Emptying the Notebook: Lobos could be headed for rare losing month in the Pit - Albuquerque Journal

Emptying the Notebook: Lobos could be headed for rare losing month in the Pit

The UNM Lobos coaching staff reacts during the final moments of their loss against the SMU Mustangs on Sunday in the Pit — UNM’s third home loss in four games so far in December. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)
Here are some extra notes, quotes, videos, stats and whatever other odds & ends I could empty out of the old notebook after Sunday’s 90-72 Lobos loss to the SMU Mustangs in the Pit:

Pit losses piling up…

The UNM Lobos are 6-6 on the season and have now lost three of four December games played in the Pit.

At 1-3 at home with two games remaining on the calendar for December, the Lobos have a good chance to post a losing home record in the Pit during the month of December for only the second time in the Mountain West era, which started in the 1999-2000 season.

UNM’s two remaining December games in the Pit are a Tuesday night game against Norfolk State in which they will be favored and then a Dec. 28 Mountain West opener against a 10-0 Colorado State team that is nationally ranked. The Rams will be heavily favored in that game.

The only other time in the Mountain West era that UNM has had a losing record in December at home was under Paul Weir when the Lobos went 1-3 in December 2018.

UNM’s December record in the Pit since 1999 is 86-20.

Decembers in the Pit
(Lobo records in the Pit during the month of December since joining the Mountain West in the 1999-2000 season, losing records in BOLD)

2021: 1-3 (two games left)
2020: n/a (no games played in state)
2019: 6-0
2018: 1-3
2017: 3-2
2016: 3-0
2015: 4-1
2014: 4-0
2013: 2-1
2012: 3-1
2011: 4-0
2010: 3-0
2009: 5-0
2008: 4-0
2007: 4-0
2006: 5-0
2005: 5-0
2004: 6-1
2003: 5-2
2002: 3-3
2001: 6-0
2000: 6-0
1999: 3-3

So, is this a rebuild for Richard Pitino and the Lobos this season? Of course it is.

And most loyal Lobo fans understand that and have patience for what’s going on right now.

But it’s not the loyal Lobo fans UNM needs to worry about right now. During a pandemic, one that has has reduced ticket sales pretty much everywhere but especially to events in New Mexico, giving the fence-sitting fans any reason not to go to the Pit is risky.

And the reality is the Lobos haven’t just had three losses in four December games in the Pit. No, what the Lobos have had are three gut-punch losses in the Pit in December — a buzzer beater loss to the in-state rival in overtime, a loss to UTEP in which they lost their composure and got called for three technical fouls in the second half (Pitino called it unacceptable and said he doesn’t recall ever having one player get a technical for arguing with a referee, let alone three), and then there was Sunday’s wire-to-wire loss that the Lobos were simply outclassed, overmatched and looked like a bad defensive team.

More than a month into the season, performing that bad on defense isn’t a good look. Even the loyal Lobo fans (at least the ones on the West side bleacher seats behind media row) were starting to ramp up the jeers about the Lobos’ lack of defense on Sunday.

Yes, it’s a rebuild. But it’d be disingenuous to call the past four games played in the Pit by the Lobos anything but disappointing.

The gamer

Here is the game story I filed after Sunday’s UNM loss to SMU:

Surprise visitor

Maybe the coolest thing I saw/heard on Sunday was this.

When Lobo junior guard K.J. Jenkins checked into game at the 14:10 mark of the first half, I heard some really loud cheers coming from about 10 rows up behind south baseline.

They weren’t the normal cheers in the Pit, but clearly people there for Jenkins. It looked like a group of three women.

When I saw Jenkins after the game, I asked him who his new fan club was and he said it was his mom and a couple of family members who surprised him on Sunday for a holiday visit.

He had no idea they were even in the Pit until he looked up in the stands hearing those cheers.

He gave them a good view of his sharpshooting with this corner 3 with 10:53 left in the game right in front of where they were sitting…

On Gethro…

Offensively gifted Lobo center Gethro Muscadin was a scratch from his usual spot in the Lobos starting lineup on Sunday.

In fact, after freshman Sebastian Forsling got the start, it was forward Emmanuel Kuac who was the first Lobo off the bench to play Muscadin’s position at the ‘5’ for the Lobos.

