A big problem?
There’s not much point in harping on the limitations of this season’s team.
The sample size has grown large enough that we known by now they are 1-13 in Mountain West play for a reason.
But one thing the Lobos have shown to actually have a statistical advantage, or at least not a disadvantage, has been with size and rebounding.
UNM is a big team that, due in large part to simply not having many outside shooters, has often opted to play two bigs at a time in an era where most teams in the Mountain West and nationwide are going four guards or at least perimeter-oriented players and one big.
Against Wyoming, while the team isn’t small per se, they play outside-in, shooting more 3s than any team in the league (by a mile).
To combat that, the Lobos knew they couldn’t try to out-shoot the Cowboys from the perimeter. But they did have, at least on paper, what appeared to be an advantage in big men that should have led to the Lobos dominating the glass and making the Cowboys hurt in the paint.
Of course, Wyoming knew the scouting report, too. On Tuesday, Cowboys coach Jeff Linder said the key vs. the Lobos was all about trying to keep them from killing them on the boards.
“Where New Mexico is gonna beat you — it’s not it’s not about tricky plays or whatnot,” Linder said. “It’s about when that shot goes up, you better be ready to go rebound and then you better be able to get back in transition.
“The game doesn’t start until that shot’s up.”
So, here’s what the Lobos — the team that should have been the better rebounding team in the series vs. Wyoming and should have had an edge, even if only a slight one, with their big men, got on the stat sheet in the two-games played:
• REBOUNDING: UNM 76, Wyoming 75
• OFFENSIVE REBOUNDING: Wyoming 23, UNM 22
• 2ND CHANCE POINTS: UNM 26, Wyoming 21
Sure, that plus-5 in the second chance points looks nice and all, but that’s the stat the Lobos had to dominate to win against a team that out-scored UNM at the 3-point line in the series 66-30 (22 made 3-pointers for Wyoming to just 10 for the Lobos).
As for the Lobos two big men — 6-foot-9 Bayron Matos and 6-10 Valdir Manuel — who each started the first game in the series because it was so important to set the tone with them in the paint?
• BAYRON MATOS
3 rebounds (zero off. rebounds)
3 fouls draw/3 fouls committed
• VALDIR MANUEL
6 rebounds (2 off. rebounds)
2 fouls drawn/3 fouls committed
So, the Lobos went from starting both bigs on Wednesday with the hopes of dominating that part of the two-game series, to ending up with that duo combining for 21 points and 9 rebounds in a total of 97 minutes on the court.
That won’t get it done. Still, the Lobos had a shot in each game — Wednesday’s game went overtime, one Friday it was a 2-point game with under four minutes left to play.
Imagine if one of the few advantages most thought they at least had heading into the series would have held up.
Was that a press I saw?
Since Paul Weir’s first season, the team has talked a lot about pressing.
But since that first season, it’s mostly been just that. Talk. The previous two seasons didn’t really have ideal pressing defense personnel.
But this year, they said they had all the right parts, but still haven’t really been a pressing team — at least not a true press that isn’t just for show.
Then came the second half on Friday. The press was amped up, and the Cowboys got sped up and flustered — a huge factor in the Lobos furious comeback from down 27 to down just two in the closing minutes.
So, why are we just seeing it now?
“Probably just where we’re at, you know, living on the road and the wear-down effect,” Paul Weir said when I asked him after Friday’s game why we hadn’t seen more of that press that worked well on Friday. “I think mentally and physically, I just I don’t know if that was the right thing for us. I don’t know if it was sustainable from an injury prevention standpoint, from a physical health standpoint.
“As we’ve kind of looked at it, we haven’t really quite had the time we would have liked to do something like that. So in spurts, you know, we can. I think early in the year we tried it a little bit but you know, living on the road is draining and you’ve got to make some some adjustments to what you do basketball wise as well. I don’t want our guys coming up with injuries or doing something that isn’t sustainable over the course of the year.”
Here is the gamer filed Friday night:
A number to know: 9
UNM attempted only nine 3-pointers on Friday (they made three).
No big deal for this team, right?
After all, if you can’t make ’em, you shouldn’t take ’em seems like a safe rule of thumb, especially for a Lobos team that doesn’t have a high-end outside shooter.
But this is an era where the analytics folks would tell you teams simply can’t win many games anymore if you aren’t mixing the long ball into the offense (Wyoming certainly subscribes to that notion). It helps both from a mathematics standpoint (even this Aggie graduate can tell you 3 points is more than 2) and from a spreading the floor standpoint. If you’re shooting 3s, defense have to guard you farther away from the basket, which creates more space on the floor and more driving lanes to get to the basket.
But it all starts with at least taking some 3s.
In Paul Weir’s first 103 games as UNM’s coach (the first three full seasons and first four games of this season), the Lobos never attempted fewer than 10 3s in a game.
Since then, UNM has done it three times:
• Dec. 23: 1-9 in a loss at Boise State
• Jan. 28: 1-9 in an overtime loss at Fresno State
• Friday: 3-0 in a loss to Wyoming
In the past decade of Lobo basketball, there have been 16 games where UNM attempted a single digit number of 3-pointers. Eleven of those games came in the Craig Neal era (nine in the 2014-15 season alone).
