Player to Watch: Drew Gordon, PF/C
A Mountain West Player of the Year candidate, Gordon posted a double-double in half of his games last season. With Gary gone, Gordon should get more touches in the paint and will have to be an even bigger scoring threat on top of his already stellar ability to crash the boards.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/16 vs. New Mexico State
11/18 at Arizona State
11/24 vs. Santa Clara (76 Classic)
11/25 vs. Oklahoma/Washington State (76 Classic)
11/26 vs. Villanova/UC-Riverside/Boston College/St. Louis (76 Classic)
12/10 at USC
12/17 vs. Oklahoma State
12/28 at New Mexico State
12/31 vs. St. Louis
Predicted Mountain West Finish: 1st
With a solid core returning, the New Mexico Lobos are the preseason pick to win the Mountain West Conference. The recent decision to redshirt sophomore big man Alex Kirk hurts their depth up front, but New Mexico still has the talent to compete on a national level.
Leading the charge inside is double-double machine Drew Gordon. The UCLA transfer was the impact player many expected him to be after having to sit out the first nine games of the season. A.J. Hardeman is a solid complement to Gordon inside. The Lobos suffered a blow to their frontcourt depth with the announcement that 6-11 sophomore Alex Kirk will redshirt this season as he recovers from offseason back surgery. That leaves Cameron Bairstow as the only other true post option Steve Alford can turn to off the bench.
Kendall Williams and Phillip McDonald are a formidable duo on the wing and will be asked to pick up the slack left behind by Dairese Gary. Williams is the reigning Mountain West Freshman of the Year and a do-it-all guard who shot 42.6% from distance. McDonald struggled with his outside shot last season but is a reliable third scorer for New Mexico and could see some minutes at the four due to a lack of depth up front.
There is experience behind McDonald and Williams with Tony Snell and Chad Adams being role players a year ago. Snell brings a defensive dimension off the bench with his length and athleticism. Hugh Greenwood is an intriguing prospect and could work his way into the rotation due to his ability to score. He dropped 26 points against the U.S. this summer while playing for the Australian U-19 team.
Williams is more than capable of handling the point but will likely be joined in the starting lineup by Jamal Fenton. The 5-9 guard played well in the NIT after Gary suffered an injury, and is a capable scorer or distributor. Arizona State transfer Demetrius Walker will be a key reserve after sitting out last season.
The Lobos went through a down season a year ago but will be the team to beat in the Mountain West. They have skill and depth in their backcourt to hold their own against some of the top competition in the country. Steve Alford should have New Mexico on par with his team from two seasons ago that earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament rather than the one that had a .500 conference record in 2010-11.
New Mexico Lobos (Last Year: 22-13, 8-8 in MWC)
2011-12 Projected Depth Chart:
C: Drew Gordon (Sr)/Alex Kirk (So-redshirting)
PF: A.J. Hardemann (Sr)/Cameron Bairstow (So)
G/F: Phillip McDonald (Sr)/Chad Adams (Jr)
SG: Kendall Williams (So)/Tony Snell (So)/Hugh Greenwood (Fr)/Dominique Dunning (Fr)
PG: Jamal Fenton (Jr)/Demetrius Walker (So)
Gone: PG-Dairese Gary, PF-Emmanuel Negedu (heart condition), SG-Curtis Dennis (transfer-Toledo)