Reader mailbag: Grammer answers questions on the Lobos, tournament hopes and transfers - Albuquerque Journal

Reader mailbag: Grammer answers questions on the Lobos, tournament hopes and transfers

UNM Lobo’s Jaelen House, left, congratulates teammate Jamal Washburn Jr. during the mens basketball game at the Pit on Tuesday, January 17 2023. The Lobos beat the Spartans 77-57. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Journal is featuring a regular reader mailbag column with staff writer Geoff Grammer answering your questions. He will solicit questions each week on Twitter (@GeoffGrammer) and answer select questions for a column here in print and a longer version online. Here’s a sampling of the questions he received this week.

QUESTION: Do you see any path UNM gets an at-large bid (in the NCAA Tournament)? Win out — but how far would they have to make it in the conference tourney?

ANSWER: The truth is that while UNM may be on the outside looking in if the NCAA Tournament was selected today, they still have two Quad 1 games ahead (at Boise State on Wednesday and vs. San Diego State in an already-sold out Pit on Saturday) and what I’m guessing willa be a third Quad 1 opportunity against Utah State in the first round of the Mountain West Tournament.

Quick one-line refresher: “Quad 1” games are against teams with a high enough NET ranking that the NCAA Tournament selection committee considers those the best of the best.

Now, based on the past couple weeks of Lobo outcomes, one could assume UNM won’t win any of those remaining tough games, in which case they won’t be going dancing without winning the MWC Tournament.

But you also can’t ignore that they’ve already beaten Boise State and San Diego State earlier this season. And, if they do in fact get that Utah State rematch in the MWC Tournament, remember the Aggies aren’t the same team outside of Logan. They have four road losses in league play — three by double digits to San Diego State, Nevada and Boise State and one by 4 points last weekend at San Jose State.

The (Lobos) have what, statistically speaking, are the two best wins in the entire conference this season — true road wins at Saint Mary’s and at San Diego State. They also have one horrible loss to Wyoming without their starting point guard in the lineup.

So, the Lobos absolutely have a path to get in the NCAA Tournament. A tough one, but a path nonetheless.

Q: I know Morris Udeze has no more eligibility left and Jaelen House is most likely gone. Any chance House stays and are you getting word of any other players leaving early? With CBB now it seems like it would be pretty rare to A) only lose two players and B) neither of them be b/c of a transfer.

A: For starters, as you mentioned, the only Lobo who can’t come back next season is Morris Udeze due to expired eligibility. After that, it’s speculation until the players actually come out and say something.

Not as many players are deciding they’re leaving a team with two weeks left in the season as I know sometimes fans think.

But, you’re right in that the notion that thinking only one or two Lobos will leave is naïve. First, let’s remember one already did leave in Jay Allen-Tovar, he just did so after three games into the season when he didn’t like his role.

When the transfer portal really opens up this spring and the Lobos grab a key player or two, then current Lobo players need to decide how that might affect the roles they hope to have next season. And the coaches will have to have open conversations with them about what they see those roles being because the last thing the team wants is a player leaving in season when they’re unhappy with their role and leaving the entire program short a scholarship player the rest of the season.

Q: Is Donovan Dent going to consider transferring? Is there any chance Mash comes back next year?

A: Dent and all players should consider their options every season. This era isn’t about fans or schools. Sorry. This is an era (finally, in my opinion) where the players themselves have some freedom to do what’s best for them with transfers and NIL.

That doesn’t mean they make the best choices, but it is their choice and not just what’s best for all the others who benefit from their basketball ability.

That said, I think his role at UNM, and that included NIL potential, is pretty promising.

As for Mash, yes. There’s a chance he comes back next season.

Q: If the Lobos play like they did against SJSU for the rest of the season, how far do you see them going? Sweet 16 minimum?

A: “Sweet 16 minimum?”

Stop it. Let’s see if they get in first.

Q: What are your predicted seeds for the tournament?

A: My guesses are awful this season, but here we go. The Grammer’s Guesses for the Mountain West Tournament seeds:

1. San Diego State
2. Nevada
3. Boise State
4. Utah State
5. New Mexico
6. San Jose State
7. Fresno State
9. Air Force
10. Colorado State
11. Wyoming

And, for those who need the refresher, the tournament seeding works like this: the top 5 seeds get a bye into the quarterfinal round starting Thursday, March 9. Seeds 6-11 will play against each other starting Wednesday, March 8.

Q: Does the NET weigh losses differently when they happened with injured stars for teams?

A: No. The NET doesn’t have an injury component to its computer formula.

Now, the follow up is that the NCAA Selection Committee can consider injuries when picking teams in the field or their seeds.

But it’s a slippery slope for the committee to just start saying some games don’t really count unless a team is at full strength.

First off, there are 10,000 Division I games played, and a huge percentage have an injury at play in some fashion. Asking the committee to determine which ones to count and which to ignore isn’t practical.

As for UNM, the variance in outcomes the past three games — losses to the 9th- and 11th-place team in the conference without Jaelen House, then a 28-point road win over the 5th-place team with him back — is hard to ignore.

Q: When will you get a microphone for your (postgame) interviews so we can hear your questions better?

A: I have one. I will start wearing it more. I forget, to be honest, to put it on after road games because when I’m the only one there, it’s worth wearing so, as you say, people can hear my questions.

In the postgame pressers after home games in the Pit, where a half dozen reporters are asking questions, me wearing a microphone doesn’t do any good. But on the road when it’s a one-on-one interview, I absolutely should be wearing my microphone.

Q: Why does KJ play wearing shirts with sleeves?

A: I regret to inform you I didn’t ask him his sleeve preference before this mailbag column, but will do so and report back with the backstory on it.

Q: If a MWC team beats UNLV in the mountain tournament does it count as a Road win or a neutral court win in the quad system? does the change of court mean it’s neutral or change of arena they are playing in?

A: It counts as a road game for all other teams and a home game for UNLV, which is good news for the ratings for 10 teams in the league who have a shot at a true road win, even in the conference tournament, but bad news for UNLV, which doesn’t get the same benefit.

Q: Who would be the dark horse the MWC tourney if you had to pick one?

A: I consider “darkhorse” in this tournament format a team seeded 6 through 11 since they all play an extra game and a team capable of winning two games — that first round game with the 6 through 11 seeds AND possible pull off an upset in the quarterfinal round.

I’m not saying that I’m saying either of these teams will win a quarterfinal round game, but here are my two “darkhorse” answers based on the projected seeds I mentioned above:

• Darkhorse: San Jose State — The Spartans defend and rebound and have a great player in Omari Moore. Don’t let the two games against the Lobos fool you, there’s a reason Tim Miles is getting a lot of buzz for the turnaround the Spartans have had. They are genuinely a really solid team.

• Deep Darkhorse: Colorado State — I can’t help myself, but I still think Isaiah Steves is that guy and can carry the Rams in a game and the rest of the offense, roster depleted and all, can get hot.

I think any team 6-11 is capable of a win in that first round, of course, and that’s not the case every year. But the two above have an outside shot at a Thursday upset, too.

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