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Emptying the Notebook: Valdir Manuel’s continued emergence gets lost

Lobo junior forward Valdir Manuel talks to a teammate during Saturday’s loss to San Jose State at Burns Arena in St. George, Utah. (Courtesy UNM Athletics)

Here are some extra notes, quotes, stats, videos or whatever else I could empty out of the old notebook after Saturday’s 83-71 Lobos loss to the San Jose State Spartans in St. George, Utah:

X marks the spot

Lost in the bad loss Saturday for the UNM Lobos was a career performance by Valdir Manuel.

The 6-foot-10 forward who teammates just refer to as “X” has quietly emerged as arguably the second best player on the Lobo roster behind senior guard Makuach Maluach, who each had 25-point games against the Spartans (Maluach’s was on Thursday in a win, Manuel’s was on Saturday in a loss).

Manuel has started three games in a row and in the five games since leaving Lubbock (three were played in Utah, two at UNLV), Manuel is averaging 11.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game.

“He’s emerging, obviously,” said UNM coach Paul Weir, who for all the criticism thrown at him of late has made a couple recent lineup moves that actually have worked, statistically speaking, including ramping up Manuel’s minutes in the frontcourt.

Manuel had played more than 17 minutes only once in the first nine games, but in the past five — again, coinciding with the team going to Utah — he hasn’t played fewer than 21 minutes in a game and he’s averaged 25.2 minutes in the past five.

“He’s kind of developing into the kind of player we need,” Weir said. “We need that. Our team needs every boost that it can get right now, individually. So I’m happy for Valdir offensively. His defense is actually getting a little bit better as well. So it’s not just about him putting points on the board. Hopefully he’ll be someone we can kind of lean on here.”

Manuel has taken nearly three times as many 3-point attempts (20) this season than he has free throw attempts (6), which shows you he remains a bit of a finesse player that isn’t drawing much contact and is more than happy to take jumpers, even from deep.

For comparison sake as both often play the “5” for UNM, but not to suggest they are the same type of player, fellow post Bayron Matos, has 43 free throw attempts this season and zero 3-point attempts.

Manuel, like he does on offense, tends to defend without much contact, too, which is why he’s not often in foul trouble despite being a good shot blocker. Being more aggressive on defense, even if it meant a few more fouls, the Lobos would probably welcome.

But for now, the Lobos love the offensive he’s bringing and will need it in their next series against a Fresno State team with three 7-footers, including potential all-league sophomore center Orlando Robinson.

From Saturday, here’s a look at a couple instances of Manuel’s offensive versatility. First, a 3-pointer (he’s made five this season, including three in the past three games):

And here was a dunk he had later in the game…

The gamer

Here’s the game story I filed after Saturday’s Lobos game for online and for publication in the Sunday Journal:

A number to know: 26

There will be a lot of bad numbers referenced in this column, so here’s a good one for the Lobos up high. UNM had a season-high 26 assists on Saturday on 31 made baskets. That’s a fantastic ratio.

In fact, the Lobos’ 1.06 points per possession was also one of the best for the team this season. Offense wasn’t the problem in this one.

Career-highs in assists were posted by Saquan Singleton (11) and Makuach Maluach (6).

Here are the top assist totals for the UNM Lobos in the past decade:

• 40 •
> Nov. 11, 2017: 147-76 win over NAIA Northern New Mexico

• 29 •
> Dec. 30, 2018: 103-47 win over NAIA University of the Southwest
> March 9, 2013: 89-88 loss to Air Force (Note: Steve Alford’s final regular season game as coach of the Lobos)

• 27 • 
> Feb. 15, 2014: 90-72 win over Nevada

• 26 •
> Saturday: 83-71 loss to San Jose State
> Nov. 11, 2011: 92-40 win over New Orleans
> Jan. 5, 2011: 102-62 win over Cal. State-Bakersfield

From the sports editor

So, what does UNM do now with Paul Weir, a coach in Year 4 of a six year contract? Well, here are some thoughts on that in a column for Sunday’s Journal from Sports Editor Randy Harrison:

Kurt’s two starts

Sophomore guard Kurt Wegscheider has started the past two games.

Though he goes by the nickname “Kurt-Curry” to friends, teammates and coaches with Curry being a reference to NBA scoring whiz Steph Curry, Wegscheider hasn’t yet proven to be a huge scoring boost for the Lobos.

But he has made an impact when he gets minutes, mostly on defense and as a rebounder. In fact, in the San Jose State series — the two games he started — he had the best +/- figure (plus -14) for the Lobos, meaning that in the 41 minutes, 45 seconds he was on the court in those two games, the Lobos outscored the Spartans by 14 points.

Saturday, he had five points, hit one of UNM’s five 3-pointers, grabbed six rebounds, had an assist and one block.

