I had a chance to do a quick Q&A exchange with Mountain West Connection ahead of this weekend's game against New Mexico. Based on recent play and the experience that the Lobos bring to the table I have to say I'm pretty nervous about this one. This team needs to get on track and build some confidence, but this one might be just as tough as the previous two with the only real advantage coming in the form of a 'neutral' court game instead of being on the road.
- First question I'd have is how does this UNM team differ from Alford led teams, or is it too soon to really notice a difference?
There should not be much a difference between Steve Alford on the sidelines compared to Craig Neal, because it is widely considered that the game plan, specifically offense, was mostly Neal's doing. Neal does want this New Mexico team to push the pace more, but the defense is struggling with a fast pace. So, the game plan is fairly similar under Alford. Plus, it helps that Kendall Williams, Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow are back; so there is no reason to mess up what worked well last year.
- Where do you see the biggest advantage for UNM and when are they at their best?
The front court is where the Lobos are very good as they are 11th in the country in rebounding, and on the defense in the post as well. Center Alex Kirk is one of the best shot blockers in the country by averaging 3.4 per game, and Cameron Bairstow swats away 1.4 per game. The trio of Kirk, Bairstow and Kendall Williams are scoring machines and those three average 58 points per game. They are at their best when everyone gets involved and scores the points evenly, in the teams on loss to UMass Kirk scored 32 yet Bairstow put up just eight points. They are a better team sharing the scoring.
- UNM has three pretty prolific scorers to date, how do you slow them down?
Not sure it is possible to shutdown all three, just look back at that UMass game just mentioned. Kirk and Bairstow are bigs so they can be had for some cheap fouls and that has happened some this year, but only once or twice had either been shutdown because of that. Williams gets a lot of points from the free throw line due to his ability to attack the basket, so if a Kansas defender can keep Williams in front of him and not allow him get easy free throws then that could keep Williams' point total down.
- UNM is almost the anti-Kansas playing with experience. Projecting this team out to the tournament, what type of team is this young Kansas team going up against?
This is an experienced team despite them stumbling against Harvard in last year's 2013 NCAA tournament. The Lobos are very much likely to win the Mountain West and a complete failure would have them finish fourth behind Boise State, UNLV and San Diego State. The experience that this team has should allow them to defeat teams that have younger and better overall talent such as Kansas.
- UNM on offense in a word? Defense?
Their offense is versatile with their scoring ability, and the defense is stout inside.
- How do you see this one?
New Mexico has the talent to win this game due to the trio of Bairstow, Williams and Kirk. However, when they play away from the confines of The Pit they do struggle. Their one loss was a neutral site loss to UMass and they needed double-digits to beat Alabama-Birmingham. Those are some good teams but the Lobos have the talent to be a top-25 team, or better. This is a game that New Mexico can win, and no one should be all that surprised if they do, but going off of recent history the Lobos struggle against good teams away from home. New Mexico will probably drop this game, but less than double-digits.