Emptying the Notebook: UNM's shrinking front court a big problem in UNLV loss - Albuquerque Journal

Emptying the Notebook: UNM’s shrinking front court a big problem in UNLV loss

Thomas & Mack Center at UNLV in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Jan. 11, 2022. (Geoff Grammer/Albuquerque Journal)

LAS VEGAS, Nevada — Here are a few extra notes, quotes, stats, tweets or whatever else I could empty out of the old notebook after Tuesday’s 85-56 UNLV win over New Mexico in the Thomas & Mack Center:

Small Lobos have big problem

For three very different reasons, the UNM Lobos (7-9, 0-3) re a team right now without a center ready for for big, productive minutes at this level.

And through three league losses, the unfortunate side effects of a short team seeming to shrink before our eyes are impossible to ignore.

Taller teams are giving the guards problems and there’s nobody with size to help there. UNLV over played UNM guards on the perimeter with nobody for UNM guards to throw it inside to that might require help defenders to collapse toward the rim.

On defense, there is no rim protection to speak of. Three days after allowing 54 points in the paint to Utah State, the Lobos allowed 44 on Tuesday to UNLV.

And the Lobos were outrebounded 48-30. And the three offensive rebounds produces a 7.7% offensive rebound rate, UNM’s worst in any game since at least 2002 according to KenPom.com (2002 is when such stats were starting the be kept by that site).

“As you can see, we’re losing height. We’re losing players (in the front court),” said Lobo guard K.J. Jenkins. “Next man (up) mentality, but as a short team, as a light team, we’re just going to have to figure out how to defend and be scrappy. Fifty/fifty balls are big. Really, everything on the defense end — we’ve got to be tougher.”

Entering the fall semester, they had hoped 6-foot-10 Kansas transfer Gethro Muscadin and 6-11 returner Valdir Manuel would be the 1-2 punch at the top of the big-man rotation while freshmen Sebastian Forsling and Birima Seck came along slowly.

Manuel never played a game (he was suspended, then transferred). Muscadin left the program Dec. 20 (and since was in a horrific car accident and remains in a coma in Kansas).

Along the way, Seck got sick and considered redshirting this season due to the illness, but that’s out the window now as he played Tuesday. Forsling actually is coming along slowly if you pay close enough attention, though Tuesday may have been his worst game in some regards with five turnovers.

Then there was 6-7 forward Emmanuel Kuac, who had proven to be maybe the best at the ‘5’ spot for the team after moving there out of necessity, but he broke his leg in Saturday’s loss to Utah State and he’s now out for the season.

Forward Jay Allen-Tovar, who has said he doesn’t like playing the ‘5’ spot on the floor, didn’t even get off the bench in the second half on Tuesday, though acting coach Eric Brown would not say it was for any specific reason (he would likely let Richard Pitino say so if there is something going on there).

“We just wanted to give a different look,” Brown said when asked why Allen-Tovar didn’t see the floor after halftime. “We were behind all game and we were getting hurt inside on the boards. They had a lot of points in the paint and we just wanted to get another another body in there and give a different look to try to get the right combination.”

College hoops can’t do trades or free agent signings in-season. What the Lobos have is what they have. So Seck, Forsling and walk-on Jordan Arroyo will have to start helping out more, especially if the up and down minutes pattern of Allen-Tovar continues to be so unpredictable.

The gamer

Here is the late-night game story filed from the Thomas & Mack Center on Tuesday night:

What’s the point?

The Lobos scored 56 points on Tuesday night, the lowest total for the program this season and more than 23 points below the 79.4 points per game average the Lobos had before Tuesday.

It marks the second time UNM has been held below 60 points this season — both times coming in Las Vegas.

Here’s a look at the worst five scoring games of the season for the Lobos, with the top two being games played in Las Vegas and three on the list being in the state of Nevada:

• 56: Tuesday loss at UNLV (in Las Vegas)
• 58: Nov. 26 loss vs. Towson (in Las Vegas)
• 68: Dec. 21 win over Norfolk State
• 69: Dec. 12 vs. UTEP
• 70: Jan. 1 at Nevada
For a Lobos team that likes to boast it has a 6-0 record when scoring more than 80 points in regulation this season, it better figure some things out again in a hurry or it may not sniff 80 points in a game anytime soon.

