Sticking with what works?
When you lose by 23 points, odds are good no lineup had much success.
So scouring the stats to find what lineup worked and what lineup up didn’t work might not exactly be a task worthy of much time or effort.
But after Paul Weir said over the past week — both after the Utah State loss last Friday in Lubbock and after Wednesday’s win at Dixie State — that shortening the lineup and starting to find those mixes of players and chemistry among his players was a priority, I found some things from Saturday’s game a bit confusing.
Please understand, I don’t pretend to have better answers than coaches on player rotations as they are in practices and sometimes players play or don’t play not based on what we see in games, but discipline, grades, family or health matters, etc. We don’t always know why rotations are what that are, so I usually waste little time or energy thinking about it.
But since the topic was basically brought up by Weir himself, I find it curious that on Wednesday night in a win at Dixie State it seemed as though the Lobos stumbled onto a lineup combination that worked well together, then didn’t put it on the floor once against a UNLV team it couldn’t score much on at all.
What did they have to lose?
Wednesday, only one Lobos roster combination had a point differential better than plus-2. That means the entire game, against a Division I newcomer that is currently ranked No. 328 by KenPom.com, UNM only had one lineup combination that thrived on both the defensive end and the offensive end of the court.
• LINEUP: PG Isaiah Marin, PG Isaiah Marin, G Saquan Singleton, G Javonte Johnson, F Rod Brown, C Valdir Manuel
• TIME PLAYED: 5 minutes, 38 seconds
• SCORE: 16-2 (plus-14)
All other combinations in the game were no better than a plus-2 and most were negative in a game the Lobos won by nine.
So, on Saturday, I expected to see that lineup get another look. Instead, those five players weren’t on the floor together once. They all played, just not together.
I don’t get it.
(NOTE: Score differential is how a game determines who wins and who loses. That’s sort of important, so tracking score differential for lineups is a fairly important statistic that doesn’t get talked about enough)
So, what lineup did work best on Saturday for UNM, at least in terms of score differential? Three had a plus-2 differential. That’s it. That’s the best any group UNM had did in the game.
• [5-3 / 3:09] — PG Jeremiah Francis, G Javonte Johnson, G Makuach Maluach, F Emmanuel Kuac, C Bayron Matos
• [2-0 / 1:33] — PG Isaiah Marin, G Javonte Johnson, G Makuach Maluach, F Emmanuel Kuac, C Bayron Matos
• [2-0 / 1:20] — PG Nolan Dorsey, G Kurt Wegscheider, G Javonte Johnson, F Valdir Manuel, C Bayron Matos
Even the starting lineup isn’t finding much success or even from one game to the next finding time on the court together.
UNM’s starting five on Saturday was PG Isaiah Marin, G Saquan Singleton, G Makuach Maluach, F Rod Brown and C Bayron Matos.
— Lobo Basketball (@UNMLoboMBB) January 16, 2021
That same combination of five players on Wednesday played for a grand total of 7 second together.
Saturday, that starting five played 7 minutes, 28 seconds together. They were outscored by UNLV 14-4, meaning the Lobos starting lineup had a minus-10 on Saturday and, frankly, it could have been worse when you consider that group had a miserable 0.38 points per possession.
For those not used to PPP numbers, 0.38 is bad. UNM averages 70 possessions per game. 0.38 points per possession stretched out over an average game would mean the Lobos would score just under 27 points.
Here’s the game story I filed after Saturday’s game:
History (the bad kind)
Seven consecutive losses in conference play isn’t exactly something that happens that often with the Lobo basketball program.
In fact, it’s never happened before in the Mountain West era for UNM (1999-2000 season to the present). An 0-3 start in the 2006-07 season was the previous worst.
This season represents the worst start record wise to a conference season since the 1957-58 Lobos under Bob Sweeney went 0-14 in good old Mountain States Athletic Conference.
As for longest conference losing streaks at any point of a season (not just to start a conference season), here’s the list going back to that same season.
