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Grammer’s Mailbag: Readers ask about Lobo recruiting, tacos and the Mountain West

Geoff Grammer looks at a picture of Geoff Grammer held up by fans at a Lobo basketball game in November 2017. (Geoff Grammer/Journal)

The idea of a reader mailbag is hardly new.

In fact, considering kids these days don’t really know what mail is and I’m calling this new weekly “mailbag” column that uses reader questions sent via Twitter, it’s probably safe to say the term is a little outdated.

Regardless, I plan to start a new weekly mailbag feature and will post online each Monday some answers to most (or all) of the questions I get sent to me on Twitter each week using the hashtag #GrammersMailbag. I’ll call for questions a couple times a week.

The questions certainly don’t have to be limited to Lobo hoops, which is my primary beat at the Albuquerque Journal, but I imagine I’ll get plenty of those. I even may try to get Paul Weir involved and have him answer a question for readers every now and then.

So, fire away and ask whatever you’d like. Ask me about Taco races, La Bamba being the best movie ever, the lyrics of the Alamogordo High School fight song or maybe even a relevant sports question or two. I’ll answer what I can each week, with various degrees of snark, and post a column weekly, I’m planning on Monday’s, on the Journal’s website.

I originally asked for questions a couple weeks ago and then forgot I was going on vacation the following week to see my niece graduate high school, so that was poor planning. But now, here we go…

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I think the Mountain West will get two teams in the NCAA Tournament in the coming 2018-19 season. And when I say that, I mean not just one at-large and one because it won the tournament, like how two teams got in this past season. I actually believe the league will have two teams that end up with NCAAA Tournament-worthy résumés and as of right now, I think three could actually be NCAA Tournament good (Nevada, San Diego State and New Mexico). Based on recent history, I’ll keep my prediction to just two of those teams making it in, though.

The safe bet is Nevada is in and then I’ll take either UNM or SDSU, but not likely both. For New Mexico, that’s relying a lot on the three transfers from power conference schools (JaQuan Lyle, Vance Jackson and Carlton Bragg) and for SDSU, that’s relying a lot on the player I think could have the best pro career ahead (Jalen McDaniels) and the guard play of Devin Watson and Jeremy Hemsley. Malik Pope and Trey Kell will be greatly missed.

The bad news for Lobo coach Paul Weir and Aztec coach Brian Dutcher is that the history in this league shows second year coaches take a step back, not forward, after finding success in that first season (see Craig Neal and Larry Eustachy in just the past five years). Both have some proving to do, yet, as coaches.

As for Nevada being ranked No. 1, no. I don’t see that happening. I don’t believe for a minute a panel of 65 AP voters, of which I am one, will ever actually give enough votes for a Mountain West team to be No. 1, even if some are saying now that they’ll vote Nevada in the 5-10 range entering the season.

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The Lobos’ exempt tournament for the 2018-19 season is already set, though not a tournament at all. Instead, the Hall of Fame Classic will feature three home games for UNM against yet-to-be determined, non-major opponents in Dreamstyle Arena and a Dec. 7 neutral court game against Saint Mary’s in Los Angeles at the Staples Center.

Also playing in the Staples Center that day will be Nevada against Arizona State and TCU vs. USC.

UNM has not yet announced the rest of its non-conference schedule, though a press conference is scheduled for Wednesday and I wouldn’t be shocked to hear some news then. What we already know is UNM is playing the annual home and road series with NMSU, will host UTEP and Colorado, and play at Bradley as part of the annual Mountain West Missouri Valley Challenge.

Also, the Mountain West and the Lobos released the conference portion of the schedule on Monday: CLICK HERE.

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My consecutive Taco will win prediction streak has reached 482 games. At least.

So, heck no! I’m not giving that up now and predicting some jarred can of tomatoes and diced chile peppers will beat Taco. Taco may never lose again.

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I don’t think the roster at UNM, or at any mid-major program, is easy to predict from year to year anymore. But based on the roster makeup right now, guards will be most targeted in the 2019 class. UNM will lose, that we know of, at least Dane Kuiper and Anthony Mathis next year. The Lobos will need a couple shooters in the 2019 class.

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Keeping the Mountain West “relevant as a whole” is a dilemma. There are basketball coaches in this league, and Olympic sport coaches at every school I would assume (I know some here at UNM, the assumption part is that this also exists at other MWC schools) who wish the league would quite chasing football relevancy at the expense of their sports. There aren’t exactly many schools in this league raking in football dough.

That said, can any league really thrive without pouring time, resources and a whole lot of money into football? The big wigs who tell people like me and you we don’t understand how college athletics work would say no. College football is, after all, where all the TV money comes from. Other than the Big East, there isn’t a league killing it right now without football driving the bus, so Craig Thompson and the MW know they have to keep trying to save football.

I say all that to also point this out: The loss of the Las Vegas Bowl for the league last week and the financial woes I am most familiar with at UNM, which stem so significantly from chasing a football dream that history suggests has never existed in this state, have me wondering if a pull back on football emphasis and back on basketball isn’t long overdue. Not giving up on football, of course, but if $10 were being given to football in the past few years, maybe cut that back to just $7 or $8 and and up the resources going to hoops, where the league has at least has a history of being nationally relevant.

