It’s official. The book can now be closed on 2019. No more non-conference games, no more so-called ‘powder puff’ opponents. Mountain West play is all that remains. With two games already played within the conference, for most schools, the early indications are that there will be some ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ this season.
One of the ‘haves’ so far, is, of course, the Lobos (13-2, 2-0). Riding their best start in years, the Lobos have continued to find ways to win despite the suspensions of JJ Caldwell and Carlton Bragg. It hasn’t been pretty at times, but this team has kept finding a way to win. They’ve struggled at times, and a pretty glaring weakness has been found. UC Davis, a school that historically shoots well from beyond the arc, carved up the Lobos’ defensive efforts en route to an 11-26 (42.3) clip on Saturday.
Fortunately for the Lobos, they were able to get the Aggies into foul trouble early. UNM outscored their opponents by 13 from the line, a key factor in their win on a night where they didn’t shoot well from the field. Even with their struggles, UNM had five players reach double digits scoring, none of which were transfer JaQuan Lyle. An unusually quiet night from the senior (3 points, 6 turnovers in 39 minutes) was buoyed by the first double-double of the season from Corey Manigault (20 points, 11 rebounds).
The senior forward stepped up and delivered a big-time performance when many were wondering where the rebounds would come from.
There have been some reports that Bragg could be back sooner rather than later, but there’s still uncertainty around both suspended players amid silence from the University.
In the meantime, the Lobos have a soft ‘opening’ to their conference schedule. Their first two opponents are a combined 8-19, with an 0-4 conference record this season. It doesn’t look much harder after those two games, either. That’s not to say that any conference game should be taken lightly, but these first two games against San José State (4-10, 0-2) and Fresno State should allow Paul Weir to solidify his bench and rotations before the thick of the conference schedule comes around.
The season so far has not been kind to the Spartans. Sporting a 3-6 record at home, there doesn’t seem to be any home-court advantage that they can draw on. Especially against the Lobos, who are 5-1 in San José, the Spartans will need to lean heavily on Seneca Knight. Only a sophomore, the 6’6″ guard is leading the way with 12.8 points per game, but he can’t do it by himself against a team like UNM.
For the Lobos, they bring an eight-game winning streak with them into San Jose and a chance to open conference play 3-0 for the first time since 2015-16. There’s still plenty of room for improvement though, mostly through consistency. JaQuan Lyle and Manigault will likely be the center of attention for the Lobos on Wednesday for the Spartan defense. With the attention that the pair will garner, Makuach Maluach and Vante Hendrix should get plenty of opportunities to make their mark on the game.
This game could easily go much like others we’ve seen from the team so far this year, close early with the Lobos pulling away late. As long as they don’t concede control of the game, the Lobos should get the win on the road.
Wednesday’s game will be available to watch live on the Mountain West Network (TheMW.com/watch). Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. (mountain) from Provident Credit Union Event Center in San Jose.