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Emptying the Notebook: Amid gloom and doom, Lobos have hope at PG

Lobo freshman Nolan Dorsey, left, sophomore Jeremiah Francis, center, and freshman Isaiah Marin, right, may all play vital roles in filling the team’s point guard minutes moving forward. (Photos courtesy UNM Athletics)

Here are some extra notes, quotes, tweets, stats, videos or whatever else I could empty out of the old notebook after Friday’s 82-46 Lobos loss to Utah State in the Rip Griffin Center in Lubbock, Texas:

What’s (or who’s) the point?

Basketball teams need a point guard.

The Lobos certainly do. But, even after addressing the position heavily in recruiting, we’re eight games in, and the Lobos are still trying to figure out what they have at that position.

In the Paul Weir era, the most success was Year 1 when there were two reliable point guards in Antino Jackson and Chris McNeal. Year 2 had a lot of trying to force Anthony Mathis into that spot unsuccessfully with Keith McGee and Drue Drinnon also getting chances, but the team struggled at that position.

Year 3 was a team that was 11-2 with J.J. Caldwell being the perfect pass-first, defensive minded point guard for a team with several other scoring threats on the floor.

Then he was booted from the team and, coupled with another starter getting kicked off the team and other drama, things went south in a hurry. Zane Martin played the spot some late in the season, but bolted on UNM in August.

When the point guard role has been manned well under Paul Weir (remember, he had senior Ian Baker as his point guard in his one season as head coach at NMSU when they won 28 games and went to the NCAA Tournament), there has been success.

So, this past season, the Lobos staff hit the recruiting trail hard trying to find several options to take over as point guard.

They landed North Carolina transfer Jeremiah Francis, a sophomore; junior college transfer Saquan Singleton; and freshmen Isaiah Marin and Nolan Dorsey. All four were point guards at their previous stops and joined sophomore Kurt Wegscheider, who in a very limited sample size showed a bit of upside late last season in March.

Surely, with all that, the Lobos hoped, they’d find a point guard, right? Well, eight games in, and no spring, summer or fall practices allowed, UNM is still trying to figure that out.

To start the season, Francis was the unanimous choice by the staff, but hadn’t played regular minutes for a team in three years (injured as a junior and senior in high school and not in regular rotation at UNC last season). To start with the Lobos, he struggled mightily out of the gate, shooting 8-of-42 (19.0%) from the field and 1-of-18 (5.6%) from 3-point range in the first six games to go along with 12 assists and 10 turnovers. Some Lobo fans, as they often do, wasted no time taking to social media to declare him a bust and ridicule his play, despite the fact he’s

Singleton has had moments, but is clearly an asset to the Lobos in other ways, just not as a primary point guard (he can certainly help at times there, though). Wegscheider has been OK, but far from making a convincing case yet to get more minutes.

But Marin has had glimpses that he will likely be the best offensive threat of the bunch. He had a good stretch against Nevada that catapulted him into the starting role the past two games against Utah State. Unfortunately, once he was a starter, he compiled a combined stat line in two games of 0 points on 0-for-9 shooting with 2 assists, 4 turnovers and 8 fouls.

So, maybe he’s not the answer as a starter, but his offensive upside is still the highest and he’ll continue to get to settle in with minutes.

While Marin struggled as a starter, two other things happened in the Utah State series that lend promise to the Lobos hopes for finding something as the point guard spot.

First, off, Francis continued really steady play at the position for actually the past three games now — one vs. Nevada then two off the bench while Marin was being given a chance to take his starting spot. Nevertheless, Francis showed maturity with Marin getting his shot and quietly just hit shots (he’s shooting 57.1% from 3-point range the past three games after that bad start to season).

Francis’ past three games:
• 8 points, 2 3-pointers, 3 assists, 19 minutes
• 8 points, 1 3-pointer, 2 assists, 18 minutes
• 10 points, 1 3-pointer, 2 assists, 20 minutes

Second, the Lobos went to Dorsey, the freshman, for the second half on Friday. Weir basically said he wanted other players to get minutes to see if anyone would show any signs of life.

Dorsey sure did. Within a minute on the floor, Dorsey hit a 3-pointer, his first college points.

And he cleaned up his teammates missed 3 pretty nicely, too.

By game’s end, Dorsey defended well, played 15 minutes and had a career high 7 points, two rebounds and a steal and looked confident doing it — something he didn’t look in some limited run at Boise State two weeks ago.

“I’m glad that Nolan took advantage of that opportunity because now hopefully he’ll get more going forward,” said Weir.

