regular team practices all summer and fall, the Lobos were far behind their peers in implementing even basic offensive and defensive schemes until recently.
Teams off to late starts across the country are showing their struggles early, including similarly relocated and light-on-practices for New Mexico State. The Aggies were down a point in the final minute of their season opener to an NAIA team on Nov. 29 before rallying for the win. Mountain West team Colorado State played its first game on Saturday and trailed at halftime at home to Division II CSU-Pueblo before rallying for an 89-77 win.
For Weir, a non-Division I opponent to start the season would have been ideal. But the Rice opportunity was a deal the Lobos couldn’t pass up. The deal includes use of Rice’s practice facilities, weight room and even Tudor Fieldhouse to host games on Tuesday and Thursday in Houston before New Mexico flies to Boise for its Dec. 21 Mountain West opener.
“The way the schedules went, it was what they had available, and at this point, getting our guys to the court is the best thing we can do,” Weir said.
Conditioning is still a concern for a team that Weir has said he wants to get back to a faster pace and a more high-pressure defense than seen from the Lobos the past two seasons. But so, too, are actual results. A pair of closed scrimmages against non-Division I opponents the previous two weekends in West Texas apparently netted less-than-stellar results for UNM.
“We were playing at 100 miles an hour,” Weir said. “We fouled a lot. And, and I told the guys after the first one, we’re going to go from 100 and we’re going to pull this thing back to about 80. … I’ve got to figure out if we’re fouling because we just haven’t played anybody and it’s a lack of just contact against somebody else, or we’ve got to get used to playing at this speed, and then crank ourselves kind of back up from there.”
Early concerns aside, Weir said his optimism for this squad remains very high because of the attitude and commitment players have shown to each other in what was a long, unprecedented offseason.
“I don’t think there’ll be issues with our effort, with our energy, with our chemistry, with our buy-in,” Wier said. “I think all that stuff is good.”
HOW TO WATCH: Visual broadcast rights for games belong to the home team, and Sunday’s game at Rice game will be streamed online on CUSA.tv, which requires a fee to watch ($6.95 for 24 hour access).
To find the game off the CUSA.tv home page, scroll to the “All Schools” drop-down menu and select Rice. Under “upcoming events” below that tab should include the Lobos game at the top of the list.
Sunday: UNM at Rice, 1 p.m., 770 AM/96.3 FM, CUSA.TV (streaming, fee required)