3 Reasons New Mexico Could Challenge Nevada to Win the Mountain West
The Lobos lost Jaquan Lyle for the season, but still look to be strong contenders
The Lobos have a chance to make some noise in the 2018-2019 college basketball season
Let’s face it, Nevada is expected to be at the top of the mountain come March – and for good reason. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t have some competition along the way.
In fact, the Mountain West looks to return to its former status as a multi-bid league this year, with an anticipated resurgence of flagship programs UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico.
The Lobos were arguably the top contenders to the Wolf Pack prior to the injury of Ohio State transfer JaQuan Lyle. As a sophomore, he scored 11.4 points per game and led the Buckeyes in assists at 4.6 dimes per game. Lyle, a combo guard, was expected to be a key contributor to the Lobo backcourt. However, there are still several reasons New Mexico will have a chance to win the Mountain West and to dance this year.
Despite the injury of Lyle, the Lobos have a wealth of incoming talent from transfer big men 6-9” Vance Jackson and 6-9” Carlton Bragg. Both have transferred from blue blood programs.
Jackson transferred from UConn after starting for the Huskies in 21 games and looks to bring plenty of skill and athleticism to the team. He averaged 8.1 points per game and shot 39.7% from the three-point line in his freshman year.
Bragg, a former five-star recruit who played at Kansas and then sat out at Arizona State, adds both size and ability at the 4 and 5 positions. He is awaiting news on a waiver from the NCAA to play in the first game on November 6th but will otherwise be eligible on December 6th due to NCAA transfer rules if the waiver is denied.
Other notable talents include JUCO transfer and 2017-2018 NJCAA tournament MVP Keith McGee and four-star freshman Drue Drinnon.
Coach Paul Weir
Paul Weir has surpassed expectations in each of his 2 years as a head coach of a division I basketball team.
In the 2016-2017 season, he led New Mexico’s in-state rival, New Mexico State, to a 28-6 record and an NCAA tournament bid. In year two as the coach of the Lobos, he shattered expectations, leading his team to a 3rd place finish in the Mountain West Conference, a spot in the conference tournament finals and an overall record of 19-15. His team was pegged to finish ninth in the conference at the beginning of the 2017 season.
One of the reasons they were able to compete late in the season was depth and conditioning. This season, coach Weir will have even more depth to work with.
Depth is a critical component for Paul Weir’s team this year, as the defensive plan is largely expected to remain the same – press, press and more press. While more emphasis on improving the half-court defense will reduce the pressure to some degree, the near 40 minute press is still expected to be a major part of New Mexico basketball under Paul Weir.
Early in the 2017-2018 season, the press was not looking good for New Mexico but as the year wore on, Weir’s Lobos saw greater success and rattled on to win 7 of their last 8 conference games. This was largely due to high-level conditioning and limited player minutes, leading to fresh legs come March.
Last season, no player averaged more than 27.1 minutes per game, and 7 players averaged at least 9.5 points per game. While 5 of those 7 players will no longer be playing for the Lobos this year due to graduation or transfer, the influx of talent, athleticism and length along with the high-level conditioning provided at New Mexico will provide the necessary tools to maintain the demanding high-pressure, up-tempo game that will make New Mexico both contenders for a regular season championship and one of the most fun teams to watch in the Mountain West this year.