Favorable schedule could be boon for inconsistent Lobos
ALBUQUERQUE — All the losing takes its toll but, as with most things, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
For the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team, that means a favorable schedule in which five of the Lobos’ final seven regular-season games could list them as favorites. That begins with Wednesday night’s visit from Mountain West Conference cellar dweller San Jose State.
The Spartans are winless in league play and winless on the road, having dropped 13 straight overall.
Getting hot at the end would certainly be a welcome change for UNM. Head coach Paul Weir has lamented several times over about his struggles trying to find a player combination and coaching style that works best for this team. Aside from a few spurts here and there, the Lobos have been wildly inconsistent, particularly on offense and off the court.
“Offensively we just have a lot of guys that aren’t having, you know, great years right now,” Weir said, saying just one Lobo is ranked among the top 46 in the Mountain West for offensive efficiency. “Unfortunately just a lot of other guys that it just really hasn’t quite clicked.”
The off-court distractions have been a factor, too. They’ve led to disciplinary moves by Weir as a means to get the players’ attention. One player quit and others have had friends, family and even rivals create so much chatter on social media that it’s become a distraction.
Weir said he’s numb to the noise away from the court but is considering altering his approach.
“Maybe I need to get into more of that to learn how to get them to turn it off or view it in a different way,” Weir said. “But at the same time, I think that’s where maybe not just our basketball program’s going but where society’s going, in general. It’s become very angry or polarizing, the way we discuss our sports teams, our politics, our social issues, our religions, whatever it may be. It’s obviously kind of come that way.”
The chatter now? That four of UNM’s final seven games are in The Pit with winnable road stops at San Jose State and Wyoming, as well as a trip to Utah State.
The Lobos can use all the feel-good moments they can get. At 10-13 overall and 4-7 (ninth place) in league play, they’re freefalling through a forgettable season in which blowout losses and bad offense have become the norm.
In that regard, Weir said it’s time to block out the noise and get back to work. In practice and in games, it’s all about finding the kind of tunnel vision this team apparently lacks.
“We can control our attitude and we can control how hard we work,” Weir said.
Infirmary: Lobos senior point guard Anthony Mathis has a bruised tailbone and did not practice Monday. He suffered the injury while taking a charge in practice prior to the San Diego State game last week. He played through the discomfort against SDSU and again in the loss at Nevada but still doesn’t feel 100 percent.
Weir said his status for Wednesday remains to be seen. Same, too, for UNM’s game Saturday against Fresno State.
“This is just a time thing that will hopefully dissipate,” Weir said.
Consistency: One of the few MWC schools to have its men’s and women’s basketball teams in the same spot in the standings is San Jose State, and both programs are mired in last place. The Spartans women, who host UNM (19-3, 9-2) are 2-19 overall and just 1-9 in conference play while the men are 3-19 and 0-10.
The SJSU women got their only win against Utah State and have won both of their games this season while playing at home.
Not stellar: The Mountain West is looking like a one-bid league for the women’s NCAA Tournament. The conference ranks 15th out of 32 in the country in the latest Ratings Percentage Index and is 11th overall in strength of schedule.
The league isn’t exactly playing well against stiff competition, either. The 11 teams have combined to play just six games against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, losing all six.
Wyoming is the MWC’s top team in the RPI at No. 47. The Lobos are 48th while conference frontrunner Boise State is 65th. The only other team in the top 200 is Fresno State at 113.
The situation is even more grim in the Western Athletic Conference. The league ranks 30th overall, but its top team is New Mexico State at 166.