2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 22 New Mexico Lobos

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 29-6, 13-3 (1st MWC); Lost in the Round of 64 to Harvard

Head Coach: Craig ‘Noodles’ Neal (1st year at New Mexico)

Key Losses: Tony Snell, Demetrius Walker, Chad Adams, Steve Alford (coach)

Newcomers: Cullen Neal, Merv Lindsay, Obij Aget, Deshawn Delaney, Arthur Edwards, Devon Williams

Projected Lineup

G: Kendall Williams, Sr.
G: Hugh Greenwood, Jr.
G: Cullen Neal, Fr.
F: Cameron Bairstow, Sr.
C: Alex Kirk, Jr.
Bench: Merv Lindsay, So.; Cleveland Thomas, So.; Nick Banyard, So.

They’ll be good because …: New Mexico lost Tony Snell to the NBA Draft a year early and saw their head coach Steve Alford sign an extension and then a contract with UCLA in the same month. It may seem like a new era is beginning in Albuquerque, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. New head coach ‘Noodles’ Neal has been with the program for years, and with four of the team’s five starters returning — with Cullen Neal, the coach’s son — replacing Snell, there is a lot to like here. New Mexico went 29-6 last year, winning a very tough Mountain West by two full games and earning a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Yes, they (once again) lost far too early in the tournament, bowing out to No. 14 seed Harvard, but do’t overlook just how good the Lobos were last year.

Bottom-line? Reigning MWC Player of the Year Kendall Williams returns, as does all-conference center Alex Kirk. Throw in bruiser Cameron Bairstow and a pair of quality wings in Hugh Greenwood and Cullen Neal, and the Lobos have the pieces and the talent to play their trademark physical defense while opening things up more on the offensive end of the floor.

source: Getty Images

But they might disappoint because …: Losing Snell hurts for a couple of reasons. For starters, he was the team’s best perimeter defender thanks to his length and athleticism. New Mexico doesn’t have anyone that can replace that. But he was also the team’s best perimeter shooter, knocking down 39% of his threes a season ago. Neal is the guy expected to fill that void on the offensive end of the floor, but remember that he’s a freshman coming off of an appendectomy. There’s no guarantee he’s going to be able to contribute big numbers immediately, if at all.

The bigger issue may actually be New Mexico’s depth, especially in the front court. Kirk is one of the nation’s most underrated centers, and Bairstow is a land warrior that may never dunk in a game but is impossible to push out of position. Beyond that? Well, there’s seven-foot freshman Obij Aget. And Kansas transfer Merv Lindsay, who managed to see action in 12 games with the Jayhawks. And Nick Banyard, who was unproductive in 30 games last season. The MWC is as much of a grind as any league in the country, and if Neal cannot develop his bench, the Lobos could be worn down by the end of the season.

Outlook: New Mexico’s loss to Harvard in the NCAA tournament is going to end up being overplayed, and as a result the Lobos are likely going to be underranked heading into the season. Honestly, I think we probably underrated them at No. 22. The Mountain West has not had good NCAA tournament showings in recent years, but that doesn’t change the fact that the league is loaded and balanced, especially with Utah State joining the ranks this year. New Mexico went 5-3 on the road in MWC play, a feat that is almost as impressive as the fact that the Lobos won the league by two full games.

But until UNM — and the MWC as a whole — proves that they can compete on a national stage when the lights are the brightest, this team is going to perpetually start the season lower than they could be. Is this the year that they finally break through and get out of the first weekend?

Trae Jefferson to transfer out of Texas Southern

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Texas Southern guard and NCAA tournament darling Trae Jefferson announced on Saturday that he’s leaving the school.

The 5-foot-7 Jefferson was sensational at times during his sophomore season with the Tigers as he put up 23.1 points, 4.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game, helping lead Texas Southern to a victory in the 2018 NCAA Tournament’s First Four in Dayton over North Carolina Central. One of the most entertaining talents in college basketball, Jefferson is leaving Texas Southern in-part because former head coach Mike Davis took the job at Detroit this offseason.

While Detroit is going to be the favorite to land Jefferson, because of his connection to Davis, it’ll be interesting to see what his transfer market looks like. Jefferson also made it clear on his Twitter page that he would like to be closer to his hometown of Milwaukee so that he can be closer to his ailing grandfather.