There are a lot of things to point to when trying to pinpoint the Lobos struggles thus far, but it’s not hard to admit one of the more obvious is that they’ve not known from game to game what to get at arguably the most important position on the floor.

But, it does seem clear now that the Lobos have a path forward.

Francis is clearly the primary point guard and continues to get better and settled in as the season progresses. My guess is he starts settling in at about 25 minutes per game at the point.

But the team also now has two freshmen who each have had a taste, and shown their coaches a glimpse, of what their upside can be. If Marin and Dorsey indeed take the next step and build on those brief moments of success they had in Lubbock, then I could see the two freshmen combining for about 30-35 minutes per game — maybe 20 for Marin, 15 for Dorsey.

And, just maybe, the Lobos won’t have as many worries at the PG spot moving forward.

The gamer…

Here is the gamer that I filed shortly after Friday’s game that posted online and published in Saturday’s Journal print edition:

He said it: Justin Bean edition

“We had more rebounds than they did points. Anytime you can do that, it definitely sends a message.”

–Utah State forward Justin Bean after Friday’s game in which the Aggies outrebounded the Lobos 53-22 and beat them 82-46.

Best lineup

There are a lot of factors in determining what the best lineup is for a team.

One really basic one, and one could argue the only one that really matters at the end of the day, is score differential. Did the score move in your team’s favor when one particular group of five was on the court or did it go the other direction?

On Friday, the Lobos used 21 lineup combinations. Of those, only three had a positive point differential against Utah State. Here’s a look at the three lineups that the Lobos got the best point-differential performances out of on Friday, including how long that particular lineup was on the court:

• +2 — 2:24 (Jeremiah Francis, Saquan Singleton, Keith McGee, Emmanuel Kuac, Valdir Manuel)
• +2 — 1:30 (Nolan Dorsey, Isaiah Marin, Keith McGee, Makuach Maluach, Valdir Manuel)
• +1 — 3:20 (Nolan Dorsey, Isaiah Marin, Javonte Johnson, Rod Brown, Bayron Matos)

The other 18 lineups either netted the Lobos a zero point differential or a negative one.

UNM’s starting lineup, as one might guess in a game that started 16-2 for Utah State, had the worst point differential of the night.

• -8 — 3:19 (Isaiah Marin, Saquan Singleton, Makuach Maluach, Rod Brown, Bayron Matos)

Block party

Utah State’s Neemias Queta, the 7-foot- junior center from Portugal who once visited UNM on a recruiting visit before going to Utah State, broke the Aggies’ career school block record on Friday.

Queta had three blocked shots (and five in Wednesday’s game) and now has 156 all-time, breaking the old record of 155 held by Gilbert Pete (1986-1989).

As noted after Wednesday’s game, when Queta is in the game, he’s in the head of opposing players, either blocking their shots or altering them just by his very presence.

The Lobos actually did much better Friday on 2-point shooting than they did Wednesday. Here’s a look at how the Lobos did on 2-point shots this week vs. Utah State:

• Wednesday: 10-0f-35 (28.6%) on 2FGs
• Friday: 14-of-40 (35.0%) on 2FGs

For context, the national average in Division I basketball on 2-point shooting percentage is 49.8% and the Lobos on the season (in DI games) now rank 338th in the nation at 38.7%.

So, you’re saying there’s a chance…

It may seem impossible to score over Neemias Queta the way he’s protecting the rim as of late.

Unfortunately, one of the few chances one has is this type of circus shot high off the glass by sophomore Jeremiah Francis:

3 down, 7 to go

The new 20-game Mountain West schedule format features 10 2-game series for each team.

UNM has completed three, with seven to go.

• 0-2 at Boise State — outscored by 61 points
• 0-2 vs. Nevada — outscored by 24 points
• 0-2 vs. Utah State — outscored by 68 points

• at UNLV (Jan. 16/18)
• vs. San Jose State (Jan. 21/23)
• at Fresno State (Jan. 28/30)
• vs. San Diego State (Feb. 3/5)
• at Colorado State (Feb. 9/11)
• vs. Wyoming (Feb. 17/19)
• at Air Force (Feb. 22/24)

Some 3s…

The shooting is still bad for the Lobos, but they did knock down a few 3s on Friday, so let’s share some of those before everyone goes crazy with all these awful stats I’m posting.

Here’s one from the only Lobo who reached double figures on Friday, senior leading scorer Makuach Maluach…

And how about a pair of 3s from Jeremiah Francis, who now has at least one made 3-pointer in the past three games…

Keith McGee, still the team’s best outside shooter, hit another on Friday (he’s hit at least one in the last five games he’s played)…

RIP, Alpha fan…

Lobo nation lost a really good man this week.