Worst Lobo conference losing streaks since 1957-58
(losses, season, coach, final conference record)
• 14 – 1957-58 (Bob Sweeney) – 0-14 MSAC
• 13 – 1958-59 (Bob Sweeney) – 1-13 MSAC
• 8 – 2014-15 (Craig Neal) – 7-11 MWC
• 7 – 1970-71 (Bob King) – 4-10 WAC
• 7 – 1961-62 (Bob Sweeney) – 3-11 MSAC
A number to know: 1
Through Saturday’s games, UNM’s strength of schedule in league play is ranked No. 1 according to KenPom.com with the four opponents — Boise State, Utah State, Nevada and one of two games played with UNLV — having a combined league record of 21-5 and having four of the top six national rankings in the league.
• Utah State (11-3 overall, 8-0 MWC) — KenPom 48
• Boise State (12-1 overall, 8-0 MWC) — KenPom 57
• Nevada (9-5 overall, 4-3 MWC) — KenPom 109
• UNLV (3-6 overall, 1-2 MWC) — KenPom 126
New Mexico, meanwhile, hasn’t helped itself by any stretch of the imagination. But even a good Lobos team would find this opening stretch of league games challenging.
And the somewhat good news is that while 21-5 is the record of MWC opponents the Lobos have faced so far, the combined record of opponents in the next five league game is 4-14, including 0-and-8 San Jose State, who the Lobos host starting Thursday in St. George, Utah, at Dixie State University.
So, at least there’s that.
He said it
“We’ve got to be the more aggressive team.” — Saquan Singleton, Lobos junior guard who took a game-high nine free throw attempts (he made seven) on Saturday, constantly attacking the rim but oddly not having a single shot attempt from the field.
Saquan Singleton (@Saeitaintso_) on what was said in the locker room after New Mexico lost 77-54 to UNLV:
“We gotta be the more aggressive team.” pic.twitter.com/D7y9Np3vJ3
— Isabel Gonzalez (@cisabelg) January 17, 2021
In UNM’s seven Mountain West games, there have been six starters (in five of those games) who didn’t score a point. That is the most so far in the Mountain West.
Obviously that will happen every now and then, but clearly it isn’t ideal when one of your starting five doesn’t chip in at all in the scoring column. And when it keeps happening, well…
Here is a list of number of times a starter didn’t score in a game this season in Mountain West play:
New Mexico: 6 (7 games)
Fresno State: 5 (7 games)
San Jose State: 5 (8 games)
Nevada: 3 (7 games)
San Diego State: 2 (6 games)
UNLV: 2 (3 games)
Air Force: 1 (7 games)
Colorado State: 1 (8 games)
Boise State: 0 (8 games)
Utah State: 0 (8 games)
Wyoming: 0 (4 games)
Meanwhile, on the home front…
Since this is my column, I get to sneak things in like the pre-game entertainment I was lucky enough to have in my home on Saturday.
Virtual flamenco class for the 11-year-old means virtual flamenco class for the 1-year-old, too.
I hope the National Institute of Flamenco doesn’t start billing us for two students after I post this.
— Geoff Grammer (@GeoffGrammer) January 16, 2021
Making a point
UNM’s starting point guard position in the past six games (3 starts apiece for Jeremiah Francis and Isaiah Marin) has hit 1-of-31 shots (0-for-14 on 2-point attempts and 1-for-17 on 3-point attempts).
For Saturday, it was an 0-for-3 shooting game for Isaiah Marin, who got his third start after a career-high 13 points off the bench in Wednesday’s win over Dixie State. He’s now 0-for-12 shooting with no free throw attempts in three games as a starter and 6-for-11 to go along with 3-of-4 at the line in his past three games coming off the bench.
“We’ve at least got good backup point guard play, I felt, over the course of the year. Our starting point guard margin, we were giving up a lot but our backup point guards were able to come in and at least solidify some minutes,” said Lobos coach Paul Weir. “So, when you look overall at the 40 minutes, like okay, maybe their starting point guard outplayed ours, but our backup point guard outplay theirs. You know what? Let’s just kind of keep working on it.
“The issue tonight was the starting and the back up — I mean (UNLV) backup point guard Nick Blake came in and outplayed us, too. So when you’re kind of getting beat at both spots, it is a lot to come back from and we’ve got to find a way to either start to give other players some opportunities in there or just put them in some different positions.”
Meanwhile, in Logan…
Who needs Sam Merrill?