He said it (Part 1)

“We just have to play tougher. That’s the bottom line. We just gotta have that pride and we’ve got to hate to lose. I don’t think that’s us right now. I don’t think losing really hits some guys home, you know? We just got to hate losing.” — Lobo junior guard K.J. Jenkins

My thought on K.J.’s comment: Jenkins is a no-nonsense player who was voted in the preseason as one of three captains. He wasn’t calling out anyone specifically, and didn’t say it was everyone. But that’s a powerful thing he said and players holding each other accountable is what coaches love to see.

He said it (Part 2)

“Our guys hate to lose. We have a competitive group and they bounce back and they practice hard. They don’t have a good taste in their mouth right now and they know this is not acceptable.

“They’re coachable, they’re competitive and this does not sit well with them and they’re ready to get back on the practice floor to fix it.” — Lobo acting coach Eric Brown

My thought on Eric’s comment: As a coach, especially as an acting coach, Eric Brown isn’t going to go too far down the path of calling out any players, so he tried to soften up K.J.’s words a bit. I don’t think he disagrees with K.J., but it’s just not his place to really say it. Pitino, when he gets back, can say something like that, but Brown as an assistant isn’t going to say something like that about players, at least not in a media interview.

Attendance

The announced attendance at the Thomas & Mack Center on Tuesday: 3,860

Here’s a look at the pregame video and the crowd in the arena at tip-off:

In what was a “Pack the Mack” night promotion with $5 tickets, I will say the actual number of butts in seats left a lot to be desired for this guy who still remembers the days of 18,000 in that arena for the 2013 Mountain West Tournament championship game between UNLV and UNM.

A number to know: 14

UNLV played 14 players on Tuesday, the most it had played in a game all season.

What’s particularly interesting about that (and I don’t mean that in any suspicious way, just that it’s interesting) is that UNLV didn’t even have seven available players to play Saturday at Air Force due to COVID-19.

And, as recently as Monday afternoon, Rebels coach Kevin Kruger said he didn’t know who would be available and there was talk leading into the game about players maybe needing to fill in at positions never played before if players couldn’t get cleared in time for the UNM game.

So, the Rebels went from not having seven on Saturday to playing a season-high 14 players on Tuesday.

Oh, Donovan…

UNLV’s Donovan Williams, the transfer from Texas, had himself a game against the Lobos.

“Stretch” as the call him earned that nickname on this highlight reel alley-oop finish in transition…

Williams couldn’t miss much of the game, finishing with the following stat line:

• Points: 29
• 2FG: 8-10
• 3FG: 2-2
• FTs: 7-11
• Fouls drawn: 7

Speaking of fouls…

Jaelen House used to draw fouls with ease.

Through the Lobos’ Jan. 1 game at Nevada, he hadn’t played a game this season without attempting (and making) at least two free throws. In seven games, he even attempted five or more free throws.

But as he’s concentrating the past two games on getting teammates more involved, he hasn’t been drawing fouls.

In fact, House hasn’t hit a free throw in the past two games and attempted just one (that was on Tuesday).

• Saturday vs. Utah State: 0-0 FTs
• Tuesday at UNLV: 0-1 FTs

Line ’em up…

There were 21(!) unique lineup combinations used by the Lobos in Tuesday’s loss at UNLV. That is a lot, thought probably not all that unexpected for a team that not only was getting thumped pretty much the entire game, but is also now trying to figure out a new identity in midseason now that it is three centers down and clearly not getting enough production from its front court at the moment to settle with any combination of players for too long.

Here’s a look at a few notable lineups, starting with the starters:

STARTING LINEUP
• Who: House/Mashburn/Singleton/Johnson/Forsling
• Point differential: +1 (14-3)
• Time on court: 8:31
• NOTE: It is very noteworthy, for a variety of reasons, that the starting lineup was not only in the positive on the night, but based on time on the court, could make a case for being UNM’s best lineup on Tuesday. Remember, K.J. Jenkins and his career-high 26 points didn’t start, but Jaelen House and Sebastian Forsling and their combined nine turnovers did.

BEST LINEUP
• Who: Jenkins/Mashburn/Todd/Johnson/Allen-Tovar
• Point differential: +2 (7-5)
• Time on court: 3:17
• NOTE: As mentioned under the starters above, a case could be made that the best lineup on Tuesday was actually the starters as they outscored UNLV by one point in 8:31 on the court together. But this group scored at a great 1.4 points per possession and had zero turnovers.