Dale Kennedy, 70, a regular contributor to the Journal’s Sports Speak Up! column, a family man a huge Lobo hoops supporter died earlier this week, his daughter let us all know on Twitter.

He was married, the father of five and grandfather of four.

I was fortunate enough to get to know Dale through the years, talking on social media, through email and a lot a couple of seasons ago when he and a friend checked off the bucket list attending every Lobos road game and I would see both at every opposing arena just as I did in the Pit for every home game.

He was a good man. And he will be missed.

RIP, Tommy…

Of course he’s best known for the years with the Dodgers, but Tommy Lasorda step before the Dodgers was leading the 1972 Albuquerque Dukes to the PCL championship. He kept strong Albuquerque ties through the years — both with the Dukes and later the Albuquerque Isotopes and was unducted in 2007 to the New Mexico Baseball Hall of Fame.

Here’s what was posted on the Journal’s website on Friday morning:

A number to know: 1

The Lobos had just one — ONE! — scoring run the entire game.

Trailing by 27, the Lobos had a 6-0 run from the 3:07 mark to the 1:41 mark of the second half.

It goes without saying (but here I am saying it), there is no momentum building in a game without a few scoring runs — bucket on offense, get a stop on defense, rinse, repeat.

UNM had one of them on Friday.

For comparison sake, here’s a complete run down of every run in the game that was at least 6-0:

• 6-0 — 3:07 to 1:41 2H

• 13-0 — 18:10 to 14:20 1H
• 7-0 — 9:16 to 7:20 1H
• 6-0 — 4:24 to 3:27 1H
• 6-0 — 2:19 to 1:05 1H
• 8-0 — 15:16 to 12:30 2H
• 6-0 — 4:56 to 3:22 2H
• 9-0 — 1:35 to 0:25 2H

Meanwhile, in Fresno…

Neemias Queta is a beast at center for Utah State.

Nathan Mensah is a beast at center for San Diego State.

And for those who didn’t know, there’s another very high level center in the Mountain West this season: Sophomore Orlando Robinson at Fresno State.

The 7-footer went for 23 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots and the Bulldogs picked up their second win in a row on Friday, topping San Jose State four days after he had 33/13/2 in a win over Wyoming.

Around the Mountain

There were three games in the Mountain West on Friday night and two more on Saturday…

• Boise State 80, Air Force 69
• Fresno State 79, San Jose State 64
• Utah State 82, New Mexico 46 (in Lubbock)

• UNLV at Colorado State (CSU won Game 1)
• Nevada at San Diego State (SDSU won Game 1)

MWC Standings

6-0 Boise State
6-0 Utah State
4-1 Colorado State
2-1 San Diego State
3-2 Nevada
1-1 Wyoming
2-3 Fresno State
1-5 Air Force
0-1 UNLV
0-5 San Jose State
0-6 New Mexico

Meanwhile, in the Sun Belt Conference…

Now that’s some home court advantage when you start flicking the lights on and off in the final 6 seconds of game.

Well done, Ragin’ Cajuns. Well done.

A little more of the bad…

OK, back to some of the historical context of just how bad the last two games were for the Lobos.

Here are few dubious KenPom era (since the 2001-02 season) stats from UNM’s past two losses to Utah State:

• 45 and 46 points are 7th and 8th lowest for UNM in that time
• Wednesday was 2nd worst offensive efficiency, Friday was third worst
• Friday’s 4 free throw attempts/61 field goal attempts gives UNM the 2nd worst free throw rate (6.6)

Plus/minus stats

Here are Friday’s plus/minus stats for the Lobos with minutes played in parenthesis:

-5 Logan Padgett (3:23)
-6 Kurt Wegscheider (6:19)
-7 Nolan Dorsey (15:07)
-8 Saquan Singleton (6:29)
-9 Valdir Manuel (14:52)
-9 Keith McGee (16:15)
-11 Emmanuel Kuac (14:02)
-15 Jeremiah Francis (18:33)
-17 Isaiah Marin (16:45)
-19 Bayron Matos (16:33)
-19 Javonte Johnson (19:33)
-27 Makuach Maluach (24:49)
-28 Rod Brown (27:20)

Stats and stats

Here is a link to the digital version of stats from Friday’s game: Utah State 82, New Mexico 46

And here is a link to the more traditional looking .pdf box score from the game: Utah State 82, New Mexico 46

Grammer’s Guesses

The Guesses went just 1-2 on Friday night (San Jose State lost by a half point!). I fall to just 10-14-1 picking games against the point spread for this season.

My daughter’s #TeamCoin coin flip picks were just 0-3 on the night and she’s now 11-13-1 on the season.

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