Presented by UNM West The ONLY Lobo Basketball Preview You'll Need to Read By fbihop 11/11/2013 Albuquerque News The University of New Mexico men’s basketball team enters the 2013-2014 season with high expectations -- those come when the team is ranked in the preseason polls for the first time in over a decade. When four of five starters return (Tony Snell was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the NBA draft last year), there will be high expectations for a team that earned a 3-seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Last season ended in disappointment as a hot-shooting Harvard squad upset the Lobos in the first round. But attention immediately turned to next year -- especially when coach Steve Alford decided to take a UCLA job shortly after signing an extension with UNM. But that was last season. It is hard to see anything short of a MWC title and a high seed in the NCAA Tournament as a disappointment for this talented Lobos squad. Last year there was talk of a 2-seed or 1-seed. Ultimately, the Lobos got the three seed. This year, they'll look to again match that.The season started with an easy win over Alabama A&M this weekend, but the road will get tougher for the defending Mountain West Conference champs. They get to face marquee matchups like Kansas and Marquette as well as rival New Mexico State. And that's before the grueling Mountain West Conference slate begins.Here are the Lobos who will get it done in the upcoming season. Craig Neal takes over the team Steve Alford took the money and ran to UCLA and the Lobos didn’t look far for a replacement -- Craig “Noodles” Neal was an assistant coach under Alford and now takes over the reins of the talented team. Alford was criticized for his in game management, so Lobos fans hope that Neal will be an improvement there. He has already done one thing -- make sure that some of the Lobos best players stayed put. Alex Kirk made noise about transferring if Neal wasn’t chosen and some thought Kendall WIlliams would go to the NBA Draft -- but the Lobos went with the internal choice. Oh, and just by becoming the coach he brought along the Lobos’ best recruit. Neal is considered one of the smartest coaches in the country (he isn’t called “Noodles” for nothing) so he should be able to navigate the increasingly deep waters of the Mountain West Conference. The philosophy of the team shouldn't change too drastically. Neal was heavily involved in how Alford coached, going back to when Alford was the head coach at Iowa. Presented by UNM West A Different Breed of Lobo. UNM West 2600 College Blvd. NE Rio Rancho, NM 87144 (505) 925-8669 Returning conference player of the year Kendall Williams comes back with some hardware on his mantle -- he was the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year last year. The senior highlights a talented returning squad that includes four of the five starters from last year’s team that won the Mountain West title. Kendall Williams is an explosive scorer -- he proved it when he scored 46 points against Colorado State last year and hit an amazing ten-three pointers against one of the better teams in the conference. He also is extremely athletic, as he showed with the 360 degree dunk to put the icing on the cake of a MWC tournament victory. With his speed at the point, UNM could be a very entertaining team again. The big man, Alex Kirk Los Alamos native Alex Kirk is what every college program wants -- a legitimate big man who can play with his back to the basket. But the 7’0” center can also step outside and hit the occasional three pointer. You could make an argument that Kirk was the best player on the team last year, giving consistent production out of the center spot for the Lobos. If Kirk, still just a junior, continues to improve, the Lobos have a good shot at repeating as Mountain West champs. The big Aussie, Cameron Bairstow When the Lobos have Alex Kirk in the game with Cameron Bairstow, there aren’t many teams that can handle their front line. The Lobos' version of the Twin Towers at times physically dominated other teams last year -- and was only helped as Bairstow improved with virtually every game. The power forward played more and more minutes as the season went on and he proved he could handle the MWC competition. Back for his senior year, the Australian looks to do even better this year after a summer of playing high level competition for his country at the World University Games and the FIBA Oceania Championships. Perimeter defense, Hugh Greenwood Hugh Greenwood is the other half of New Mexico’s Australian contingent and the fourth of five starters to return to The Pit for another season. The guard, who shares point guard duties with Williams, has improved defensively and gets to guard the other team's best player much of the time. He comes back after earning Honorable Mention all-conference honors. The fan favorite hopes to take another step forward this year and keeps the backcourt partnership with Williams going. His experience playing internationally for Australia, with Bairstow, should only help him this season. Cleveland "Pancake" Thomas GoLobos.com How can you not like a guy with the nickname “Pancake?” Though he didn't get much playing time at the end of the year last year, he was still the first choice option off the bench. The problem was that Tony Snell seemed to never take a break, leaving nowhere for Thomas to come in. Now that Snell is gone, Thomas will get his chance to log big minutes and prove that he belongs as a starter on a top-25 team. The coach's son, Cullen Neal Cullen Neal is the son of Craig Neal. He was all ready to go to St. Mary’s -- but then when his dad became head coach of the Lobos, it changed things. Cullen Neal battled with Bryce Alford, son of Steve Alford, for the spot of best basketball player in the state. Neal was ultimately named the Gatorade New Mexico Boy’s Basketball Player of the Year. A highly touted recruit, Neal should give the Lobos some impressive depth -- and much more in future years if he stays a Lobo for four years. For this year, however, he can be expected to give breaks to Williams and Greenwood and play a high energy style. If his shooting prowess translates to the college level, and there are no indications that it won’t, it will give New Mexico a formidable second lineup. Not in Kansas any more -- transfer Merv Lindsay Merv Lindsay came to New Mexico from Kansas (who, incidentally, the Lobos will play this year in Kansas City). Lindsay had to sit out last season after transferring, but will have three years of eligibility left with the Lobos. Getting a transfer who didn’t get much playing time at a high caliber school like Kansas is a big deal for the Lobos. The last time a Kansas player transferred over to New Mexico, he turned out to do well -- J.R. Giddens went on to be drafted in the first round of the NBA draft and took home Mountain West Conference Co-Player of the Year honors. Junior college transfers Arthur Edwards is a junior college transfer is a sophomore and will be one of those who will help pressure Thomas to stay at the top of his game -- because if he isn’t, Edwards will be one of those willing to step into the starting lineup. The 6’7” forward played at Northwest Florida state last year and averaged 6.4 points per game and 3.2 rebounds per game -- although is production picked up near the end of the season. Deshawn Delaney is another junior college transfer and one who was considered a top-tier junior college recruit. Delaney picked New Mexico over Bradley and average 15.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last year for Vincennes University. He’s another one who can hope to pick up the slack from losing Snell to the NBA. He has two more years of eligibility. The other newcomers The first one that jumps off the page is Obij Aget, a 7’1” freshman out of Indiana. He was injured last year, which delayed his Lobos debut. Since he did not enroll in school after tearing his ACL, he is still considered a freshman. He will get some good practice time working against Alex Kirk every day, though consistent minutes could be scarce behind Kirk and Bairstow. Many thought that Tim Myles would red shirt this year, but he stepped on the court for the Lobos against Alabama A&M (one of an amazing 14 Lobos to do so), which means he’ll get some playing time. But looking up at the other names on the crowded list, Myles will have to prove himself to get consistent playing time. That said, having to many playing talented players is better than not having enough. Chris Perez is a walk-on. He’ll be the guy that the Lobos fans cheer for every time the Lobos are up 15 with a couple of minutes to go. For him, it would be to see if he can lead the nation in trillions. This would be a good thing for the Lobos, as it would mean the Lobos are winning a lot of games. Subscribe to get the best Albuquerque stories delivered free right to your inbox. Yes Please! Thank you for subscribing!