Mountain West preview: New-look New Mexico can score the ball
Stories in this series:
A new coach and a lot of new faces. Welcome to the 2017-18 version of the New Mexico Lobos.
Craig Neal was jettisoned after last season’s fifth-place finish in the conference and a one and done effort in the conference tournament. Neal was 76-52 in four seasons.
The Lobos took approximately a month to hire Paul Weir from in-state rival New Mexico State.
Weir, who’s the first person to be a head coach at both New Mexico institutions, left NMSU after guiding the Aggies to a 28-6 record last year, including the WAC postseason tournament title and an NCAA appearance. Weir admitted his hiring raised some hackles in Las Cruces.
“It was the right decision for my family and I,” said Weir, who has the Lobos off to a 2-0 start.
Weir comes well equipped to handle the job, according to UNLV coach Marvin Menzies. Weir was on Menzies’ NMSU staff for nine years, and he assumed the head job when Menzies left for UNLV last year.
“I’m excited for him,” Menzies said at last month’s MW Summit in Las Vegas. “He has a great work ethic and is an up and comer. I didn’t think about it (having to coach against him) until today.”
Weir, who worked for Steve Alford at Iowa for a couple of seasons, said working for Menzies was a good experience.
“He gave me a lot of opportunities to grow; a lot of responsibility,” Weir said. “When Marvin left, I knew I was ready to be a head coach.”
The situation Weir walked into wasn’t great. Several players left or had threatened to leave the program during Neal’s last year, and according to published reports, that led to his ouster. One of those players was leading scorer Elijah Brown, son of Golden State assistant Mike Brown, who transferred. The Lobos lost five lettermen from last season.
One of the players that was considering transferring was starter Sam Logwood, who opted to stay after talking to Weir.
“It is better than I expected, honestly,” Logwood said after New Mexico’s lopsided 147-76 win over Northern New Mexico. “I really trust what coach Weir has done for us, and just the team he’s put around. Everyone is in rhythm, everybody is touching the ball, so it’s great for everybody.”
Besides Logwood, the Lobos return forward Joe Furstinger (3.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg), swingman Dane Kuiper (6.0, 2.7), guard Anthony Mathis (2.9, 1.0) and forward Connor MacDougall (1.9, 0.1). The five returners combined for less than 35 percent of all team stats last season. The group accounted for 26 percent of the points, 29 percent of the rebounds, 22 percent of assists, 34 percent of the blocks and 27 percent of 3-pointers.
Weir did recruit some firepower, however.
Junior guard Troy Simons, who averaged 26.3 at Polk State, a JC in Pennsylvania, leads the list of newcomers. Jachai Simmons, who averaged 14.4 and 6.6 rebounds a contests at Midland Community College, can also score. Chris McNeal was a JUCO All-American at Indian Hills Community College in Tennessee. He averaged 13 a game.
It’s hard not to like what Weir is stressing, He wants the Lobos to get up and down the floor, and he’s not afraid to see his teams hoist up 3-pointers. In two games, the Lobos have launched 78 shots from beyond the arc and hit 35 of them. Simons is 9-for-17 and McNeal and Mathis are both 8-for-16. The long-range accuracy has lead to 147 and 103 points in the first two games of the season.
UNM ranked outside the top 200 (of 351) among Division I teams in 3-point shooting in three of the previous four seasons — 274th (32.7 percent) last season, 306th (30.8 percent) in 2015 and 216th (33.2 percent) in 2014.
“One of the things I talked about when I got here was recruiting 3-point shooters, and we have 3-point shooters. We have a lot of them and that’s what they are here to do. They are here to make shots.”