Lobos look to make another mark in MWC

The predictors and prognosticators are at it again.
It's that time of year when those in the know cast a gaze into the future and put their best guess on what's going to happen.
For the Lobos, that means getting more of the same -- and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
UNM was picked to finish third in the Mountain West Conference media poll, released Oct. 22. San Diego State University and UNLV were picked to finish one-two in the league, and generally speaking those are the two teams that UNM finds itself being ranked behind recently when polls are made. With the exit of Utah and BYU a couple seasons ago and the entry of Nevada-Reno and Fresno State recently, the MWC is basically a three-team race. It is a watered-down league in 2012-13 that UNM should be able to thrive in again.
The status quo should remain intact until the Mountain West and Conference USA merge in the next couple years.
The Rebels are ranked 18th in the latest Associated Press poll with SDSU at 20. The Lobos are receiving votes in the same poll. The Lobos trailed both teams for most of last year's AP poll as well, but it had no effect on what the Lobos ultimately accomplished and what they continue to accomplish under Steve Alford.
"Well since I've been here we have been anywhere from first to fifth, and the only time the (conference) poll got it right was last year," Alford said at the conference meetings. "And I think there were people that thought UNLV should have been first last year.
"We've won a lot of championships, and at the end of the year, we want to be cutting down nets and sizing up rings. We don't go out there thinking that since we were picked third, we will play for third place."
The Lobos lived up to expectations last season by taking a share of the regular-season title and winning the MWC tournament. UNM went 28-7 and won a first-round game in the NCAA tournament before falling to Louisville 59-56.
Expectations remain much the same for a team that returns eight letter winners and three starters. The obvious losses are Drew Gordon and A.J. Hardeman, but the Lobos are loaded on the perimeter with five startable guards. UNM will be able to spread the floor and run lanes in transition. They may even press at times, something of a rarity for this team under Alford.
But with veterans Jamal Fenton, Hugh Greenwood, Tony Snell, Kendal Williams and Demitrius Walker being the strength of the team, why not get up and go?
"Those are five explosive guards," said Alford. "Those are five guys who can really defend. They are athletic guards. They are fast guards. They are strong guards. Those are five hard matchups."
Alford has added to that fortified perimeter with 6-foot-3 Cleveland Thomas, 6-4 Kory Alford, and 6-7 Devon Williams, who could be a redshirt candidate in 2012-13.
"We may pick up full court a little bit because we are deep at the guard position," said Alford. "People know I'm not a press coach. I'm not a zone coach. But we are athletic and to play all the guards that we have, and maybe to wear people down especially in this building, we could do things like that."
Look for a track meet to convene some nights on Bob King Court. It may even happen in the opening game of the season against Davidson on Monday. The Wildcats, winners of the Southern Conference last season, are regulars in the NCAA bracket and they like to push the ball and pressure the perimeter, too.
The concern for UNM is where rebounding and post defense will come from. Los Alamos' seven-footer Alex Kirk is the only post listed on the roster and Cameron Bairstow, a newcomer from Australia, is a bit undersized at 6-9, 250 pounds. Four-guard sets will probably be the norm for UNM.
Looking across the schedule, there are only a few games that jump off the page with Davidson, SDSU and UNLV. Cincinnati, USC and New Mexico State University also stand out. But there are also a lot of snoozers like Idaho, South Dakota State, Mercer and half the MWC.
Regardless of ranking, schedule or height on the roster, the Lobos again have the look of a 25-win team and a conference contender. It's been the norm under Alford and things aren't changing any time soon.