No. 22: New Mexico Lobos

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Midnight Madness is Friday. So we’re kicking off our college basketball coverage with our men’s preseason Top 25. Look for five teams posted a day, all this week.

2010-11 record: 22-13 (8-8), fifth in Mountain West
Lost in NIT second round

Coach: Steve Alford, 98-39, 5th year (328-193 overall)

Last NCAA appearance: 2010

2011-12 roster [click here]
2011-12 schedule [click here]
2010-11 team stats [click here]

The good: A full season with Drew Gordon only means good things. After the UCLA transfer arrived last season, he gobbled up rebounds at a rate usually reserved for the likes of Jared Sullinger. More time in Alford’s system means the senior forward’s scoring efficiency will likely improve as well – though sophomore Kendall Williams might be able to help out there.

The 6-3 guard was the MWC freshman of the year and will almost certainly assume a larger offensive role, drawing double-teams away from Gordon and opening things up for teammates. If the Lobos hit a few more 3-pointers, all the better. This season, expect a few more wins in tight games

Another relatively easy non-conference schedule awaits as well, giving New Mexico a chance to sport a sparkling record when league plays rolls around.

The bad: No Dairese Gary. Every team adjusts to the loss of key players, but Gary ran the Lobos the last four seasons, usually to rave reviews. That puts more pressure on Williams and new guards Hugh Greenwood and Demetrius Walker.

If the defense doesn’t slack, the Lobos can handle a slightly diminished offensive efficiency, but that’s a lot to ask, especially for a team that faltered down the stretch last season and lost 13 games. (Thankfully for Alford, he has that non-conference sked to work out the kinks.)

Just as crucial will be the development of Phillip McDonald, the team’s third-leading scorer who jacked up more shots than any other Lobo last year. And by development, I mean passing. Less will be more for McDonald.

The unknown: What’s Greenwood’s impact? The Aussie import averaged 17.1 points per game and made the all-tournament team at the Under-19 World Championships, which only heightens the expectations for his New Mexico career.

Best case? He’s Matthew Dellavedova, a guy who can run the offense and torch opponents for chunks of points at a time. Worst case? He’s a sweet-shooting guard for Williams to dish to on the wing.

I’m gonna call that a win-win.

Counting down the Top 25

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