Given NCAA transfer rules, Jefferson would likely have to sit out next season before getting two more years of eligibility. But he could be applying for a waiver if he’s trying to be closer to home to deal with his family situation.

Nevada’s Josh Hall transfers to Missouri State

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Nevada lost a talented player from last season’s team as rising junior Josh Hall opted to transfer to Missouri State on Friday night.

The 6-foot-7 Hall is a former top-150 recruit who played a key part in the Wolf Pack’s postseason run as he elevated his play to average 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game during the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Hall also made the game-winning bucket to lift Nevada past No. 2 seed Cincinnati in the second round.

Although Hall picked up his play late in the year, he was coming off the bench most of his sophomore campaign as he averaged 6.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season.

Since Nevada took in some talented transfers, while players like Jordan Caroline and the Martin twins opted not to turn pro, it left head coach Eric Musselman with too many scholarship players for the 2018-19 season. It looks like some of those issues are now going away as Hall is leaving for Missouri State and graduate transfer guard Ehab Amin opted to decommit from the school.

Nevada is expected to be a preseason top-10 team next season with all of the talent they have returning to the roster, along with the addition of some new pieces like McDonald’s All-American big man Jordan Brown.

Hall will likely have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules as he still has two years of eligibility remaining.

Chris Webber accepts Jim Harbaugh’s invitation to be honorary Michigan football captain

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The frosty relationship between Chris Webber and the University of Michigan could be thawing — thanks to an invitation from football head coach Jim Harbaugh.

On Friday, Harbaugh called in to WTKA’s “The M Zone” as show host Jamie Morris had Webber on the show. Harbaugh offered Webber the opportunity to be an honorary captain for the Michigan football team next season, to which Webber replied that he would love the opportunity.

Webber, a former member of the “Fab Five” who helped the Wolverines to two consecutive NCAA tournament title-game appearances in 1992 and 1993, has not associated directly with the school, or with other members of the Fab Five, for many years.

The NCAA mandated that Webber and Michigan not associate with one another for 10 years after the Ed Martin booster scandal. Webber has always been reluctant to participate in anything Michigan or Fab Five related. When the famous Fab Five documentary was made a few years ago, Webber was the only member of the quintet not to participate in the making of the film. Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson all have a solid relationship with the University of Michigan at this point.

Webber later criticized the film during an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, as King and Rose fired back with responses to reignite the feud. In the past, Rose has also been vocal in his belief that Webber should apologize for what happened at Michigan, as the group is hoping to move forward.

Although Webber still isn’t mending fences with the other Fab Five members, or the basketball program, returning to Michigan in some kind of official capacity is a big deal considering his past with the school.

Harbaugh and Webber haven’t decided on a game for next season yet as that will be something to watch for over the next several months.

Akoy Agau returning to Louisville as graduate transfer

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Louisville received a boost to its frontcourt rotation on Friday as former big man Akoy Agau will return to the Cardinals as a graduate transfer.

The 6-foot-8 Agau originally committed and enrolled at Louisville for a season and a half to begin his college hoops career before transferring to Georgetown. After leaving the Hoyas to play at SMU last season, Agau received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA after battling injury for much of his career.

Agau gives Louisville an experienced forward who should earn some solid minutes next season. With the Mustangs during the 2017-18 season, Agau averaged 5.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in 16.1 minutes per contest.

While this isn’t the biggest splash for the Cardinals, they have plenty of scholarships to use for next season as new head coach Chris Mack tries to find a stable rotation. Getting a graduate transfer like Agau, who should be familiar with the school and the conference at the very least, is a nice step for a one-year placeholder.

NCAA President Mark Emmert got a $500,000 raise in 2016

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NCAA president Mark Emmert, the man in charge of a non-profit association that doesn’t have enough money to pay its laborers, received a $500,000 raise for the 2016 calendar year, bringing his total income to more than $2.4 million, according to an NCAA tax return that was obtained by USA Today.

That number actually pales in comparison to the salaries that are received by the commissioners of the Power 5 conferences.

But there’s not enough money to pay the players.

Nope.

Everyone is broke.

Carry on with your day, and pray for the well-being of NCAA administrators like Mark Emmert, whose salary is in no way whatsoever inflated by amateurism, which allows the schools and the NCAA to bank all of the advertising revenue that college basketball and football brings in and bars the players themselves from accessing that money.