What can you say about Makuach Maluach? The reaction I got to Friday’s feature article on the Lobo senior who was playing his “senior night” game 400 miles away from the Pit was an awful lot of sympathy for a likable guy putting on a classy showing amid a chaotic season.
Friday, Maluach scored a career-high 30 points and was the only Lobo to score in double figures. Then, as he has done admirably throughout the season, he was then asked to be the face and voice of the losing team and speak with media after the game.
He made a lot of tough buckets on Friday, especially as the only guy the Cowboys were focusing on most of the game.
Of course, he managed to find a couple easy buckets in the mix, too. Like this one…
— Lobo Basketball (@UNMLoboMBB) February 20, 2021
Let’s take a look at the top three scoring games in Maluach’s Lobos career:
• 30 — Feb. 19, 2021 — vs. Wyoming (10-18 2FG, 1-1 3FG, 7-9 FT)
• 26 — Feb. 10, 2018 — at Air Force (4-7 2FG, 6-7 3FG, 0-0 FT)
• 25 — Jan. 21, 2021 — vs. San Jose State (8-9 2FG, 2-5 3FG, 3-3 FT)
Here are a couple of interesting notes on the three times Mluach has scored 25 or more points:
• Two were at Air Force in Clune Arena — one vs Wyoming on Friday and one vs. Air Force in his freshman season
• Two were in Lobo “home” games, though neither in the Pit. One was Friday’s “home” game vs. Wyoming and the other was the Jan. 21 “home” game in St. George, Utah.
With those 30 points scored on Friday, here’s where Maluach now stands on UNM’s all-time scoring list:
1. Charles Smith (1993-97) 1,993
20. Marvin Johnson (1976-1978) 1,246
21. Cameron Bairstow (2010-2014) 1,239
22. Makuach Maluach (2017-present) 1,230
23. Mark Walters (2002-2006) 1,200
24. Roman Martinez (2006-2010) 1,159
25. Charlie Thomas (1987-1989) 1,158
Speaking of Makuach, or with him
In case you missed it, Friday’s Journal had a Senior Night feature article on Makuach Maluach:
And I also recorded the latest edition of the Talking Grammer Podcast with Makuach as he is wrapping up his fourth season as a four-year starter for the Lobos.
Here’s how you can listen:
Or just click the play button here:
The Lobos stay in Colorado Springs after Friday’s loss as the “home” team in Clune Arena and now switch benches for a two-game series against Air Force in Clune Arena on Monday and Wednesday. Monday’s game starts at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday’s game starts at 4 p.m.
New Mexico teams 0-2 in “home” games
Due to the public health order in New Mexico still prohibiting home sporting events, both of the state’s Division I men’s basketball teams lost home games on Friday that were played in neighboring states.
UNM in Colorado and NMSU at Eastwood High School in El Paso.
Final | UVU 69, Aggies 66
— NM State MBB (@NMStateMBB) February 20, 2021
A number to know: 0.2283
The Lobos starting lineup on Friday scored a horrible 0.2283 points per possession in the 5 minutes, 6 seconds it was on the floor together. That wasn’t all at the beginning of the game, but throughout.
For those not as versed with the points per possession metric, 0.2283 PPP over the course of a 74 possession game like Friday’s was, would net a team 17 points.
For the whole game.
That starting five was Saquan Singleton, Isaiah Marin, Makuach Maluach, Emmanuel Kuac and Bayron Matos. Overall, Wyoming out-scored that bunch by 12 points in 5:06 of them being on the floor together (14-2).
So, why in the world would Paul Weir go with that lineup at all on Friday?
Well, in Wednesday’s overtime loss to Wyoming, that same group of five, though in a shorter time on the court together (just 1 minute, 25 seconds) had UNM’s top points per possession stretch at 2.0 PPP.
Meanwhile, in Boise
After losing three of four games from Jan. 27 to Feb. 7, Boise State has now won four in a row (two to UNLV, two to Utah State, all at home) to set up a huge showdown at the end of next week with two games at San Diego State (the Aztecs still have the matter of a Saturday afternoon road game at Fresno State to deal with first).
Boise State on Friday completed a two-game sweep of the Utah State Aggies.
FINAL | Boise State earns the sweep!!
— Boise State MBB (@BroncoSportsMBB) February 20, 2021
Around the Mountain
There were three gams around the Mountain West on Friday, another on Saturday and one more on Sunday:
• Wyoming 79, New Mexico 67
• UNLV 76, San Jose State 60
• Boise State 81, Utah State 77
• No. 25 San Diego State at Fresno State, 4:30 p.m. PT/5:30 p.m. MT (CBS Sports Network)
• POSTPONED: Colorado State at Nevada
• UNLV at San Jose State, 1 p.m. PT/2 p.m. MT (CBS Sports Network)
Mountain West standings
Through Friday’s games, here are the Mountain West standings:
14-3 Boise State
11-3 Colorado State
10-3 San Diego State
11-4 Utah State
7-8 Fresno State
3-12 San Jose State
2-14 Air Force
1-13 New Mexico
NOTE: Break after Nevada signifies the cutoff for Mountain West Tournament seeding purposes. The Top five teams get a bye into the quarterfinals. Teams 6-11 play in the first round games on March 10.