WORST LINEUP
• Who: Jenkins/Mashburn/Singleton/Johnson/Forsling
• Point differential: -15 (5-20)
• Time on court: 12:41

Meanwhile, in Waco…

We interrupt this Lobo basketball column for a look in at the last undefeated team in college basketball to take a loss. On Tuesday night, Texas Tech and new head coach Mark Adams knocked off No. 1 and previously unbeaten Baylor:

A change in plans…

As most know by now, the Mountain West on Tuesday announced a game change for the Lobos for this coming weekend.

Due to COVID-19 cases in the San Diego State program, that game is postponed (both teams will work to try to make it up).

But Boise State, which had a scheduled Saturday off, will now head to Albuquerque, well ahead of their previously planned Feb. 8 game in the Pit.

Our story:

VIDEO: Brown and Jenkins

Here’s the postgame interview I was able to get with UNM acting coach Eric Brown and Lobo guard K.J. Jenkins (apologies for the sound in the KJ interview as the PA speakers in the arena played the UNLV postgame show overhead while I was doing the interview):

Back to the Future

Time for another quick interruption from Tuesday’s game.

Former Lobo Kenny Thomas on Tuesday announced he will again be coaching the UNM alumni team “The Enchantment” in this summers TBT (The Basketball Tournament) which will have a regional hosted in the Pit:

Plus/minus

Here are the plus/minus numbers from Tuesday’s game in Las Vegas with minutes played in parenthesis:

UNM
+2 Jay Allen-Tovar (9:34)
-1 Taryn Todd (14:33)
-4 Jeremiah Francis (4:24)
-6 Jaelen House (23:24)
-8 Jordan Arroyo (5:58)
-13 Birima Seck (8:52)
-16 Javonte Johnson (31:08)
-23 Sebastian Forsling (24:28)
-24 Saquan Singleton (17:19)
-25 K.J. Jenkins (30:25)
-27 Jamal Mashburn Jr. (29:55)

UNLV
+23 Donovan Williams (24:04)
+21 Keshon Gilbert (16:00)
+20 Jordan McCabe (28:21)
+18 Royce Hamm Jr. (24:45)
+18 Bryce Hamilton (28:00)
+14 David Muoka (9:47)
+11 Marvin Coleman (14:35)
+9 Josh Baker (21:51)
+7 Michael Niga (12:10)
+5 Justin Webster (9:34)
0 Victor Iwuakor (7:59)
0 Trey Hurlburt (0:35)
0 Cameron Burist (0:35)
-1 Reece Brown (1:44)

Meanwhile, in Fresno…

Hey, this sounds familiar. A team coming off a COVID-19 pause in their program hosts a team that played on Saturday and, instead of showing rust, blows out that team…

Fresno State beat up on San Jose State, 79-59, in the first Mountain West game for Tim Miles in his second stint in the league:

Around the Mountain

There were just two Mountain West games scheduled on Tuesday and a couple more coming Wednesday (would have been three on Wednesday if not for yet another postponement).

TUESDAY
• Fresno State 79, San Jose State 59
• UNLV 85, New Mexico 56

WEDNESDAY
• Utah State at Colorado State, 6 p.m. MT
• Boise State at Nevada, 7:30 p.m. PT/8:30 p.m. MT
• San Diego State at Wyoming (postponed)

FRIDAY
• Fresno State at UNLV, 8 p.m. PT/9 p.m. MT

SATURDAY
• Nevada at Air Force, 3 p.m. MT
• Boise State at New Mexico, 3:30 p.m. MT
• Colorado State at San Jose State, 3 p.m. PT/4 p.m. MT
• Wyoming at Utah State 7 p.m. MT

Mountain West standings

Through Tuesday’s games, with some teams up to three games and others having not yet played any, here are the Mountain West standings:

2-0 San Diego State
1-0 Boise State
1-0 Nevada
1-1 Air Force
1-1 Colorado State
1-1 Fresno State
1-1 UNLV
1-1 Utah State
0-0 Wyoming
0-1 San Jose State
0-3 UNM

Stats and stats…

Here is a picture of the final stat sheet: UNLV 85, New Mexico 56

And here is the link to a digital version of the stats: UNLV 85, New Mexico 56

Grammer’s Guesses

Welp, that was ugly.

The Guesses, and my daughter’s coin flip picks, both go 0-2 on Tuesday and fall to 4-5 on the season in picking games against the point spread.

Time to regroup.

Until next time…

Until next time, Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada…


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