Men's Basketball: Height-challenged Lobos may go even smaller - Albuquerque Journal

Men’s Basketball: Height-challenged Lobos may go even smaller

UNM junior guard K.J. Jenkins has been one of the few consistent scoring threats this season for the Lobos and is forcing the hand of head coach Richard Pitino to give him more minutes. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

The talk around the Lobo basketball team since Mountain West play began, and for good reason, has centered around the center spot.

But in terms of coaching decisions at the center spot, there isn’t much to dwell on.

There aren’t exactly options there after UNM’s top two centers on the depth chart entering the season have both left the program and a third who was moved there broke his leg and is out for the season.

First-year Lobos coach Richard Pitino, whether he wants to or not, is pretty much down to riding it out with 7-foot freshman Sebastian Forsling, who likely would have redshirted this season had depth not vanished before the team’s eyes, and forcing position changes for forwards Jay Allen-Tovar (6-9) and Birima Seck (6-11) to try and eat minutes at center.

There is another spot on the floor, however, that is causing more game-to-game decisions for Pitino and his staff.

“That ‘3′ spot, I’m struggling with offensively,” Pitino admitted after Saturday’s loss to Boise State.

And why not? The dilemma is obvious.

On the one hand, the Lobos are painfully deficient in their ability to rebound — anyone need the reminder they were outrebounded by 24 on Saturday against Boise State?

So, it would seem logical that a 6-6 Saquan Singleton or 6-5 Taryn Todd — two players who have started at the ‘3′ this season — would be best to join in the starting lineup or in getting big minutes alongside the undersized starting backcourt of Jaelen House (6-0) and Jamal Mashburn (6-2).

But neither Singleton nor Todd have proven to be scoring threats from the outside, something opposing teams clearly know. Defenders sag off them, allowing for a trickle-down effect of passing and driving lanes being clogged, space on the floor disappearing and the Lobos offense, in general, has regressed in the past few weeks as a result.

So, rebounding be damned, Pitino is ready to go even smaller if it means help with some offensive spacing on the floor and getting another shot maker on the court by playing bigger minutes — and maybe even starting — 6-2 guard K.J. Jenkins, the best shooter on the team, at the ‘3′ spot moving forward.

Since hitting a game-tying 3 at the end of regulation to force overtime against Utah State on Jan. 8, Jenkins scored a career-high 26 points and hit five 3-pointers at UNLV in 31 minutes and scored 15 points and hit four more 3-pointers Saturday against the Broncos.

“I was maybe gonna go with (Todd) in the second half, and I just thought I told them we have to go with KJ,” Pitino said. “We’re just not making any shots. So that ‘3′ spot, I’m definitely struggling with because Taryn is not a great shooter and Saquan is really struggling shooting the ball. KJ had 26 points vs. UNLV.

“So, we gave up some size, for sure. But I thought it was our only chance of someone cutting into the lead.”

For his part, Jenkins knows the issues this Lobo roster has with height, and knows his getting increased minutes only adds to that.

“We, as shorter players, have to be the aggressor. We have to be scrappier. And we just have to have a relentless attitude every time we go on the court to not get pushed over,” Jenkins said.

“It’s very easy to lose this year. I mean we’re dropping (players) and we have every reason in the books just to blow this season over. But you know, what I see is a group of guys that just wants to win.”

POLL POSITION: San Diego State didn’t play last week, having to postpone a pair of games due to COVID-19 within its program, including a Saturday game in the Pit (the one later replaced by the Boise State game).

Idle apparently looked good on the Aztecs to some Associated Press voters. SDSU inched up the “others receiving votes” portion of Monday’s new AP Top 25 poll, improving from nine points and appearing on four voter ballots last week to getting 25 points and appearing on eight ballots this week.

SDSU is five spots out of the rankings (No. 25 Connecticut has 73 points).

Colorado State is the only other MWC team to receive votes this week, snagging 13 points and appearing on 10 of the 61 voter ballots.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: Fresno State center Orlando Robinson averaged 27.5 points and 11.5 rebounds over a pair of league wins last week over San Jose State and UNLV en route to earning MWC Player of the Week honors.

Air Force guard/forward Ethan Taylor snagged his fourth MWC Freshman of the Week award after recording the first triple-double in Air Force history with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a home loss to Nevada.

NET RANKINGS: Entering play Monday, the Mountain West had six teams ranked in the top 64 of the NCAA’s NET rankings, one of the primary tools used by the NCAA selection committee when picking at-large NCAA Tournament teams and deciding on the seeds for each team.

The league’s NET ratings are:

27 Wyoming

29 Colorado State

45 San Diego State

47 Boise State

54 Fresno State

64 Utah State

131 Nevada

134 UNLV

191 New Mexico

244 Air Force

258 San Jose State



New Mexico at Colorado State: 8 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 770 AM/96.3 FM

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