Here’s one of the two buckets Kurt made:

A number to know: 3

The San Jose State Spartans have now beat the UNM Lobos once in each of the past three seasons.

UNM is the only Mountain West team the Spartans have beat in three consecutive seasons since joining the league in the 2013-14 season. In their time in the 11-member conference, SJSU has posted in MWC regular season and MWC Tournament action a dismal 18-124 record against conference foes.

Paul Weir is 6-3 against the Spartans, with two of those losses coming in San Jose and a third, on Saturday, in what the NCAA will count as a neutral court loss in St. George, Utah.

Craig Neal was 5-1 against San Jose State with that loss coming in the Pit in February 2017 — his final season as coach.

Up next

The Lobos next game is Thursday at Fresno State, the first of a two-game series with the Bulldogs.

Without regular media availability with the Lobos coaches or players during the week, the only time we get to ask about the next opponent is in the postgame pressers. Saturday, after a bad loss and in a media session that was cut off at 5 minutes and 27 seconds, the results when KRQE’s Jared Chester tried to get any comment on the Fresno State series went about like you might expect.

“Yeah, it’s the furthest thing from my mind right now,” Weir said. “We’ve got to pick up the pieces, get home, see where this takes us, learn, you know, who wants to play hard going forward and who doesn’t. And it just doesn’t really matter who we play next at this point.”

Postgame interview

Here is that postgame Zoom conference with media back in New Mexico from Lobos head coach Paul Weir — a brief exchange in which only three members of the local media even asked anything (many more than that were on the call).

Another number to know: 40

For now, 40 remains the magic number for the Lobos. When they reach that number for points in the paint, they win. When they don’t they lose.

Saturday, UNM had 38 points in the paint. So did San Jose State.

40 PTS. IN PAINT:
• UNM is 5-0 when scoring 40 or more points in the paint
• UNM is 0-9 when scoring fewer than 40 points in the paint

MORE THAN THEM
• UNM is 5-0 when scoring more points in the paint than their opponent
• UNM is 0-6 when scoring fewer points in the paint than their opponent
• UNM is 0-3 when scoring the same number of points in the paint as their opponent (tied Nevada in both games and San Jose State on Saturday)

Makuach watch

Senior Makuach Maluach started his 70th consecutive game for the Lobos on Saturday and No. 113 overall.

After a season-high 25 in the Thursday win over San Jose State, Maluach on Saturday had just six points on 2-of-11 shooting, six rebounds, six assists and three turnovers. But those six points allowed for him to pass a couple more recent Lobos on the program’s all-time scoring list:

• 23. Roman Martinez, 1,159 (2006-2010
• 24. Charlie Thomas, 1,158 (1987-1989)*
• 25. Johnny Brown, 1,157 (1984-1986)*
• 26. Makuach Maluach, 1,148 (2017-present)
• 27. Phillip McDonald, 1,146 (2008-2012)
• 28. David Chiotti, 1,145 (2002-2006)
*NOTE: Charlie Thomas and Johnny Brown each played just two seasons for the Lobos.

He said it: Jean Prioleau edition

Here was San Jose State coach Jean Prioleau’s message to SJSU fans after Saturday’s win, his team’s first over a Division I opponent this season:

Those Game 2s

They’re just 1-9 in league play through five series, but the Spartans have this going for them: They’ve been better in the second game against the same opponent.

Here is a look at the scoring differential from Game 1 to Game 2 in all five Mountain West series for the Spartans (for example, the loss to Utah State by 45 in the first game and 33 the next, so they had a plus-12 improvement from Game 1 to 2):

• Utah State (Dec. 21/23): +12
• Boise State (Dec. 31/Jan. 2): +51 (not a typo)
• Fresno State (Jan. 8/10): -0-
• Colorado State (Jan. 14/16): +6
• New Mexico (Jan. 21/23): +28*
*NOTE: Lost by 16 game 1, won by 12 game 2)

UNM’s point differential through five series, for comparison, is far more up and down. If it feels like you can’t ever tell what to expect from Game 1 to Game 2 with the Lobos in these series against the same opponent, the stats show that’s about right.

Here is the Game 1 to Game 2 point differentials for UNM through five 2-game series:

• Boise State (Dec. 21/23): -13
• Nevada (Dec. 31/Jan. 2): +4
• Utah State (Jan. 6/8): -3
• UNLV (Jan. 16/18): +16
• San Jose State (Jan. 21/23): -28

Meanwhile, in COVID news Part 1

The league-leading Boise State Broncos on Thursday were said to have had a player on their Tier 1 group (either players, coaches or those most directly involved with them) test positive for COVID-19, leading to the team postponing Friday’s Fresno State game and going on a pause from basketball activities indefinitely.

