Emptying the Notebook: Can Lobos' top 5 pace of play last in one of DI's slowest conferences?

Jan. 21—U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Here are some extra notes, quotes, stats, and other odds & ends I was able to empty out of the old reporter's notebook after Saturday's 85-66 Lobos road win at Air Force:

Hurry up and wait ...

Entering Saturday's game at the U.S. Air Force Academy, the UNM Lobos ranked eighth out of 362 Division I teams in tempo, per

They don't just play fast, they want to play extremely fast compared to the rest of college basketball.

Meanwhile, the Air Force Falcons ranked 358th out of 362 Division I teams in tempo.

They don't just play slow, they want to play extremely slow compared to the rest of college basketball.

So, Saturday was a case of hurry up and wait — with one team wanting to get out and run at every opportunity and one team wanting pretty much limit the possessions of the game by eating as much clock as possible between shots.

The result on Saturday: Hurry up 1, Wait 0

In what shows as a 71-possession game — above average for the Falcons and below average for the Lobos — it was UNM that took most advantage of not only the times Saturday's game was played at the speed it wanted, but also in the times it was being forced into the much slower, deliberate pace of the Falcons.

Eleven first-half turnovers and 17 first-half missed shots by Air Force gave the Lobos plenty of opportunities to get out and run, even getting nine points in transition during a game-changing 13-0 run between the 13:30 mark in the first half and the 10:22 mark.

Air Force coach Joe Scott described the first half as UNM taking full advantage of his team simply playing so poorly.

"I think our offense in the first half really helped them. Our offense was not good," Scott said. "We were out of sorts, and out of kilter, the entire half. And all that led to, I think, 11-12 turnovers and those 11-12 turnovers led to the game being the way they wanted it to be. And that was whether or not it was a transition basket, whether or not it was an outnumbering situation to where a shot's taken and (another Lobo is) getting the offensive rebound. Just a myriad of things."

So, that was the deal on Saturday. But what about the rest of league play?

The Lobos aren't just an outlier with their high-tempo offense, which climbed to No. 5 in the country on Saturday, it seems like they are hardly even playing the same game as their peers in the plodding Mountain West, which is one of the slowest conferences in the country.

The Mountain West ranks 28th out of 32 conferences in tempo:

Slowest 5 conferences in Division I

Tempo represents average number of possessions

32. Patriot League (65.4)

31. Coastal Athletic Association (66.4)

30. Big 12 (66.7)

29. Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference (67.0)

28. Mountain West (67.0)

For comparison sake, I'll also list the fastest tempo leagues.

Fastest 5 conferences in Division I (KenPom)

1. WAC (71.5)

2. America East (71.4)

3. Sun Belt (70.5)

4. SEC (70.5)

5. Pac-12 (69.8)

Back to the Mountain West specifically. Per, here are the Mountain West's national rankings for tempo this season:

5 New Mexico99 Utah State177 Boise State189 Nevada201 Wyoming223 San Diego State252 Colorado State268 Fresno State289 San Jose State299 UNLV358 Air Force

Out of 362 Division I schools, eight of the 11 Mountain West schools rank in the bottom half in tempo and one of the three in the top half (Boise State at 177) is just four spots away from the 181 halfway point.

So, can the Lobos really be that much of an outlier within its own league and be successful? If there were other teams like them in the league, the contrasting styles and who dictates the terms of the game's pace wouldn't really be an every game discussion.

But it is.

So, let's take a look at UNM's six league games so far and what the pace of play (number of possessions per told us about that game:

—Jan. 2 at Colorado State: 70 possessions — not in top five fastest/highest possessions games CSU has played and the Lobos lost by 8.

—Jan. 6 vs. Wyoming: 72 possessions — in top five fastest/highest possessions games Wyoming has played and the Lobos won by 17.

—Jan. 9 at UNLV: 71 possessions — in top five fastest/highest possessions games UNLV has played and the Lobos lost by 10.

—Jan. 13 vs. San Diego State: 79 possessions — the fastest/highest possessions non-overtime game SDSU has played all season and the Lobos won by 18.

—Jan. 16 vs. Utah State: 79 possessions — tied for fastest/highest possessions game of the season for Utah State and the Lobos won by 13.

—Saturday at Air Force: 71 possessions — second fastest/highest possessions game of the season for Air Force and the Lobos won by 19.

So, the six-game (1/3 of the Mountain West season) snapshot shows that with the exception of the UNLV game, when the Lobos dictate the pace of the game to be faster than what the opponent has played so far, UNM not only wins, but does so comfortably.