Still, the 6-foot-10 Kansas transfer did get 7 minutes, 30 seconds of run in the first half, going 2-of-5 from the field, scoring 4 points, grabbing two rebounds and blocking two shots.

But at halftime, he came down the ramp 3-4 minutes before his teammates and was shooting with the ball boys. He didn’t play in the second half, sat at the end of the bench and during timeouts was noticeably disengaged with the team.

So, here was the question to Pitino (and his non-specific answer) after the game about what was going on with Muscadin, who has had similar issues a couple times already this season:

So, what’s next?

Stay tuned…

A number to know: 16

The Lobos were outrebounded by SMU on Sunday by 16 (48-32).

The statsheet looked like one from November for the Lobos, who were getting killed on the boards, and from second-chance points, early in the season, but had seemed to shore that up recently.

The Lobos have now been outrebounded by 10 or more in five of their 12 games and had an opposing team score double digit second chance points six times:

Lobo rebound margins (minus-10 or worse)
• -20 (47-27) at Colorado (Nov. 13)
• -17 (42-25) vs. Florida Atlantic (Nov. 10)
• -16 (48-32) vs. SMU (Sunday)
• -14 (41-27) vs. UAB (Nov. 25)
• -14 (45-31) vs. Towson (Nov. 26)

Opponent 2nd chance points (10 or more)
• 19 – Florida Atlantic (Nov. 10)
• 18 – SMU (Sunday)
• 13 – Colorado (Nov. 13)
• 13 – UAB (Nov. 25)
• 11 – UTEP (Dec. 12)
• 10 – Towson (Nov. 26)

Officially speaking

Pit fans love their referees, and many in attendance may have noticed a few new faces wearing those striped shirts on Sunday.

There’s a reason.

As part of the home-and-home contract between SMU and UNM, Sunday’s game in Albuquerque called for SMU to pay for and provide referees from the regular pool of American Athletic Conference officials. Next year’s game in Dallas calls for UNM to pay for and arrange for regular Mountain West officials to call that game.

For those who care about such contract details, I tweeted out a picture of that part of the contract…

Meanwhile, that COVID thing is still here…

Around college basketball, there are 32 programs (just under 10% of Division I teams) that are currently on a “pause” or otherwise not playing games right now because COVID cases on their teams are too high to do so.

While there seems to be a rather large push from coaches around the country toward trying to revise COVID protocols to allow vaccinated players who are asymptomatic but test positive to be able to return sooner or not have to test as often in the first place, the reality is doctors and university administrators signing off on loosening COVID protocols right now doesn’t seem likely to me.

So, the sport is dealing again with a winter that seems destined to be altered regularly by this virus.

One of those 32 teams currently on pause is Colorado State.

The Rams are 10-0 and were ranked this past week No. 23 in the AP and Coaches polls (the new polls come out Monday morning). I’m an AP voter and have the Rams at No. 17 on my latest ballot.

The Rams had to cancel games Saturday against Tulsa and this coming Tuesday against Alabama, which would have been easily the best opponent they’ve played.

Assuming all is good to go for the Rams, their next game would be the Dec. 28 Mountain West opener in the Pit against the Lobos. UNM last hosted a ranked opponent on Jan. 29, 2020 when No. 4 San Diego State came to the Pit and beat the Lobos 85-57.

Well, shoot…

SMU shot well on Sunday.

The Lobos did not shoot well on Sunday.

When it was 21-9, SMU leading early, the Mustangs had hit 9-of-12 shots. The Lobos, meanwhile, hit 3 of their first 16 shots in that time.

It was, to say the least, ugly.

