#43 New Mexico: 2010-11 Basketball Preview
Overall Rank: #43
Conference Rank: #4 Mountain West Conference
2009-10: 30-5, 14-2
2009-10 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Steve Alford (76-26 at New Mexico, 384-209 overall)
Coach Steve Alford has done a tremendous job at New Mexico, but he has a lot to live up to after leading the Lobos to a 30-5 record last season. Losing Darington Hobson and Roman Martinez, who were the team’s top two scorers and rebounders last season, will definitely hurt, but by March this team will be worthy of another trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Key Losses: F Will Brown, G Nate Garth, G Darington Hobson, F Roman Martinez
Emmanuel Negedu, a transfer from Tennessee, and Drew Gordon, a transfer from UCLA, may make the biggest impact this year, but Coach Alford continues to bring in some good freshmen. Small forward Tony Snell fills a big need on the wing and has the potential to start right away. Kendall Williams may need a little more time to adjust to life in the Mountain West Conference, but he is a proven scorer and could provide a spark off the bench. The frontcourt adds Australian Cameron Bairstow from the famed Australian Institute of Sport and center Alex Kirk. Kirk will add even more size to the Lobos frontline and he may be called upon early in the year to play some quality minutes.
Last year it seemed like Dairese Gary would bull his way through the lane and dish the ball out to Hobson or Martinez to hit a three-pointer. Despite that being his main role, Gary still averaged 13.1 points per game. This year he will need to provide more of a scoring punch to the perimeter. However, one of Gary’s targets beyond the arc is back. Phillip McDonald was often overshadowed by Hobson and Martinez, but he did connect on 39.6 percent of his attempts from long range. McDonald needs to start using his 6-5, 200 pound frame to attack the basket and Gary needs to hit the long ball more consistently for this backcourt to be anywhere near as good as they were last year. Jamal Fenton and Curtis Dennis are both coming off of solid freshman campaigns and should be ready to play a bigger role as sophomores.
The bad news is Martinez is gone. The good news is this team will rely less on their outside shooting. While the team as a whole did shoot very well from beyond the arc, it is always dangerous to rely too heavily on the long ball. That should not be a problem this year as McDonald is the only proven outside shooter. Gary can now drive the lane and find an interior scorer instead of an outside shooter. The likely candidate to benefit from that is 6-8 junior A.J. Hardeman. Hardeman was the unheralded starter last year despite averaging 7.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. He has made great strides throughout his collegiate career and now is the time Hardeman turns into a player who can consistently tally a double-double.
Who to Watch:
Hardeman will need some help in the paint and that is where Negedu and Gordon come into the equation. Negedu is eligible to play immediately after being on the Volunteers roster last season. He did not play last year after suffering a sudden cardiac arrest, but the 6-7, 218 pound sophomore is cleared to play and will have to be a big part of the New Mexico frontcourt. However, Negedu’s role will likely decrease in mid-December when Gordon is eligible. Gordon started six games for UCLA early last season and averaged 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds before opting to leave Westwood.
There are some new faces that Coach Alford will have to integrate into the team, but the case was the same last year and New Mexico had a great season. This team will not win 30 games, but they will be very good once Gordon and the rest of the frontcourt adjust to their roles in December and January. By that time the freshmen should be in full swing and suddenly New Mexico will be one of the better teams in a very tough conference.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Dairese Gary, Senior, Guard, 13.1 ppg
Phillip McDonald, Junior, Guard, 10.4 ppg
Tony Snell, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Emmanuel Negedu, Sophomore, Forward, DNP last season
A.J. Hardeman, Junior, Forward, 7.0 ppg
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