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New Mexico is hoping a change in leadership yields a change in postseason success

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

In 2012-13, the New Mexico Lobos put together one of the best seasons in the history of the program, winning 29 games and earning both the Mountain West regular season and tournament titles. The Lobos won the regular season crown by a full two games, going 13-3 in conference play after not receiving a single first-place vote in the preseason poll, a fact made all the more impressive when you consider the MWC was the toughest, most balanced league in the country. Point guard Kendall Williams won Mountain West Player of the Year honors.

But the season ended on a sour note for the Lobos as they were knocked off by Harvard in the NCAA tournament Round of 64.

Just over a week after the defeat Steve Alford accepted the head coaching position at UCLA, leaving many wondering who UNM vice president for athletics Paul Krebs would hire to lead the program. Much to the pleasure of many involved Krebs didn’t have to go far to find his replacement, promoting associate head coach Craig Neal. Neal spent the prior six seasons on Alford’s staff, recruiting many of the players on the roster and being a valuable voice in the Xs-and-Os department. While there are some differences, the hiring of Neal has given the program continuity when upheaval wasn’t needed.

With four starters, including Williams and center Alex Kirk, back for another run, the hope in Albuquerque is that the Lobos will not only remain atop the Mountain West but also enjoy greater success in the NCAA tournament.

“It was a very smooth transition to Coach Neal because he’s been drawing up our plays since I’ve been here, and he’s been an integral part of what we’ve been doing,” Williams said of Neal in an interview with NBC Sports. “He’s taken on more of an executive position in a sense, but in my eyes it’s been really smooth and a lot of the guys feel the same way.”

(CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s Mountain West Preview)

Neal’s move to the head coaching position is one of two major changes New Mexico will have to address as they begin the 2013-14 season, with the other being the departure of guard Tony Snell. After posting averages of 12.5 points, 2.9 assists and 2.6 rebounds, the junior entered the 2013 NBA Draft, where he was a first round selection of the Chicago Bulls. With Snell off to the NBA, the task of accounting for the production lost likely falls upon the shoulders of juniors Hugh Greenwood and Deshawn Delaney. In the case of Delaney, he’s continued to show progress after having to sit out the team’s summer trip to Australia in order to attend summer school.

“He had to stay in summer school so he wasn’t able to go on our trip, which hindered him some,” Neal told NBC Sports. “He’s really starting to pick things up. He was a little behind the ‘8-ball’ because he didn’t get those ten [pre-trip] practices, but he’s done very well. He’s talented, can score and he’s just a great, great kid.”

Delaney was a two-time junior college All-American, averaging 17.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game during his time at Vincennes JC in Indiana, and the feeling is that he has the talent and athleticism needed to make an immediate impact. As for Greenwood he’s been more of a glue guy for the Lobos, and with an improved perimeter shot he’ll look to increase his production (7.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.4 apg) from a season ago. Also factoring into the equation are newcomers like freshman Cullen Neal, the coach’s son who was originally a Saint Mary’s signee before the coaching change at New Mexico.

But ultimately, how productive the backcourt is will fall upon the shoulders of the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year.

“I always work on my body and try to get stronger and more athletic, and I feel really good about where I am [individually] going into the season,” said Williams. “Also improving my leadership skills because we have some new guys and underclassmen to go along with the guys who returned. It was a matter of keeping everyone together and using my experiences to remain positive and lead a really talented group that’s expected to do a lot of things.”

For the season, Williams averaged 13.3 points, 4.9 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. But while his individual numbers may not have been on the level of those posted by the likes of SDSU’s Jamaal Franklin and Air Force’s Michael Lyons, Williams’ impact on the Lobos exceeded what can be seen in the box score. If New Mexico is to remain atop the Mountain West that will once again need to be the case, with both player and coach also pointing to consistency as a key for the Lobos in 2013-14.

CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories

It doesn’t hurt to have a second conference Player of the Year candidate on the roster either, as 7-footer Alex Kirk is back for his junior campaign. After redshirting in 2011-12 due to a back injury Kirk hit the ground running, averaging 12.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per contest with nine double-doubles. Now another year removed from the herniated disk that required surgery and once again joined in the front court by the improving Cameron Bairstow (9.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Kirk is expected to cement his status as one of the top big men in the Mountain West.

