Steve Alford is proud that his New Mexico Lobos were named a heavy favorite to win the men's basketball title in the Mountain West Conference this season.
At the same time, Steve Alford is concerned that his team was picked to win the league.
UNM has a good basketball team without a doubt. It has four starters coming back from a team that was 22-13 overall, 8-8 in the MWC last season. The Lobos have the best player in the league in Drew Gordon, who averaged a rare double-double with 13.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.
New Mexico has two players who were chosen first-team All-MWC in the pre-season poll with Gordon and sophomore Kendall Williams. And it has the player who is expected to be the top freshman in Hugh Greenwood of Australia.
So it is a given. Just hand the trophy to Alford and the Lobos. It's over. This is a team that has had four straight seasons with 22 wins and four straight post-season berths. Alford has won two conference coach of the year awards in the last three years. New Mexico had back-to-back MWC championships in 2009 and 2010.
"It doesn't mean a whole lot," Alford said of the predictions. "We haven't been picked right yet. Obviously, this time, we hope it is right. But we've still got to play the games. I think our guys are a little fired up about it."
Alford has set a standard for his team. He was very disappointed with an 8-8 conference record and he doesn't want that to happen again.
"We're not an 8-8 league team. I want to be one of those teams who fights for the conference championship every year.
"Expectations are a hard thing to measure. Our mission as coaches is that we don't have dips. I don't want our locker room going up and down," Alford explained.
Alford is excited. If the players are as excited as Alford, they are up for the season.
"With the NBA strike, it is like a celebration of college basketball. These are exciting times. This time is always special."
The one position UNM has to fill is point guard. Gone is Dariese Gary who ran the team for four years. A large cast will try to replace him.
"We've obviously got a lot of combinations we could put out there. A lot of our guards are interchangeable," Alford pointed out.
The Lobos might put sophomore Jamal Fenton at the point. Or they could rotate Williams or Tony Snell through the spot. As a freshman Greenwood is a point. It will be up in the air until Alford settles on a lineup. Even then, he might adjust it for certain situations.
Another candidate at guard for Alford is his son Kory, a freshman from La Cueva High.
"I got to play for my dad for four years. He was on my bench nine years. Now to have a child of mine on my team is great. Right now, he loves being part of the team. My dad kicked me out of seven practices," the elder Alford said with a smile.