In Craig Neal’s season ending press conference, the head coach addressed the need to get better in anticipation of conference play. Next season’s competition will feature a more difficult non-conference schedule than this past season’s play.
Although Neal said the dates have not yet been set, the Lobos will play host to Northern Iowa, a team which finished No. 11 before losing in the 32nd round of the NCAA tournament. UNM will also welcome Rice to Wise Pies Arena, according the Neal.
New Mexico will book its plane tickets to USC and Purdue in addition to the annual Rio Grande Rivalry against the New Mexico State Aggies. Neal said the Diamondhead Classic in Hawaii will also feature some tough competition.
“(We’re) just trying to increase our schedule and challenge our guys a little bit and win some games on the road,” Neal said.
No players were available for comment during the press conference.
The Lobos will be without starting seniors Hugh Greenwood and Deshawn Delaney for the 2015-16 season. After meeting with each of the players individually last week, Neal said junior guard Arthur Edwards will also be parting ways with UNM and is seeking a school where he will receive more playing time in his final year of eligibility.
Edwards was hindered by a dislocated finger suffered in the Puerto Rico tip-off against Texas A&M on Nov. 11. He will graduate with a degree from UNM this year.
Jordan Hunter, Dane Kuiper, and Anthony Mathis are the three incoming freshman for next season; all named to the McDonald’s All-American nominees. Elijah Brown, Tim Williams and Adam Cumber are a trio of veterans eligible to join the 2015-16 squad.
Brown, son of former NBA head coach Mike Brown, transferred from Butler, averaging 6.8 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 1.2 assists during the 2013-14 season.
Williams was named the Southern Conference freshman of the year in 2012-13 and was named to the All-Southern Conference team in both years at Samford. Williams was a red-shirt freshman walk-on for New Mexico last year.
“We’ve got to improve our shooting,” Neal said. “I think we’ve pinpointed that. We’ve really recruited to that and I think we’ve got a lot of really good shooters coming in and hopefully they’ll be able to shoot the ball.”
Neal said although injuries were no excuse for the Lobos’ sub .500 winning percentage, the key losses to the squad played a big role in UNM’s play.
“We didn’t think we’d have bumps in the road like we had with injuries,” Neal said. “With Arthur (Edwards) getting hurt, and Cullen (Neal) going down for the season, and then Jordan (Goodman) having a whole season of injuries and not getting healthy.”
Despite UNM’s 15-16 finish in the 2015-16 campaign, Neal is the second fastest New Mexico coach to reach 40 wins. It took Neal 53 games to reach the 40-win plateau and only Norm Ellenberger was faster, collecting 40 wins in 52 games.
Even though UNM lost in the first round of the Mountain West tournament, head coach Craig Neal said he is hoping this will be his first and last head coaching job of his career.
“I plan to be here a long time. I hope it’s my last coaching stop,” Neal said. “I like it here... My son plays here, my other son goes to school here, so I’m going to coach here.”
Liam Cary-Eaves is the assistant sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Liam_CE.