“Alex has to turn into a dominant low-post player as far as I’m concerned,” said Neal. “Getting space offensively where he can catch it on the block and make teams play him and kick it out for shots, and be able to work with his left hand a little bit more. He really worked on that last year and it got to the point where he could go either way, and that’s tough to guard.”

“He’s also shooting the ball well,” continued Neal. “The one thing I’ve really been working on with Alex is agility and moving when he doesn’t have the ball offensively and defensively, because he’s a really good defensive player who has great timing.”

But regardless of what honors teams pick up in league play, the ultimate judge in the eyes of many is what happens in the NCAA tournament. In 13 NCAA tournament appearances, New Mexico has won multiple games just once — that was back in 1974 — so it goes without saying that there’s a strong desire to buck the program’s postseason reputation.

The 2013-14 season represents a new era in New Mexico basketball, and while the comfort level remains the same under Craig Neal the hope is that these Lobos will be able to go where they’ve been unable to in recent years.

Michigan State wins without starting shooting guard

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 12: Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans talks to Matt McQuaid #20 as he comes to the bench against the Maryland Terrapins in the semifinals of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 12, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Michigan State defeated Maryland 64-61. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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As if Michigan State’s injury woes weren’t enough, the Spartans played Saturday’s game against Tennessee Tech without Matt McQuaid.

McQuaid took a shot to the head in practice on Thursday. He had started eight of MSU’s ten games this season.

“I was looking at the bench and I’m sitting with McQuaid, Miles, Ben and Gavin and I said to my assistant, Dwayne Stephens, ‘All four of those guys would have probably started,’” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. Miles Bridges is out with an ankle injury while Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling could both end up missing the season with knee injuries.

“I just have to make sure those guys don’t sit next to me on the bench anymore. When it gets to be four of them it looks like we have more guys on the bench. At least if I put them in suits maybe people would think they are assistant coaches. Maybe I’ll do that.”

Freshman Josh Langford started for McQuaid and finished with 10 points.

Izzo added that he didn’t think McQuaid suffered a concussion, and that his return is totally in the hands of MSU’s team doctors.

Jawun Evans sits out Oklahoma State win with shoulder injury

LAHAINA, HI - NOVEMBER 21: Jawun Evans #1 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys dribbles the ball during the second half of the Maui Invitational NCAA college basketball game at the Lahaina Civic Center on November 21, 2016 in Lahaina, Hawaii. (Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images). Oklahoma State won the game 98-90
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Oklahoma State’s star point guard Jawun Evans was unavailable in a 71-67 win at Tulsa on Saturday afternoon due to a shoulder injury he suffered in practice.

The injury is reportedly a sprained AC joint, which will be concerning to Cowboy fans considering that Evans missed the end of the 2015-16 season with a shoulder injury that required surgery.

The good news?

This injury is not only not serious, it’s to the other shoulder.

Evans has been in the top ten of the NBC Sports Player of the Year Power Rankings all season long.

Macura, Gaston lead No. 13 Xavier over Utah 77-69

CINCINNATI, OH - NOVEMBER 29:  J.P. Macura #55 of the Xavier Musketeers shoots the ball during the game against the North Dakota State University at Cintas Center on November 29, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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CINCINNATI (AP) J.P. Macura emerged from his shooting slump by scoring 18 points, and RaShid Gaston helped No. 13 Xavier get the edge up front against the nation’s top rebounding team on Saturday, leading the Musketeers to a 77-69 victory over Utah.

The Musketeers (8-2) were coming off back-to-back road losses that featured long scoring droughts. Xavier’s balanced offense built a 15-point lead in the first half, and the Musketeers stayed ahead the rest of the way.

Gaston had 11 points and 14 rebounds, helping Xavier to a 33-28 edge on the boards. The Utes (6-2) came in averaging 47.7 rebounds per game. Gaston had nine points and 10 rebounds – one less than Utah’s total – in the first half.

Macura was 5 of 7 from beyond the arc after going only 2 of 16 in his last three games. Trevon Bluiett also scored 18 points.

