New Mexico had a breakout season in 2009-2010 making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years and helping turn the Mountain West Conference into more than just a mid-major. A repeat performance this season is probably asking for too much, but the Lobos will once again be in the thick of the MWC race and in the thick of the conversation on Selection Sunday.
The Sports Bank’s “99 in 99” ranks the 72 power conference college basketball teams and top 27 mid-majors. Our countdown will lead right up to the start of the season and provide you will all the in-depth information about the top teams in the game. Click here if you missed teams #52-#99.
By: David Kay
New Mexico Lobos (1st, 14-2 in MWC, 30-5 overall)
Projected Depth Chart
C: Alex Kirk (Fr)/Drew Gordon (Jr)
PF: A.J. Hardemann (Jr)/Emmanuel Negedu (Jr)/Cameron Bairstow (Fr)
G/F: Phillip McDonald (Jr)/Chad Adams (So)
G: Curtis Dennis (So)/Tony Snell (Fr)/Kendall Williams (Fr)
PG: Dairese Gary (Sr)/Jamal Fenton (So)
Gone: G/F Darington Hobson, F-Roman Martinez, G-Nate Garth (transfer-UC Santa Barbara), F-Will Brown (transfer-McNeese State)
New Mexico proved to be national threat early in the season when they won their first twelve games including a pair of victories against ranked teams. After a little hiccup midway through the year, the Lobos ended strong by winning their final 14 regular season games en route to the Mountain West Conference championship. Steve Alford must replace the two most important pieces from a year ago in “The Evan Turner of the West” Darington Hobson and steadying force Roman Martinez.
Helping bridge that transition is the return of senior point guard Dairese Gray who was named first team All-Conference and to the MWC All-Defensive team a year ago. He will be joined in the backcourt by returning starter Phillip McDonald. Redshirt sophomore Curtis Dennis will likely step into a more prominent role after coming off the bench a year while freshman wing Tony Snell should also figure into the rotation.
The strength of the Lobos this season figures to be up-front. A.J. Hardeman made an impressive jump from his freshman to sophomore season despite playing out of position at the center position. Hardeman will likely play the four this year with highly recruited 6-11 freshman Alex Kirk joining the team.
Alford has had previous success in landing impact freshman and this year is no different. UCLA transfer Drew Gordon becomes eligible after the first semester and could find his way into the starting line-up. Emmanuel Negedu comes to New Mexico after suffering sudden cardiac arrest prior to last season that forced him to sit out the entire year at Tennessee. The university would not clear him to play and neither did Indiana when Negedu tried to transfer there which he why he ended up in Albuquerque. His heart condition will be monitored closely at New Mexico and I will be curious to see how his playing time will shake out. If he proves to be 100%, he can make a major impact for the Lobos and provide even more depth in the frontcourt. Alford also added Arizona State transfer Demetrius Walker who will sit out this season per NCAA rules.
Player to Watch: Drew Gordon, PF
The UCLA transfer never really found his niche with the Bruins despite being highly-recruited out of high school and ended up leaving on a sour note. He is an athletic big who figures to flourish in the Lobos’ up-tempo style of play as opposed to UCLA’s slower paced offense. Gordon will not be eligible until December 19th but should add even more depth to an already talented frontcourt.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/16 vs. Arizona State
11/20 at Cal
12/4 at New Mexico State
12/11 vs. New Mexico State
12/22 vs. Colorado (Las Vegas Classic)
12/23 vs. Indiana/Northern Iowa (Las Vegas Classic)
12/29 at Texas Tech
1/1 at Dayton
Other 99 in 99’s:
#55 Southern Mississippi
#56 St. Mary’s
#57 Texas A&M
#59 Arizona State
#60 Northern Iowa
#64 Texas Tech
#65 Miami, FL
#68 Ole Miss
#69 George Mason
#71 Weber State
#74 Central Florida
#75 Wake Forest
#76 Georgia Tech
#78 Oklahoma State
#82 South Carolina
#86 Penn State
#87 South Florida
#89 Boston College
#93 Oregon State
#97. Iowa State