Team preview: New Mexico

Blue Ribbon Illustrated previews the 2005-06 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.

Updated: November 5, 2005, 1:46 PM ET
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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

COACH AND PROGRAM

New Mexico's Ritchie McKay was a real estate agent's dream and a nightmare for school loyalists when he advanced through four jobs in his first seven years as a head coach. There was a time he appeared hypersensitive when former fans mocked his succession of "dream jobs."

Now that he stayed in one place for three seasons with an NCAA appearance and Mountain West Conference Tournament crown to show for the effort, the ever-affable McKay cracks his own jokes about cross-country moves.

If the Lobos return to the NCAA, no doubt McKay will be attracting suitors again, but the 40-year-old coach appears to be putting down roots in Albuquerque. At 26-7, UNM was one of three schools with a plus-12 win improvement over 2003-04, trailing only Texas A&M and national champion North Carolina at plus-14. McKay has every reason to want to look ahead a year when forward Aaron Johnson, the Big Ten rebound leader from Penn State, and forward J.R. Giddens, a former McDonald's prep All-American via Kansas, become eligible. Josh Jenkins, a guard who averaged 10.1 points and shot 43 percent from three-point range for New Mexico State last season, is also sitting out this year and will have three seasons of eligibility remaining.

Some in the Albuquerque media think McKay has become overly reliant on transfers. Of the 18 players on the summer roster (counting the D-I transfers and walk-ons) half began their college hoops careers elsewhere. But the role model for the influx was Marquette transfer Danny Granger, who had no off-the-floor baggage. If any of the newcomers bring anywhere close to what Granger gave the Lobos, McKay would be happy.

Much of New Mexico's success was tied to the departed Granger, the 17th pick in the NBA draft and MVP of the league tournament over eventual top draft pick Andrew Bogut of Utah. The program hadn't won a conference game on the road in more than two seasons, but had three breakthroughs in addition to sweeping the MWC Tournament in Denver.

When Granger was hurt early in the conference season, fellow seniors Alfred Neale and Troy DeVries took it on themselves to provide leadership in the void. The Lobos finished a strong second in the MWC taking two of three from Bogut's Utes.

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