Freshman Devon Daniels had a career-high 19 points for the Utes, whose two losses have been against ranked Big East teams. They also lost to Butler.

BIG PICTURE

Utah: The Utes’ top two scorers – Kyle Kuzma and Tyler Rawson – were a combined 2 of 10 for five points in the first half as Xavier took control.

Xavier: The Musketeers went through long second-half scoring droughts during their losses. Utah opened the second half with an 11-4 spurt but couldn’t get any closer.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Musketeers figure to slip in the Top 25 based upon their 68-66 loss at Colorado on Wednesday, but limited the damage with their win on Saturday.

UP NEXT

Utah hosts Prairie View A&M next Saturday, and then closes nonconference play the following week in Hawaii as part of the Diamond Head Classic.

Xavier plays the first of four straight home games leading into Big East play, hosting Wake Forest next Saturday in the Skip Prosser Classic.

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

No. 5 Duke routs UNLV 94-45

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 10: Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils smiles during a game against the UNLV at T-Mobile Arena on December 10, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Duke won 94-45. (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)
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LAS VEGAS (AP) Grayson Allen shot 75 percent from the field – including a perfect 7 of 7 in the second half – en route to a career-high 34 points to lead No. 5 Duke to a 94-45 victory over UNLV on Saturday in the first college basketball game ever played at T Mobile Arena.

Luke Kennard had 16 points and five rebounds for the Blue Devils (10-1), while Jayson Tatum had 13 points and five rebounds, and Amile Jefferson contributed with 10 points and 12 rebounds.

Duke, which is 4-1 on a neutral court, jumped out to a 20-3 lead in the first 7 minutes and never looked back, as it outscored the Runnin’ Rebels 52-19 in the second half.

The Rebels (5-4) tried to make a couple of runs to challenge Duke, getting as close as 38-26 late in the first half after an 8-0 spurt. The Blue Devils answered with their defensive prowess and proved to be too much for an outmatched UNLV team that committed 13 turnovers a little more than 14 minutes into the game, and shot just 34 percent (10 of 29) in the first half.

Though UNLV was competitive on the glass, outrebounding the Blue Devils 20-17 in the first half, Duke outscored the Rebels 26-10 in the paint while opening a 42-26 halftime lead.

Jalen Poyser had 16 points for UNLV.

The Blue Devils shot 58.7 percent (37 of 63) from the field, including 10 of 22 (45.5 percent) from 3-point range. UNLV, meanwhile, shot 29.6 percent (16 of 54) from the field.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: Jefferson came into Saturday’s game leading the ACC in field goal percentage, converting at a rate of 67 percent for the season. He is a career 63 percent shooter from the field.

UNLV: After opening the season 5-2, the Runnin’ Rebels have lost their last two after allowing an average of 95.5 points per game. UNLV lost at Arizona State 97-73 last Saturday.

UP NEXT

Duke: Hosts Tennessee State on Dec. 19

UNLV: Hosts Incarnate Word on Wednesday

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

SATURDAY’S SNACKS: Villanova, Wisconsin earn good wins, UNI’s Jeremy Morgan explodes

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 10: Donte DiVincenzo #10 of the Villanova Wildcats attempts a three point shot against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the first half of a college basketball game at Prudential Center on December 10, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. Villanova defeated Notre Dame 74-66. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 1 Villanova 74, No. 23 Notre Dame 66

Josh Hart put together one of the best games we’ll see all season as he put up a career-high 37 points and 11 rebounds to will Villanova to the win. Here are the four things we learned from the game.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 17 Wisconsin 93, Marquette 84: The Badgers avenged last season’s loss to in-state rival Marquette with a solid road win. Putting up 58 points in the second half, Wisconsin had six players finish with at least 11 players as Bronson Koenig led with 18 points. Another solid outing from Nigel Hayes as he ended up with 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

No. 16 Butler 75, No. 22 Cincinnati 65: The Bulldogs bounced back from a loss to Indiana State earlier in the week with a win over Cincinnati in Hinkle Fieldhouse. But the real story of this game was the continued struggles of the AAC. How close is this to being a one-bid league?

