It's a slow(er) week, but there's no resting for Lobo hoops - Albuquerque Journal

It’s a slow(er) week, but there’s no resting for Lobo hoops

Lobo senior forward Josiah Allick (53) blocks a shot attempt by Air Force freshman Rytis Petraitis (31) last Friday. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The calendar would tell you the workload for the UNM basketball team this week is a light one.

The Lobos would tell you light workloads don’t exist this season in the Mountain West Conference.

After having played three games in a eight-day stretch between Jan. 20 and last Friday – including one overtime win, one double-overtime loss on the road and one home game they trailed midway through the second half – the Lobos (19-3, 6-3 Mountain West) now have just one game in an 11-day span.

But that game – Wednesday night against Utah State (17-5, 6-3) in Logan – is one senior power forward Josiah Allick knows will be anything but a chance for the team to catch its breath. The Aggies, after all, currently sit alongside UNM and Nevada in a tie for third place in the Mountain West standings at the halfway point of the league’s 18-game conference schedule.

And despite the computer metrics still being relatively kind to the offensively efficient Aggies (they rank 34th in the NCAA’s NET rankings), Utah State is the only one of the league’s top five schools hoping to make it into the NCAA Tournament without a signature, Quadrant 1 victory.

In fact, the Aggies are 0-3 in Quad 1 games while UNM has three Quad 1 wins and San Diego State, Nevada and Boise State each have two.

“They’re looking at this game as an opportunity to kind of start the process of building like a Selection Sunday résumé,” Allick said. “They’re definitely going to be ready. That’s kind of how they’re approaching this game. It’s like, ‘All right. Let’s get this one and try to get some momentum going into the next one and hopefully get us ready for March.”

Technically, this week presents the Lobos with its second “bye” slot in the league schedule, but the first one of those they filled with a short-notice game against Oral Roberts on Jan. 9 – a game against a team currently ranked 53rd in the NET rankings, solidly providing UNM a Quad 2 victory.

“We’ve had an interesting (schedule) not having the bye week that we took away for Oral Roberts, which I don’t regret doing. I think it was the right move,” Lobos coach Richard Pitino said. “But we need (the break now). I mean, we’ve had a heck of a stretch and we’ve played a lot of teams off of there by week. …

“So let’s find a way to see if we can get a win versus Utah State, (then) get a little break and then see if we can gear up again for another tough one.”

BYE BYE: Through UNM’s first half of the conference schedule three opponents had the luxury of extra rest, and extra preparation time due to their “bye” spots in the schedule: UNLV (beat the Lobos), San Jose State (UNM won that game) and Nevada (UNM lost in double overtime on the road).

The Lobos’ lost bye due to the scheduling of the Oral Roberts game took away the extra rest and preparation time ahead of playing at San Diego State on Jan. 14, which proved to be arguably the team’s biggest win of the season.

INJURY REPORT: Freshman point guard Donovan Dent turned an ankle in Friday’s win over Air Force and was held out of Sunday’s Lobos practice, but did practice on Monday and the team will see how his ankle responds to that over the next two days before knowing with certainty if he’ll play Wednesday night, but they are optimistic.

“We anticipate Donovan will be fine,” Pitino said.

Sophomore forward Birima Seck had a violent on-court collision on Friday and did not return to the game, but has returned to practice and is fully available for Wednesday.

POLL POSITION: San Diego State was the only Mountain West team to break into Monday’s latest AP Top 25 ranking. The league-leading Aztecs (17-4, 8-1 MWC) checked in at No. 22 in the poll after not being ranked last week and appeared on 46 of a possible 62 voter ballots with a high vote of No. 16.

While the Aztecs’ participation for three games in the Maui Invitational Nov. 21-23 would certainly count as a more challenging week of games overall, the next three for the Aztecs is, by far, their most daunting stretch to date in conference play. The league leaders play at Nevada (NET 37, tied for third in the MWC) on Tuesday, vs. Boise State (NET 22, second Mountain West) on Friday and at Utah State (NET 34, tied for third in the MWC) next Wednesday.

The Lobos, as noted earlier, dropped out of the AP Top 25 this week – from No. 25 last week to five spots out of the rankings on Monday with 47 points (No. 25 Auburn has 117 points). UNM appeared on 16 ballots, with a high ranking of No. 20.

Boise State (31 points, appearing on 11 ballots) and Nevada (2 points, appearing on one ballot) made it four league teams total to receiving votes.

The rankings aren’t exactly of major concern to Pitino.

“There’s value (to being ranked) in the sense of it certainly brings some attention to your program. The fans love it. But I just think there’s so many other metrics that have proven to matter where the AP and the coaches polls don’t,” Pitino said on Monday. “And that’s not to devalue those by any means, but we have so much data these days, and we’re all trying to go to the NCAA Tournament. …

“The bottom line is with the new stuff that we can all look at, whether it be KenPom or all these things, that’s just becoming less and less relevant, but I know fans care about it. I don’t care much of a whole lot about it. I mean, I think it’s great that in year two, we’ve been in and out of it with the situation that we’ve obviously inherited but no, I mean, I look at the overall stability of our offense or defense and those things more so than a ranking.”

NET GAINS: The metric that some may argue matters the most is the NET rankings. Those are the ones actually used on what the NCAA calls the “Team Sheets” compiled daily that help guide the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee in their evaluation of teams.

Those “Team Sheets” use a variety of computer metrics and other criteria to form the NET rankings, which rank 1 through 363 every Division I team.

The NCAA Tournament includes 68 teams, with 32 teams decided by each conference’s automatic berth (usually conference tournament champion) and then 36 at-large berths.

The Mountain West, as of Monday, had five teams in the top 37 of the NET:

• Boise State – 22

• San Diego State – 23

• New Mexico – 30

• Utah State – 34

• Nevada – 37

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: UNLV’s EJ Harkless was named, for the third time this season, the Mountain West’s Player of the Week after leading the Rebels to a 2-0 week with wins over Wyoming and Nevada.

Harkless, who last won the award after beating UNM on Jan. 7, averaged 23 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists in the week.

Nevada’s Darrion Williams was named the Freshman of the Week after averaging 13 points and 8.5 rebounds last week, including a 13-point, 13-rebound double-double in the double-overtime win over the Lobos last Monday night in Reno.

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