The road back from ruin hasn't exactly been paved with gold for Ritchie McKay's New Mexico Lobos. Entering his third year as the school's head coach, McKay has some less- than-stellar marks: He's 24-32 overall, 9-19 in the Mountain West Conference and shows nary a postseason appearance.
UNM beat two non-Division I teams last season and went 14-14, barely avoiding back-to-back losing seasons -- something that's happened just once in the last 40-plus years. But the most looming number? The Lobos have yet to win a road game under McKay. Overall, they have lost 26 straight on the road -- 28 counting neutral floors -- the third-worst road streak in the country.
And guess what? There's nothing but optimism around the Land of Enchantment. While Lobo fans traditionally have expectations higher than the nearby Sandia Mountains, this season they have good reason. McKay, who had to build the program back from a disastrous three-year tenure under former coach Fran Fraschilla, looks to have the parts in place for a conference title run. One part in particular. "Danny is a pro," McKay said of 6-foot-8 forward Danny Granger. "He is going to play the next 15 years for money. He is one of those guys who manufactures points, but doesn't get enough credit for his passing ability and the way he defends."
Granger (19.5 ppg, 9.0 rpg) was first-team all-conference last season and will make a run at All-America status this time around. Strong inside, he can step out and hit the 3 or slash to the hole. He's a gifted passer, but Granger's biggest weakness is that he's sometimes too unselfish. Last year, that was a problem. This season, he has some folks to help him.
The Lobos return three other starters -- post David Chiotti, guard Troy DeVries and wing Alfred Neale -- and have added some much-needed depth. Redshirt freshman Sean Phaler, a former UCLA signee, will be in the mix at forward. True freshman Darren Prentice is a candidate for the starting point guard spot. That position, however, looks earmarked for junior college transfer Kris Collins, who originally attended Minnesota out of high school.
The Lobos are also looking for a return to form by junior Mark Walters, a former runner-up for MWC Freshman of the Year, who has battled a knee injury. Power forward Bombale Osby and sharp-shooting guard Tony Danridge are a pair of highly regarded freshmen who will be asked to contribute right away.