2007-08 New Mexico Basketball Preview
New Mexico Lobos
Overall Rank: #96
Conference Rank: #5 Mountain West
2006-07: 15-17, 4-12, 8th (t)
2006-07 postseason: none
New Mexico was way too good to go 4-12 in Mountain West Conference play last year. But even coming off an awful season, the Lobos have plenty to look forward to in 2007-2008 and beyond. Most of the excitement is revolving around new head coach Steve Alford. The former Iowa head man is already showing his worth in the recruiting department and he has some talented players to work with.
The loss of Aaron Johnson will cause a problem though. Johnson, who transferred from Penn State in order to spend one season with the Lobos, led the team with 7.3 rebounds and there are not a lot of options returning that can get on the glass and do a little post scoring like Johnson did during his senior campaign. Transfers Jeffrey Henfield and Sean Imadiyi and graduate Kellen Walter never saw too many minutes, but their departures add to the frontcourt depth concerns. Ryan Kersten will not return to the New Mexico basketball program and will instead return to his native Australia to play professionally. The guard averaged 5.5 points per game and garnered five starts last season. Little used guard David Kanyinda will not be returning to the Lobos squad either.
The frontcourt is where New Mexico needs some help and a couple junior college transfers will be looked upon to provide just that. Johnnie Harris will not put up big numbers, but the 6-8, 250 pound power forward will do the dirty work in the paint and at least provide another big body. Monquel Pegues averaged 17.7 points and 7.1 rebounds at Cape Fear Community College last year and still continues to get better. Either newcomer could earn a starting job if Coach Alford does not want to force a small forward to play at the four spot, but each will at least play a very important role off the bench from day one. Guard Darrington Hobson is the most highly touted recruit of the bunch. He has the skills of a point guard, the scoring touch of a shooting guard and, at 6-7, the size of a small forward. Hobson can fill in at any of those positions and that versatility will make him a star sooner than later. Blake Harden returns to the basketball program after taking a year off from the team during the 2006-2007 campaign. The 6-5 wing started ten games in 2005-2006 and is a decent shooter, but is unlikely to see too many minutes this year. Jonathan Wills will add more depth on the wings. He is a good shooter and a decent defender, but will need some time to adjust to the level of play in the MWC. Point guard Dairese Gary could be the steal of the class when all is said and done. The 6-1 Elkhart, Indiana native can play either guard position, but it is his defensive prowess that will get him some minutes early in his career.
Who to Watch:
There is a ton of talent on the perimeter and the top five scorers, all of whom are returning, are listed as guards. J.R. Giddens is the star and the former Kansas Jayhawk led the team with 15.8 points and added 6.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Giddens may have been a little trigger happy his first active season in Albuquerque, but with a year in the system, hopefully he will learn to trust his teammates shooting ability a little more. In any event, the Lobos will want the ball in his hands when the game is on the line. Darren Prentice spent some time at both guard positions and started 19 of the last 20 games. He is a decent shooter, but his main asset is taking care of the ball and he easily had the best assist-to-turnover ratio on the team last season. Long range specialist Chad Toppert, diminutive scorer Jamaal Smith and the emerging Roman Martinez all started at least a dozen games in 2006-2007 and will battle for minutes on the perimeter. Tony Danridge was second on the team in scoring last year and the consistent 6-5 wing continues to develop a decent perimeter game. He is not a great rebounder, but if the newcomers do not come around, he, along with Martinez, may spent some time at the power forward position.
It is not like New Mexico is a small team; the guards are big, but they just do not have any proven post players. Daniel Faris started ten games last year and it is hoped that the 6-9 junior is ready to take over the fulltime starting position. Faris had a good offseason trip to the Bahamas. Well it is not really possible to have a bad trip to the Bahamas, but Faris played some hoops with his teammates while he was there and proved he can be a double-double threat. If the frontcourt can at least be decent, New Mexico will be a contender in the conference. If not, they will still be better than last year.
Projected Post-season Tournament: none
Projected Starting Five:
Darren Prentice, Senior, Guard, 8.9 points per game
Chad Toppert, Junior, Guard, 9.5 points per game
J.R. Giddens, Senior, Guard, 15.8 points per game
Tony Danridge, Senior, Guard, 12.5 points per game
Daniel Faris, Junior, Forward, 4.8 points per game