So, while I get football is what drives most of college athletics, I think Thompson and the league ought to pay some serious thought to emphasizing basketball once again.

On a side note, I’ve covered the league for six seasons now and have never been granted or had a one-on-one conversation with Thompson. In fairness, I quit asking long ago. I figured I was just a basketball reporter, so I didn’t make the cut for his time. Then I saw Mark Zeigler with the San Diego Union-Tribune sure had his ear a few months ago with Thompson spilling plenty of info about the possibility of adding Gonzaga, so maybe I should try talking with Thompson a little more moving forward.

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I must admit I’ve never been there.

As for Craig Thompson, I have zero doubt he would have a blast there, as long as there was a corporate tie-in for the league.

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It’s one of the best commas out there.

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I don’t know all the particulars, but I don’t think UNM fans should get their hopes up that he’s playing before mid-December.

What we do know is he was enrolled at another school (Arizona State) for the fall semester last year. The NCAA rules are pretty clear he can’t then play at another school until the end of that semester the following year. Until he or UNM disclose the details of why he might be eligible for such a waiver, I think anybody would just be speculating about the odds of it happening.

But, even if he only plays starting in December, I think his impact could be huge.

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Since this format of a “mailbag” column is one I’m stealing from the Reno Gazette-Journal’s Chris Murray (@MurrayRGJ), I have to include his question from a couple weeks back.

The easy answer is I have no idea why Chris hates America, but it’s clear he does. After all, Paul Weir said he did, and since Weir still walks on water in Albuquerque after his first season as the Lobos men’s basketball coach, I don’t think anyone is allowed to question anything he does yet in Albuquerque.

For those who don’t remember the background on this, here’s a recap. At the Mountain West tournament in March, Chris tweeted before the semifinal game between Nevada and San Diego State that game was the league championship game. UNM and Utah State were playing in the other semifinal, but Chris, not unlike most non-Lobo fans, believed the championship was, essentially, going to be determined by the winner of the SDSU/Nevada semifinal game.

And, as he has been known to do (remember all the preseason prediction articles and rankings he cited before coaching his first game at UNM?), Weir paid attention to what was being said about his team. In fact, he singled Chris out by name in his postgame press conference after beating Utah State.

Weir’s quote: “Chris Murray might not thing there’s a game tomorrow night, but we do. We’re excited to be here. We’re going to give it everything we’ve got. We’ve battled back from a lot, and that’s America. And if Chris Murray doesn’t want to believe in that, that’s fine, but we’re really looking forward to just giving it everything we’ve got tomorrow night. We’ve come a long way and we’ll keep fighting.”

So, back to the original question. Why does Chris Murray hate America? I have no idea. But, clearly, he does.

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1. I’ll go ahead and say it. The 1987 cinematic classic “Over the Top” is probably a top five arm wresting movie of all time. And, like Lincoln Hawk, played by Sylvester Stallone, I am that guy who, way past the appropriate age to do so, still likes wearing my hat backwards.

“It’s like a switch that goes on.”

For this reason, and this alone, I think I have the clear edge on Chris in arm wrestling.

2. Golf, mini or otherwise, has never been my game. I’m not awful, but I’ll give Chris the edge here.

3. Pac-Man, be it original or the Mrs. variety, was great, but I was more of a Galaga guy back in the drop an actual quarter in a machine days. Again, I’ll give this to Chris.

4. If spelling doesn’t count against us, I could win this one.

5. I’m not allowed around sharp objects.

6. Tough call. I was more of a Mortal Kombat guy, but could always hold my own in fighting games.

7. See No. 4

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I will never count out the Fly Boys in Clune! But, yeah. UNM should have enough talent to win there.

On a side note, I wish Mountain West more fans knew and appreciated Dave Pilipovich. He’s the best.

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Ahh, the question that has been haunting the world for ages.

If I’m forced to choose, I’ve got my money yes. A good Jesus-powered truck stop microwave making that burrito so scalding hot even he couldn’t eat it, at least not without first scorching his mouth with one of those tiny corner nibbles we all take way too soon instead of letting it cool down first.

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Hmmm… Not a good start by passing on a question here, but I think I will. First off, I like a lot of tacos, as you can tell by looking at me. But I don’t know the food truck scene as well as I wish I did.

What I will do is ask around and come up with a list of top tacos in the area and report back soon!

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Lobos making the NCAA Tournament. I think that’s 50/50 with San Diego State (Nevada I think gets in easy and I think either UNM or SDSU could be the league’s second team in).

As for Davie, I can’t see the combination of mounting financial problems at UNM, investigations (of him and the department), and poor fan attendance (bad even when he delivered and the team won games and a bowl) being something he would want to continue dealing with. None of that is taking a stand on what percentage of the blame he should shoulder and how much has been fair or unfair outside influence. I just don’t think the Davie era will be around forever. And here, or at any school with a new athletic director and bad numbers of both fans and wins (remember, UNM’s only beaten four teams that finished with a winning record in six seasons), seven years for a head coach is a long time. Maybe it’s been long enough in Albuquerque, barring an unexpectedly good season.

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Probably going back to watch the very first Chile Race at an Albuquerque Isotopes game. I bet it was magical.

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I blame The Man.

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That’s it for this first run of Grammer’s Mailbag. Thanks for the questions.

Let’s try it again next week.

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