Saturday, they said never mind. It was a false positive.

As a result, this week’s highly-anticipated road series at Colorado State is back on as scheduled.

Meanwhile, in COVID news Part 2

Ok, not UNM Lobos or even Mountain West related right now. But this is scary if it means this might be the next problem about it hit the sports world:

Around the Mountain

Since we last checked in Around the Mountain in this column, there were a pair of games Friday around the league, just the one on Saturday and two more coming on Sunday:

FRIDAY
• Wyoming 71, Nevada 64
• San Diego State 98, Air Force 61
• Fresno State at Boise State (postponed)

SATURDAY
• San Jose State 83, New Mexico 71

SUNDAY
• Nevada at Wyoming, 2 p.m. MT (CBS Sports Network)
• San Diego State at Air Force, 8 p.m. MT (FS1)

Mountain West standings

Here are the Mountain West league standings through Saturday:
9-0 Boise State
9-1 Utah State
8-2 Colorado State
4-3 San Diego State
5-4 Nevada
2-2 UNLV
3-4 Wyoming
3-6 Fresno State
2-7 Air Force
1-9 New Mexico
1-9 San Jose State

Saquan on point

The continued struggles at the point guard position finally led to a change at starting point guard this past week.

Junior Saquan Singleton, who started as an off guard pretty much all season, was shifted over to point guard for the Monday game at UNLV and continued to start at the point guard spot for the San Jose State series.

At least in terms of assists and turnovers, the move has been good.

Saturday, he had a career-high 11 assists, just one turnover and 14 points, his best statistical game as a Lobo.

Here are Saquan’s averages in those three games as the primary point guard:

• Points: 10.0
• 2-point FG: 13-27 (48.1%)
• 3-point FG: n/a (hasn’t attempted a 3 in six games)
• Free throws: 4-11 (36.4%)
• Rebounds: 4.0
• Assists: 7.3 (22 total)
• Turnovers: 2.0 (6 total)
• Assist-to-turnover ratio: 3.65: 1

For context, the leader in the Mountain West for assist-to-turnover ratio is San Diego State’s Trey Pulliam at 3.1 in league games and 2.7 overall this season.

Plus/minus

Here are the plus/minus numbers for the UNM Lobos in Saturday’s game with minutes played in parenthesis:

-3 Valdir Manuel (30:04)
-3 Javonte Johnson (8:57)
-5 Saquan Singleton (30:06)
-6 Kurt Wegscheider (18:12)
-6 Emmanuel Kuac (22:27)
-7 Isaiah Marin (9:54)
-8 Makuach Maluach (34:33)
-11 Rod Brown (34:24)
-11 Bayron Matos (11:23)

Oh, those 3s

In Game 1 vs. the Lobos, SJSU hit just 3-of-20 3-pointers. Then on Saturday, they hit 10-of-23.

Opponents have hit 10 or more 3-pointers in seven of UNM’s 14 games.

Saturday, while the defense wasn’t good for UNM, SJSU added to it by knowing down a few pretty tough 3-pointers, including this one as the shot clock expired late in the game.

Stats and stats

Here is a link to the digital version of stats from Saturday’s game: San Jose State 83, New Mexico 71

And here is a link to the postgame stat sheet I tweeted after the game: San Jose State 83, New Mexico 71 (pdf)

Grammer’s Guesses

Welp, neither me nor my daughter’s coin saw this one coming. We both guessed wrong on Saturday.

I’m now 23-23-1 on the season and my daughter’s coin flip picks are now 20-26-1.

Until next time…

No empty gym pic here for this one as I often post when on the road covering the Lobos, but as the chapter on a two-week window based in Utah for UNM’s men’s basketball team comes to an end at Dixie State, I thought I’d recap the unique situation.

UNM, without a home gym to practice or play games in, signed a contract less than two weeks ago with Dixie State University to play the Trailblazers in Burns Arena in St. George, Utah. The Lobos won that game on Jan. 13, 72-63.

In lieu of payment, which the visiting team usually gets for non-conference games, UNM received access to the Dixie State weight room and arena to both practice and prepare for the Jan. 16 and 18 games at UNLV (less than a two hour drive away) and also to host San Jose State for the games Thursday and Saturday.

Also as part of the contract, each game was streamed online — the Jan. 13 on the WAC Digital Network and the past two on TheMW.com — using Dixie State video resources and even their usual play-by-play announcer and analyst.

“We’re very thankful to not only Dixie State University, but St. George (Utah) and the entire community,” Paul Weir said after Thursday’s game. “It was a very refreshing place to come and just kind of live a little bit, and enjoy playing basketball.”

UNM’s next designated home game will be back at Lubbock Christian University on Feb. 3 and 5 against San Diego State University.

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