Preseason poll has Lobos eighth; Pitino didn't know and doesn't care - Albuquerque Journal

Preseason poll has Lobos eighth; Pitino didn’t know and doesn’t care

First-year UNM Lobo men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino instructs players during a drill at a recent basketball practice. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Richard Pitino apparently didn’t get the memo.

It’s OK. It wasn’t one he exactly cared much about, anyway.

The Mountain West Conference men’s basketball preseason media poll (full results at bottom of article) was released on Wednesday morning, slotting his New Mexico Lobos in a tie for eighth place with Wyoming in the 11-team league, as voted on by a select panel of media covering the league.

Several hours later on a Zoom video media call, when the first-year Lobos coach was asked whether the team’s predicted order of finish would serve as motivation, he seemed somewhat baffled.

“I don’t know where we sit. … I haven’t seen it,” said Pitino, apparently not added yet to the league’s email distribution list.

But the 39-year-old coach also has no grand illusion that the Lobos would be anything but a toward-the-bottom pick. The program he took over is coming off a historically bad season (6-16), has eight new players and only one scholarship player (Emmanuel Kuac) who has even played a game in the Pit.

“My guess would be that we would be picked towards the bottom. No, preseason polls don’t motivate me. We should be picked towards the bottom. … Do I think that we can be better than that? Of course I do. I’m a competitor, like anybody else, but those preseason polls normally go to the teams with a lot of returners back.”

Familiarity, indeed, dominated the poll.

The league’s media picked Colorado State, with five returning starters and nine returning scholarship players, as the preseason favorite with 11 of 20 first-place votes and 207 total points.

“I think we’ve got a mature group of guys who understand that, hey that’s great. We’ve got recognition and it’s a testament to the hard work that they put in and it’s a position they want to be in,” CSU coach Niko Medved said. “… I just think you have to embrace it. You know that’s what it is. You understand you’re going to get everybody’s best shot every night – you got to be ready for that.”

San Diego State (201 points), winner of the last two regular season titles and five of the past eight, is picked second and has seven first-place votes. And former UNM coach Steve Alford and his Nevada (189 points) squad of five returning starters received the other two first-place votes and were slotted third.

There was a significant drop-off in point totals after that. Boise State, Utah State, Fresno State and UNLV filled the spots between the top tier and the UNM/Wyoming tie at eighth/ninth with 79 points. San Jose State and Air Force rounded out the poll.

The No. 9 spot the Lobos share (tied for the eighth and ninth spots with Wyoming) has recent significance. In 2017, UNM was picked ninth in Paul Weir’s first season, finished third and played in the MWC tournament title game.

In the fall of 2018, Utah State and first-year head coach Craig Smith were picked ninth, finished as co-champion, won the league’s tournament and played in the NCAA Tournament.

A year later, in 2019, Medved was in his second season and his Rams were picked ninth with a roster that included freshmen Isaiah Stevens and David Roddy. The Rams have won 20 games each of the two seasons since then, and Stevens and Roddy on Wednesday made up 40 percent of the preseason all-league team. Both said they remember that ninth-place pick.

Stevens and Roddy were joined on the preseason all-league team by Fresno State center Orlando Robinson, UNLV guard Bryce Hamilton and Nevada guard Grant Sherfield, the preseason pick for Player of the Year.

Cal transfer guard Matt Bradley, now with SDSU, is the Newcomer of the Year pick and UNLV guard Keshon Gilbert is Freshman of the Year.

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