In the end, here are how the teams shot:

SMU
• Overall FG: 50.0% (32-64)
• 2FG: 60.5% (23-38)
• 3FG: 34.6% (9-26)
• FT: 77.3% (17-22)

UNM
• Overall FG: 37.7% (26-69)
• 2FG: 48.8% (21-43)
• 3FG: 19.2% (5-26)
• FT: 75.0% (15-20)

Attendance

The announced attendance for Sunday afternoon’s SMU at UNM game in the Pit: 8,394

Plus/minus

Here are the plus/minus numbers (and minutes played) for the Lobos after Sunday’s game:

0 Taryn Todd (13:47)
-2 Sebastian Forsling (14:01)
-3 Jay Allen-Tovar (10:19)
-4 Gethro Muscadin (7:31)
-11 Saquan Singleton (10:44)
-12 Emmanuel Kuac (18:28)
-12 Jaelen House (37:55)
-15 K.J. Jenkins (21:55)
-15 Javonte Johnson (29:41)
-16 Jamal Mashburn Jr. (35:39)

Line ’em up

There were 14 unique lineup combinations used by the Lobos in Sunday’s game. Here’s a look at a few notable ones, including the big change at center with freshman Sebastian Forsling getting the nod in place of usual starter Gethro Muscadin:

STARTING LINEUP
• Who: House/Mashburn/Todd/Johnson/Forsling
• Point differential: -3 (13-16)
• Time on court: 7:41

BEST LINEUP
• Who: House/Mashburn/Todd/Johnson/Muscadin
• Point differential: +2 (9-7)
• Time on court: 3:15
• Note: Yes, the team’s usual starting five was one of two lineups used Sunday that had a plus-2 scoring differential, and it did score at a game-best 2.77 points/minute clip, but the sample size was pretty low at just 3 minutes, 15 seconds.

WORST LINEUP
• Who: House/Jenkins/Mashburn/Johnson/Muscadin
• Point differential: -6 (4-10)
• Time on court: 4:16

Around the Mountain

There were five Mountain West hoops games over the weekend and a busy slate of six games coming up on Tuesday…

SATURDAY
• Iowa 94, Utah State 75
• Nevada 68, Loyola Marymount 63

SUNDAY
• Arkansas State 68, Air Force 46
• SMU 90, New Mexico 72
• Boise State 88, (NAIA) Montana Tech 57

TUESDAY
• Fresno State at Utah, 5 p.m. MT
• Air Force at Tarleton State, 6 p.m. MT
• Portland State at Utah State, 7 p.m. MT
• Norfolk State at New Mexico, 7 p.m. MT
• Grand Canyon at Nevada, 8 p.m. MT
• Santa Clara at San Joses State, 8 p.m. MT

Mountain West standings

Through Sunday…

10-0 Colorado State
9-1 Wyoming
9-2 Fresno State
7-3 Air Force
7-3 San Diego State
8-4 Boise State
8-4 Utah State
6-4 Nevada
6-4 San Jose State
7-5 UNLV
6-6 New Mexico

While the Lobos do have the worst record in the conference at the moment, the entire league being .500 or better is pretty impressive in the final week of nonconference play.

Meanwhile, later on in the Pit…

The Pit had a double dose of Lobos hoops on Sunday. The UNM women’s team beat UTEP 78-66 to close out their nonconference slate with a 9-4 record.

Here is colleague Ken Sickenger’s write up after the game:

Video: Presser with Pitino (and players)

Here is the postgame press conference with Richard Pitino, Jamal Mashburn Jr. and K.J. Jenkins after Sunday’s game, as posted to the Journal’s YouTube page:

Stats and stats

Here is a look at the postgame statsheet handed out to media after Sunday’s game: SMU 90, New Mexico 72

And for a digital version of the numbers, here you go: SMU 90, New Mexico 72

Up next

One more nonconference game for the Lobos: Tuesday, 7 p.m., vs. Norfolk State (9-3)

Because I can…

Sunday’s Lobos game had a generously announced crowd of 8,394. But 1 p.m. on a Sunday is a tough time to get people to come out to a game, especially when there in NFL football and, on this particular Sunday, the best show around was wrapping up its 3-day run at Rodey Theater on UNM’s main campus just a couple miles away from the Pit.

And the star of the show (in this dad’s eyes) was my 12-year-daughter playing “Maria” in the National Institute of Flamenco’s “La Estrella.”

The show was fantastic (I was at Saturday night’s show).

And because I write these words and post this column on my own, you now have to put up with a tweet with some pictures I took from Saturday’s show (dark theater, sat pretty far away, so not the best, but they did the trick for me).


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