No. 2 UCLA 102, Michigan 84: The Bruins put five players in double-figures and shot 15-for-24 from three, using a late-surge to pull away from Michigan. The Wolverines finished the night shooting 50 percent from the floor, shooting 14-for-26 from three and committing just eight turnovers … and still lost by 18 points. UCLA is lethal.

Wichita State 76, Oklahoma 73: The Shockers got 17 points from Zach Brown and 13 points and six assists from Daishon Smith as they beat Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. This is a nice win for the Shockers, who should once against be the favorite to win the Missouri Valley.

STARRED

Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa: We saw the most impressive half of basketball of the season – and maybe the most impressive half ever – on Saturday. Morgan finished with 38 points for the Panthers in a come-from-behind win over North Dakota, and he was scoreless heading into halftime. He had two points with 16 minutes left in the game. As a team, UNI scored 49 second half points.

The craziest part? Morgan missed six second half free throws. He easily could have scored 40 points in a single half.

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Preseason All-Americans: Josh Hart set his career-high with 37 points while Grayson Allen set his career-high with 34 points.

Rodney Bullock, Providence: The Friars earned another solid win over UMass as Bullock finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Bullock was 7-for-14 from the field and he went 10-for-12 from the free-throw line.

Dedric Lawson, Memphis: The sophomore just missed a triple-double as he finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds, eight blocks and three assists in a Memphis win over UAB. Lawson played all 40 minutes.

Marquise Moore, George Mason: Moore had 17 points, 16 boards and 10 assists. No one has posted a line like that since 2013 and it’s only happened twice since 2010.

Derrick Griffin, Texas Southern: Griffin’s Jaguars lost at Louisville, but he finished with 26 rebounds, 15 on the offensive end of the floor.

Tracy Abrams, Illinois: Abrams had a career-high 31 points as the Illini landed a win over Central Michigan.

STRUGGLED

Demontrae Jefferson, Texas Southern: Making his college debut against Louisville, the exciting 5-foot-7 guard showed his talent but was also very inefficient. Jefferson finished with 27 points but was 10-for-30 from the field with 11 turnovers. Watching Jefferson’s run-and-gun style is going to be fascinating this season.

San Diego State: The Aztecs lost their third in a row, this time a home game to an Arizona State team that was humiliated by their coach after a 33-point whopping against Purdue.

TOP 25

  • Nebraska dug themselves a huge first half whole that they couldn’t overcome, losing to No. 3 Kansas, 89-72.
  • No. 5 Duke blew out UNLV in Vegas, and Grayson Allen may not be allowed to leave the state after this act of felonious assault.
  • Przemek Karnowski had 14 points and eight boards to lead No. 8 Gonzaga past Akron.
  • O.G. Anunoby warmed up but he didn’t play. He wasn’t needed, either, as No. 9 Indiana smoked Houston Baptist.
  • No. 11 Louisville cruised to an easy win over Texas Southern as Quentin Snider led the Cardinals with 13 points.
  • J.P. Macura busted out of his shooting slump with five threes as No. 13 Xavier survived Utah at home.
  • Easy win for No. 15 West Virginia as they beat VMI for a home win. Daxter Miles Jr. finished with 20 points and was 5-for-6 from three-point range.
  • No. 18 Purdue raced past Cleveland State as Isaac Haas had 14 points and Caleb Swanigan had 13 points and 10 rebounds.
  • The freshman duo of Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons each had 19 points to pace No. 20 Arizona to a win over Missouri. The Wildcats overcame foul trouble from freshman big man Lauri Markkanen as they shot 54 percent from three-point range.

NOTABLE

  • Syracuse had a big win over Boston to snap a recent cold stretch. John Gillon led the Orange with 23 points while Taurean Thompson had 22 points.
  • Nice home win for Houston over Rhode Island as Rob Gray scored 30 points and Danrad “Chicken” Knowles added 25 points. The Rams are 0-3 on the road and have lost four of their last six games.
  • Michigan State picked up a home win over Tennessee Tech as Eron Harris led with 20 points. The Spartans struggled from the free-throw line in this one — at one point head coach Tom Izzo sat at the end of the bench in frustration.
  • Pitt was able to outlast Penn State as Michael Young finished with 29 points and nine rebounds.