A relocated New Mexico hopes for a better season
An issue-laden season became the downfall for New Mexico in 2019-2020
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A Texas-based New Mexico Lobos hopes for consistency in 2020-21
Will 2020-2021 be very different for New Mexico basketball?
It’s hard to say. A number of new faces – both coach and player – and a out-of-state relocation prompted by some of the most stringent measures against COVID-19 in the country have done little to clear the cloud of uncertainty surrounding the University of New Mexico’s basketball program, which now resides in Levelland, Texas (South Plains College).
The wheels fell off for New Mexico in 2019-2020 – and that was before COVID-19 stepped into pandemic proportions.
For a team with high hopes and expectations in 2019-2020, a flurry of seemingly non-stop off-the-court issues plagued the team, which went from a 15-3 start and receiving votes in college basketball’s polls to winning just four of its last 15 games.
It was a season where uncertainty was the norm and consistency was uncommon. Bright spots Carlton Bragg and JJ Caldwell were suspended and later booted from the team and there was even an athlete-hosted party that turned sour. Later in the year, assistant coach and adept recruiter Brandon Mason resigned from the team after being charged with a DWI.
But this is 2020. It’s a time where uncertainty has risen to new levels, and anything can happen. Besides, there is always news to bring a little hope when a new season approaches.
Perhaps among the biggest news – aside from the team’s relocation to South Plains College for the time being – is the hiring of two former head coaches as assistant head coaches. Former head coach Dave Pilipovich (Air Force) is now among the coaching ranks at UNM as special assistant to the head coach, and Scott Padgett (Samford University) is now an assistant coach.
The new head coaches not only bring additional head coaching experience, but Pilpovich brings an additional Mountain West Conference-specific perspective to the coaching table and the Lobos may benefit from Padgett’s experience in coaching up post players.
It will be interesting to see whether the team, which has a total of ten new faces (two of which are walk-ons) – will benefit from the new coaching changes.
Some of the most notable additions to the roster are Jeremiah Francis III (PG, North Carolina), Rod Brown (SF, Wichita State) and freshman small forward Javonte Johnson. All bring a much needed influx of talent to a roster that was depleted of the likes of Carlton Bragg (12.6 points, 10.3 rebounds per game) JJ Caldwell (5.7 assists per game), JaQuan Lyle (14.9 points, 4.6 assists per game) and Zane Martin (10.1 points, 3.1 assists per game), Vance Jackson (11.1 points, 5.3 rebounds per game) and Corey Manigault (12.5 points, 4.5 rebounds per game). Offensively, the outgoing talent accounted for nearly 75% of New Mexico’s offensive output in 2019-2020.
For 2020-2021, replacing the offense will be key, but still not nearly as critical as finding a defensive identity – something that has been a point of inconsistency in the previous two seasons. Ranking among the bottom third by defensive metrics won’t do in Lobo land for too long. If New Mexico is going to rank higher than their predicted seventh place finish, it’s probably simply going to be a matter of how well this team can play defense.
Otherwise, New Mexico may suffer a defeat to San Jose State for a third year in a row. Ouch.
For now, the wait is on to see the new New Mexico, which – for now – remains without a non-conference foe and will have its first outing against Boise State on December 3.