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The Other Top 25 preseason rankings: No. 17 New Mexico Lobos

Can the Lobos compete in the Mountain West without JaQuan Lyle?

Utah State v New Mexico Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: Our preseason rankings were voted on before the JaQuan Lyle injury. Following the news, we adjusted our rankings to account for his injury.

2017-18 Record: 19-15 (12-6 Mountain West)
Key Returning Players: Anthony Mathis (G, Sr.), Vladimir Pinchuk (F, So.), Makuach Maluach (G, So.)
Key Losses: Antino Jackson (G), Chris McNeal (G), Joe Furstinger (F), Sam Logwood (F), Troy Simmons (G)
Key Newcomers: Carlton Bragg (F via Arizona St.), Vance Jackson (G/F via UConn), Drue Drinnon (G, 3-star Rivals), JaQuan Lyle (G via Ohio St.)

Seven points. That’s all that stood between the Lobos and an NCAA Tournament bid last season. Heading into Paul Weir’s first season with the program, there was plenty of hype surrounding the young coach who just led rival New Mexico State to a 28-6 record the year prior (including two wins over the Lobos).

Following a 2-0 start, the Lobos fell in seven of their next eight, including bad losses at home to Tennessee Tech and UTEP to drop to 3-8 early in non-conference play. By the time Mountain West play rolled around, they’d finally hit their groove and finished 12-6 in one of the nation’s premier mid-major conferences.

Two double digit MWC Tournament wins later, New Mexico found themselves competing for a spot in the Big Dance against San Diego State. Defensive inefficiency led to open shots underneath all night for San Diego St. and once they grabbed a hold of the lead they never let go, ending the Lobos season with a 82-75 loss.

Year one for Paul Weir was one of ups and downs – however with a reloaded roster and multiple high-profile transfers coming in, the future is promising for New Mexico basketball.

Key Non-Conference Games

Weir is looking to flip the script this season, hosting three potential resume building games at The Pit in December before conference play kicks off at Air Force:

Dec 1 at Bradley
Dec. 7 vs. St. Mary’s (Staples Center)
Dec. 12 vs. Colorado
Dec. 16 vs. Central Arkansas
Dec. 22 vs. Penn

Three Things to Watch

Carlton Bragg’s Eligibility

The former McDonald’s All-American comes to New Mexico for his third collegiate stop following a two-year stint at Kansas and half a semester at Arizona State.

“I have had a long journey with many life experiences, but I am ready to get to New Mexico and get to work,” Bragg said in a statement to media following his announcement in late January.

If Bragg is eligible to lace them up on Nov. 6, he’ll undoubtedly be the force in the paint that Weir desperately needs.

That eligibility factor, however, currently lies in the hands of the NCAA. Since Bragg transferred to Arizona State and did not complete the first semester with the program, as it currently stands he won’t be eligible until December. However, he has already applied for a waiver which is still pending with the committee.

Bragg has had his share of issues off the court as well, but if the Lobos are able to keep him in uniform and in the weight room, there is no doubt he’ll have a monster season and will impact both ends of the floor.

Replacing Option No. 1

Unfortunately for the Lobos, their entire season flipped dramatically in the past few weeks with the announcement of JaQuan Lyle’s ruptured Achilles. Even worse, this is the second straight season head coach Paul Weir will have to see Lyle on the bench as he sat out last season due to transfer rules following his move from Ohio State.

Weir was already looking at a short bench this season. He’ll need freshman Drue Drinnon and transfer Vance Jackson to really step up and produce in Lyle’s absence. Senior guard Anthony Mathis is looking at a breakout year following his sharp-shooting 2017 campaign where Mathis finished ranked fourth in the nation in three-point percentage. They’ll certainly miss Lyle on the offensive end but look for major contributions out of Mathis, Jackson, and Drinnon to make up the points.

Paul Weir’s Outfit

Yes, you read that correctly, Paul Weir’s outfit is at the top of my list for things to watch out for this year out of New Mexico. Weir recently had an interview where he discussed his gameday apparel, as well as how he picks it out and he gave all his credit to his inspiration Steve Jobs.

Weir likes it simple, he enters the arena with a slight 5 o’clock shadow, an all red sweater, and a button-down shirt. Simple.

Steve Jobs was always seen wearing jeans and a simple black turtleneck, emphasizing the need for simplicity in an ever-evolving tech world. Oddly enough, Weir draws the connection by being simplistic in college basketball with the modern obsessive focus on metrics and analytics in today’s game. The fearless young New Mexico head coach is expecting big things in his second season and doesn’t want anything getting in the way of that – especially wasting precious time picking out an outfit.

X Factor: The Newcomers

As if losing five of last year’s top seven scorers wasn’t enough, Lyle’s ruptured achilles puts yet another question mark into Weir’s plans. Contrary to popular belief, not all hope is lost.

In Lyle’s absence, the freshman Drinnon is expected to see more minutes and take on a bigger role from the get-go this year. Drinnon created a name for himself across the southeast hoops circuit with his high basketball IQ and ability to finish at the rim. Weir will need Drinnon to provide quality minutes for the Lobos right away. As mentioned above, Jackson and Bragg will also play huge roles in the Lobos’ success this year.