ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Unheralded New Orleans Visits UNM in Pit Tonight
It’s official: the long-awaited, highly anticipated first game for the New Mexico Lobo men’s basketball team is tonight in the Pit.
What is a bit confusing, is how the game against Division II New Orleans will figure into the Lobos’ record.
It’s definitely not another exhibition game, of which the Lobos have had two thus far, whipping both Davenport (92-54) and Western New Mexico (99-68).
This one counts. For the most part.
The Privateers played as a Division I independent last season, going 16-6. The record is deceiving, to say the least.
New Orleans played against some very small schools. And we’re talking small.
The attendance of New Orleans’ first 21 games was 5,446. That’s not an average, mind you, that’s total combined attendance – roughly one-third of the fans it will play in front of this evening.
Some of the games came against the likes of St. Thomas, Victory (Tenn.), Birmingham-Southern, Louisiana College and Southeastern Florida. And the Privateers lost to each of those teams.
They did, however, win at Carver Bible 88-74 in front of an official crowd of “0.”
It was one of three games the Privateers played in front of an official attendance of 0 (at Victory, at Webber International).
New Orleans has been accepted as a member of the Division II Gulf South Conference starting next season, so it is classified as a NCAA Division I independent in transition to NCAA Division II.
Originally, the Privateers were trying to transition to Division III, which is non-scholarship, so it had just one scholarship player last season. It has given out 4.5 scholarships this season and is working its way to 10, which is the limit for Division II.
The bottom line is if the Lobos win – which should be no problem – the victory will count toward their overall record. But since the Privateers are considered Division II, the game will not figure into the Ratings Percentage Index (one of the factors in determining the eventually NCAA Tournament field).
All senior Phillip McDonald knows is that it will be nice to finally get the season rolling.
“We’re really excited about playing again,” says McDonald, a three-year starter who suffered a severe ankle sprain last month and will play tonight, but probably won’t start. “We have a lot of big goals this year. We’re trying to win as many games as we can and make the tournament – the NCAA Tournament.”
McDonald says he feels “pretty good physically. There’s still little pain in my ankle. I’m like 75 percent. It was the worst sprain I’ve ever had.”
A year ago at this time, McDonald was slowed by an elbow injury.
But the bumps and bruises aren’t the only reasons McDonald may not be in the starting lineup early in the season. Sophomore guard Tony Snell has been tearing it up in practice and was dynamic in both of the Lobos’ exhibition wins. He has likely earned a starting spot along with senior post Drew Gordon, sophomore guard Kendall Williams and senior forward AJ Hardeman.
The starting point guard is still a battle, mostly between junior Jamal Fenton and freshman Hugh Greenwood.
Of course, starters and finishers probably won’t matter much tonight, as Lobos coach Steve Alford should be able to empty his bench early and often against the Privateers.
But Alford doesn’t concede a lopsided victory is in the cards.
“Obviously, there are no tapes (available on New Orleans),” Alford says. “That’s what makes openers interesting and, from a coaching standpoint, scary. Because you don’t know them as well as you’re going to know teams you’re playing two weeks from now. I’ve always approached openers the same way. It’s 90 percent about what you do. We have to go into this game, doing what we do.”
What the Lobos did in their exhibition games was impressive.
Snell led the way by averaging 18 points in the two wins, hitting 12 of 18 shots and 7-for-11 from 3-point range.
The 6-foot-7 guard was deep down the Lobos bench most of last season but could be a big factor this season.
“Tony is one of the best players we have,” says Gordon, a 6-9 senior post. “He’s probably one of the most well-versed players we have. He can take it up the floor, shoot, make layups, finish at the rim. I think it was a shock to him last year (as a freshman), but now I think he’s gotten his rhythm and his confidence is really high. He’s going to be trouble for a lot of teams.”
REMATCH… SORT OF: New Orleans first-year coach Mark Slessinger has been on the opposite sideline of Alford before. Slessinger was an assistant at Northwestern State, which shocked Alford’s third-seeded Iowa Hawkeyes 64-63 in the opening round of the 2006 NCAA Tournament.
“That was an awfully good basketball team that we had at Iowa,” Alford said. “We were up big, and they came back and beat us. So there’s some history there. So I’m looking forward to this game, not only for an opener, but that was one of the most disappointing losses we had at Iowa.”
See LOBOS on PAGE D3TodayNew Orleans at UNM, 7 p.m.TV: KASY, My50Radio: KKOB-AM (770)InsideUNM women open with a tough road trip to Texas TechD3
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal