In being picked by the media to finish third in the Mountain West, New Mexico is back in the spotlight where he has been for so long.
And it’s a place that Lobos coach Craig Neal welcomes.
“I think it shows progression in what you’re trying to do with all those guys coming back,” Neal said.
The Lobos, who last season went 17-15 (10-8 Mountain West), return 10 players, including four starters. Two of those starters are 6-foot-4-inch junior guard Elijah Brown and 6-8 senior forward Tim Williams.
Both were selected to the preseason all-conference, with Brown also chosen the league Player of the Year. He averaged 21.7 points last season, and Williams averaged 16.8 points and 7.4 rebounds.
“You see a year of maturity,” Neal said of all the returning players. “You’re still doing as much teaching because we have to do a better job in attention to details, so we’re doing a lot of that and a lot of defense, but all in all, they’ve definitely shown they’re more mature and understand what’s at stake.”
What’s at stake is competing for the Mountain West title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. New Mexico last won the conference tournament and appeared in the NCAAs in 2014.
Is this a potential NCAA Tournament team?
“I think it can be,” Neal said. “I think it can be really, really good. We can be really, really potent offensively. They’ve just got to learn how to guard. If they can do that and not turn it over as much … we’ve got to have more of a consistent performance. You can’t got to San Diego State and get beat on a heartbreak deal, and then you go to Utah State and don’t play well.”
Contact Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.
Predicted finish in MW: Third
Last season: 17-15, 10-8 MW
Coach: Craig Neal, fourth season (59-38)
Returning starters/lettermen: 4/10
Top returning scorer: Guard Elijah Brown (21.7)
Top returning rebounder: Forward Tim Williams (7.4)
Notable nonconference games: Wooden Legacy Classic in Fullerton and Anaheim, California, Nov. 24-27; at Arizona, Dec. 20