New Mexico now MWC’s favorite, but are they best out west?


UNLV is not a very good road team. That much we knew heading into their Saturday afternoon (well, Saturday morning for those out west) matchup with New Mexico in Albequerque.

Considering that the Lobos are playing their best basketball of the season, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that New Mexico was able to beat No. 11 UNLV. In other words, if I was a betting man, I would have put my money on Steve Alford’s club.

What was surprising, however, was just how badly New Mexico beat down the Rebels. After trailing 27-26 at the end of the first half and finding themselves tied at 36 with 12 minutes left in the game, the Lobos used a 12-0 run to spark a 29-9 surge that closed the game, winning 65-45.

New Mexico’s defense was, once again, stifling. UNLV finished the game shooting 31.1% from the floor and 6-21 from three while turning the ball over 15 times. Over the final 12 minutes, as the Lobos made the game’s deciding run, UNLV was just 2-9 from the floor with six turnovers. At one point, the Lobos forced turnovers on four consecutive possessions, which sparked the game’s deciding run.

It is now official. New Mexico is the best team in the Mountain West. That’s what happens when, in the span of four days, you put together dominating wins over the two other contenders while taking over sole possession of first place in the league standings. On Wednesday, New Mexico beat San Diego State 77-67.

There is more to it that simply having the best record in the Mountain West. New Mexico looks like they may actually be the best team out west.

The biggest reason has been the recent play of Drew Gordon. After going for 17 points and 17 boards against SDSU, Gordon went for 27 points and 20 boards on 13-20 shooting against the Rebs. He was absolutely unstoppable on the block, and it wasn’t just because he was putting back offensive rebounds or finding himself on the finishing end of an alley-oop. Gordon was scoring with his back to the basket, which is something the big man hasn’t done consistently in his time with the Lobos.

With Kendall Williams and Jamal Fenton helping to make up for the recent struggles of Tony Snell, New Mexico has plenty of talent — and shooting — on the perimeter to keep the floor spread.

Throw in a talented bench rotation and plenty of size, and the MWC’s preseason favorite is finally starting to play like it.

This is a group with the horses to be a serious threat come March.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Syracuse receives mixed news on sanctions appeals

Jim Boeheim
Associated Press
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Wednesday the NCAA made its ruling on two appeals of sanctions made by Syracuse University, with the news being mixed for the men’s basketball program.

On the positive side the NCAA ruled that Syracuse will be docked two scholarships per season for the next four years, as opposed to the original ruling of three. As a result Jim Boeheim’s program only has to account for the loss of eight total scholarships, meaning that they’ll have 11 to fill in each of the next four seasons as opposed to ten.

One scholarship may not seem like a big deal, but in a sport where you only get 13 (when not dealing with sanctions) getting that grant-in-aid back really helps from a recruiting standpoint.

As for the negatives, they both concern Boeheim. Not only has there yet to be a ruling on Boeheim’s appeal of his nine-game suspension that goes into effect when ACC play begins in January (that appeal is being heard separately), but the appeal to reinstate the wins that were vacated as part of the sanctions was denied. As a result Boeheim officially has 868 wins instead of 969 (not counting today’s game against Charlotte).

And with Mike Hopkins set to take over as head coach in 2018, the denial means that college basketball will have to wait quite some time before anyone threatens to join Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in the 1,000 wins club.

While not having the wins officially reinstated does hurt, getting a scholarship back for each of the next four seasons is a bigger deal when it comes to the long-term health of the Syracuse program. Also of great importance will be the ruling regarding Boeheim’s suspension, as a suspended coach is not allowed to have any contact with his players or coaching staff while serving the penalty.

And with the original ruling due to take up half of Syracuse’s league slate, not having Boeheim (or the chance to speak with him) is a big deal when it comes to this current team.

St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe cleared by NCAA

Chris Mullin
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe has been cleared by the NCAA to play this season and will be eligible immediately, the school announced on Wednesday.

Yakwe is a 6-foot-8 forward that reclassified and enrolled at St. John’s this fall. He attended the same high school as Kansas forward Cheick Diallo, who was also cleared by the NCAA to play today.

St. John’s played in the Maui Invitational this week, and Yakwe did not take part. His first game with the Johnnies will be on Dec. 2nd against Fordham if the program plans to play his this season.

The question that must be asked, however, is whether or not he will suit up or simply redshirt. The Johnnies are in the midst of a serious rebuild and will be without their other elite recruit this season, Marcus Lovett. Lovett was ruled a partial qualifier. Would it make sense to burn a year of eligibility on what make amount to a wasted season, or will head coach Chris Mullin opt to save that year for down the road?