Struggling Lobo men have rough road ahead on Front Range

·4 min read

Jan. 19—The Lobos could use a breather.

It ain't coming this week.

While the short-handed UNM men's basketball team is already licking its wounds from its 0-4 start in Mountain West play — the second year in a row with that league record after never having started 0-4 in the league's first 21 seasons — this week appears to be the toughest yet of the season.

Aside from the forecast of snow that awaits the Lobos (7-10, 0-4) for a pair of Front Range games this week at Colorado State in Fort Collins, Colorado, on Wednesday and at Wyoming in Laramie on Saturday, those are the Mountain West teams sitting atop the NCAA's NET rankings. They boast a combined 26-3 overall record and are 5-1 in league games.

"Don't get discouraged," first-year Lobos coach Richard Pitino said Tuesday when asked about the delicate balancing act he has to play with his team while adversity is hitting it hard with no end in sight. "I mean, we want to play every game with an expectation to win, but also with an understanding this is a process."

The next step in that process includes some familiar faces for Pitino.

CSU head coach Niko Medved is a University of Minnesota graduate and has two former staffers who worked there under Pitino now with him in Operations Director Aaron Katsuma and Administrative Director Emma Montie.

But the familiar face most worrisome for the Lobos for Wednesday is David Roddy — the former two sport prep star in Minneapolis whom Pitino had recruited to be a Gopher.

Roddy, a 6-foot-6 former high school quarterback, was named earlier this month to the 25-man midseason watch list for the Wooden Award and is averaging 18.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and a steal per game this season for the Rams (13-1, 3-1), who are in search of the program's first MWC regular season title.

"When I saw him over the summertime, I really liked him. I really did. I offered him right away after I saw him," said Pitino. "He came on a visit. And I think he chose the right place. I really do. I think it's clear that he has flourished in the Mountain West and at Colorado State. So I'm not surprised a little bit by his success. The things he does on the court right now are things I really, really liked. So he made the right choice, that's for sure."

The CSU worries don't stop with Roddy, though.

The Lobos also must try to figure out how to stop CSU junior point guard Isaiah Stevens, the 1B to Roddy's 1A since the two were freshman starters in 2019, from controlling the game. While Roddy may have more highlight reel plays this season, it's Stevens who sets the table for a CSU offense that ranks 20th out of 358 Division I teams in efficiency.

The 6-foot point guard from Texas is averaging 14.9 points, 5.9 assists and ranks third in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.95).

"He could be an NBA player," Pitino said. "What I watch is a guy who is in complete control, high number of assists, low number of turnovers. ...

"David Roddy is terrific. I think Isaiah Stevens is just as terrific."

FREQUENT FLYERS: In an effort to minimize risk of COVID-19 by flying commercially, as well as minimize time away from class, UNM has invested in charter flights for the men's and women's basketball teams the rest of this season.

That means instead of a Tuesday commercial flight to Denver followed by a bus ride to Fort Collins for Wednesday's late game — then busing to Laramie, Wyoming, for Saturday's game and back to Denver to fly home on Sunday, the team instead has two direct round trip flights — one to Fort Collins that returns to Albuquerque late Wednesday and one to Laramie on Friday that returns late Saturday.

BULK UP: Pitino said one valuable lesson from Saturday's Boise State loss in which the bigger, stronger Broncos outrebounded his team by 24 is the message it sent about the weight room.

"We just don't, I don't have the flexibility to move guys around and change up lineups. It's just not where we're at right now," Pitino said.

"But what I'm trying to get them to understand is that being weaker, that is a disadvantage that you can control. So let's work on it."

Wednesday

Men: UNM at Colorado State, 8 p.m., CBSSN, 770 AM/96.3 FM