Utah State improved to 8-0 in Mountain West play, sweeping the San Diego State Aztecs on Thursday (57-45) and Saturday (64-59). Saturday’s win was on a national CBS broadcast — and the Aggies are establishing themselves as one of two clear title favorites along with Boise State (sorry Colorado State and San Diego State).
— USU Men's Hoops (@USUBasketball) January 16, 2021
What a world we live in where the top of the Mountain West is the Utah State Aggies and Boise State Broncos while the New Mexico Lobos are winless, UNLV is regularly a rung or two lower than the level its fans believe, and SDSU is now just 3-3.
Around the Mountain
There were four games in the Mountain West on Saturday, one coming on Sunday…
• Utah State 64, San Diego State 59
• UNLV 77, New Mexico 54
• Air Force 72, Wyoming 69
• Colorado State 88, San Jose State 61
• Fresno State at Nevada, 1 PT/2 MT (CBS Sports Network)
Mountain West standings
Mountain West standings through Saturday:
8-0 Boise State
8-0 Utah State
7-1 Colorado State
3-3 San Diego State
3-4 Fresno State
2-5 Air Force
0-7 New Mexico
0-8 San Jose State
Four days in Vegas…
Things aren’t off to a great start for UNM with the school’s four days and four games in Las Vegas:
• FRIDAY: UNLV women’s basketball handed the Lobos their first loss of the season, 78-60
We don’t make excuses. We make adjustments.
— Lobo Women's Basketball (@UNMLoboWBB) January 16, 2021
• SATURDAY: UNLV’s men’s team beat UNM 77-54
• SUNDAY: Game 2 of the women’s series tips off at 2 p.m. PT/3 p.m. MT (TheMW.com/Watch)
• MONDAY: Game 2 of the men’s series tips at 6:30 p.m. PT/7:30 p.m. MT on FS1
Here are the Lobos’ plus/minus stats from Saturday’s game with minutes played in parenthesis:
+6 Emmanual Kuac (8:25)
+3 Javonte Johnson (16:56)
+1 Kurt Wegscheider (4:37)
-2 Nolan Dorsey (6:59)
-9 Valdir Manuel (24:35)
-11 Isaiah Marin (16:43)
-14 Jeremiah Francis (21:57)
-15 Bayron Matos (22:19)
-21 Makuach Maluach (30:16)
-26 Rod Brown (21:55)
-27 Saquan Singleton (25:18)
Stats and stats
For those of you who like a digital version of stats from Saturday’s game, here you go: UNLV 77, New Mexico 54
And for the more traditional, .pdf stat sheet, here you go: UNLV 77, New Mexico 54
UNLV has won five in a row against the Lobos, the longest stretch since winning seven in a row from March 2, 2002 through March 11, 2004 — a stretch that spanned the final season under former Lobos coach Fran Fraschilla and the first two seasons under Ritchie McKay.
The series is 63 games deep (UNLV leads 38-25). The seven game streak mentioned in the paragraph above is the longest win streak in the series for the Rebels.
UNM’s longest win streak against UNLV was four in a row from Jan. 7, 1978, through Feb. 23, 1979.
Another number to know: 3
The Lobos had three shot clock violations in Saturday’s game.
The Guesses went 3-1 on Saturday and I’m now at 18-18-1 on the season.
With my daughter’s coin flip picks going just 1-3 on the day, she’s now 17-19-1, which means for the first time this season I’M BEATING HER!
Yes, the college hoops writer who is an AP Top 25 voter, on the Julius Erving Award selection committee, has in the past been on the U.S. Basketball Writers Association Board of Directors and makes a living off this whole college basketball thing is happy that, for the first time this season, he has a better record than his coin flipping daughter!
Sorry, not sorry.
Take that, #TeamCoin!
Grammer's Guesses for Saturday (15-17-1 on season):
• Utah State -3.5
• Air Force +2.5
• UNLV -11
• San Jose State +19.5
My daughter's #TeamCoin coin flip picks (16-16-1):
• San Diego State +3.5
• Wyoming -2.5
• UNLV -11
• San Jose State +19.5
— Geoff Grammer (@GeoffGrammer) January 16, 2021