About that MWC Tourney
As of now, all systems are go for a full 11-team Mountain West men’s tournament starting March 10 in Las Vegas, Nev. The women’s tournament, which starts March 7, is down to 10 teams as San Jose State opted out of the season when it got relocated out of its home state earlier this season.
Other conferences have started announcing adjustments to their tournament formats, some reducing the number of teams participating to avoid higher risk of COVID-19 infection that would jeopardize a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. Some top teams that know they’ll be in the NCAA Tournament anyway have said they may skip their conference tournaments altogether.
But, for the Mountain West, all is normal for now. And here’s how that first day of games will look based on the seedings:
Here’s the set up for the Mountain West Tournament’s first round games on March 10:
• No. 6 vs. No. 11
> Winner plays No. 3 in quarterfinals
• No. 7 vs. No. 10
> Winner plays No. 2 in quarterfinals
• No. 8 vs. No. 9
> Winner plays No. 1 in quarterfinals
(Teams 4 and 5 play each other in the quarters)
Busy Friday for Lobos
It was a full day of Lobo sports on Friday.
The final results weren’t good, but busy is a win after so much time full of inactivity for UNM’s teams.
How busy? Just look how hard some of the staff was working Friday night?
— Joe Thuente (@jthuente) February 20, 2021
As for those results, here you go:
• Baseball: Lost 4-3 to Gonzaga in Surprise, Ariz.
• Men’s basketball: Lost 79-67 to Wyoming in Colorado
• Women’s basketball: Did not play as past four games have been postponed due to a positive COVID-19 case on the team.
• Women’s cross country: 1st place at the Battle Born Collegiate Cross Country Challenge in Las Vegas, Nev.
• Softball: Lost twice — 8-0 to Seattle and 5-2 to No. 4 Arizona — in Tucson
• Volleyball: Lost 0-3 at San Diego State
OK, that’s a lot of losses, so here’s a bright spot: Lobo softball star and La Cueva High School graduate Andrea Howard blasting a solo home run, her first of the season, against No. 4 Arizona.
— UNM Softball (@UNMLoboSB) February 20, 2021
Another number to know: 27
So the Lobos fell short of what would have been a Mountain West record comeback on Friday. They trailed by 27 in the first half and had it down to a two-pint deficit with under four minutes to play, so it was close.
The record in the Mountain West?
That was set just last month when Colorado State erased a 26-point fist half deficit at San Diego State on Jan. 2 and won the game 70-67.
And that game broke the previous record of a 25-point comeback by the Nevada Wolf Pack on Jan. 7, 2017, in the Pit agains the Lobos. That game, which featured a pair of banked in 3-pointers by the Wolf Pack, ended up being a 105-104 overtime win for Nevada and also led me to rewrite my game story three times.
Here are the plus/minus stats for the Lobos from Friday’s game with minutes played in parenthesis:
+3 Kurt Wegscheider (11:27)
-1 Isaiah Marin (25:02)
-2 Valdir Manuel (18:58)
-4 Emmanuel Kuac (21:24)
-7 Javonte Johnson (12:04)
-8 Rod Brown (24:36)
-10 Makuach Maluach (36:49)
-10 Saquan Singleton (13:41)
-10 Bayron Matos (15:02)
-11 Jeremiah Francis (20:57)
He said it, Twitter edition
As bad as all the losses seem to be lately for the Lobos, Friday was a pretty big win for the team they were playing, as Wyoming Tribune Eagle reporter Michael Katz pointed out on Twitter:
This is as big a win over New Mexico as Wyoming has ever had in Colorado Springs
— Michael Katz (@MichaelLKatz) February 20, 2021
I can’t argue with that.
Stats and stats
Here’s a link to the digital stats from Friday’s game: Wyoming 79, New Mexico 67
And here’s a link to the .pdf version of stats from the game: Wyoming 79, New Mexico 67
Meanwhile, in Santa Fe…
Here’s one for the “Stick to sports!” crowd.
A bill that would allow college athletes to making money of their own names and likeness is headed toward law in New Mexico. Capitol Bureau Chief Dan Boyd gets the call from the bullpen to chip in on the sports page with this one:
The Guesses go just 1-2 on Friday because I’m awful at this stuff this season. Of course I will point out that picking UNM getting +5.5 points on Wednesday when they were tied through 40 minutes (before overtime) was a good call even if the overtime got lopsided and Friday it looked good again when they were down just 2-points in the final four minutes, again before they ran out of gas.
Either way, my daughter’s coin flip picks went 3-0 and she’s now 39-40-1 on the season.
Grammer's Guesses for Friday (36-40-1):
• New Mexico +5.5
• UNLV -15.5
• Utah State +1.5
My 11yo daughter's coin flip picks (36-40-1):
• Wyoming -5.5
• UNLV -15.5
• Boise State -1.5
(fixed… certainly a mistake to have UNM favored in a game in previous tweet)
— Geoff Grammer (@GeoffGrammer) February 20, 2021