And when they weren't able to make the tempo that much different than what their opponent was used to (the road game at CSU), they lost.

The gamer ...

Here is the gamer I filed from Clune Arena after Saturday's game:

No topping Toppin ...

Not much new to say here. Another game. Another phenomenal stat line for a freshman.

JT Toppin on Saturday:

—25 points

—12-15 FG (1-2 3FG)

—13 rebounds (6 offensive)

—1 block

Saturday was double-double No. 6 for Toppin, who is now one behind the UNM freshman double-double record of seven set by the great Kenny Thomas. Considering Toppin and the Lobos have a minimum of 13 games remaining, barring injury it's safe to think Toppin might get there.

There's also a good chance that Toppin gets Mountain West Freshman of the Week award No. 6 this season come Monday morning, but his coach thinks maybe it's time to stop thinking of him just in terms of where he ranks among freshmen.

"You know, everybody talks about him as one of the best freshmen in the league, he may be one of the best players in our league," UNM coach Richard Pitino said. "(He's) just got to continue to sustain it continue to work, but he's been very, very impressive."

Not a bad little win streak ...

The Lobos have the longest win streak in a league where winning streaks are probably going to be pretty hard to come by this season.

Here is a list of the current win streaks in the Mountain West, and only one of the sins on this list was in a road game:

3 — New Mexico (home, home, road)

2 — Wyoming (home, home)

2 — Colorado State (home, home)

1 — Boise State (home)

1 — Utah State (home)

The Lobos three-game win streak is impressive both by how it's happening (three-consecutive double-digit victories) and against whom it is happening (two ranked teams and one road game).

So, that got me thinking ....

The Lobos' plus-50 scoring differential in its current three-game Mountain West win streak is just the fifth time in the Mountain West era that UNM has had a plus-50 scoring differential in any three-game conference win streak in the Mountain West era, and none of the previous ones including wins over two ranked teams.

Top 5 Lobo scoring margins in 3-game MW win streaks

—+95 — 2008 season: +40 vs. Colorado State (Feb. 5), +45 vs. Wyoming (Feb. 9), +10 at San Diego State (Feb. 13)

—+89 — 2012 season: +33 vs. Colorado State (Jan. 25), +17 vs. TCU (Jan. 28), +39 at Air Force (Jan. 31)

—+53 — 2016 season: +19 at San Jose State (Jan. 23), +29 vs. Air Force (Jan. 27), +5 at Boise State (Jan. 30)

—+51 — 2014 season: +9 vs. Utah State (Feb. 25), +14 at Nevada (March 2), +28 vs. Air Force (March 5)

—+50 — 2024 season: +18 vs. San Diego State (Jan. 13), +13 vs. Utah State (Tuesday), +19 at Air Force (Saturday)

The third verse ...

After every home game at Air Force, the cadet band plays the Third Verse. Here it is from Saturday, with both teams standing on the court while it was played.

A number to know: 85

UNM's 85 points at Air Force on Saturday was the second most the Falcons have allowed this season to an opponent and just the third time a team has scored at least 80 on them:

—88 — Utah State 88, Air Force 60 (Jan. 2 at Clune Arena)

—85 — New Mexico 85, Air Force 66 (Saturday at Clune Arena)

—83 — Northern Colorado 83, Air Force 79 (Dec. 21 at Clune Arena)

You're steal the one ...

UNM had 11 steals on Saturday, tied for the most against Air Force this season and also marking the ninth game this season that UNM has had double-digit steals in a game.

Here is the list of the most double-digit steal games in a season for UNM during the Mountain West era:

t1. 12 — 2019-20 season

t1. 12 — 2004-05 season

3. 9 — 2023-24 season (minimum 13 more games to play)

t4. Three seasons tied with seven

Jaelen House at the Cadet Field House ...

Jaelen House has had quite an interesting three game career at Clune Arena.

—2022 season: Scores career high 42 points on 15-of-22 shooting, 8-of-9 free throws, 8 rebounds, 4 steals.

—2023 season: On the day of the game, a hamstring injury led to his not suiting out for last season's Feb. 10 game. The Lobos lost to the Falcons, 89-77, then four days later to Wyoming in the Pit, also without House, which were the two worst losses in both NET ranking and on rankings of the entire season for UNM.

—2024 season: House has 9 points, 4 steals and largely plays well for UNM, having some fun trash talk throughout the game with the cadets who sit next to the visiting bench. Main outcome for UNM: They won with House back.

Jaelen's steals, points and fouls ...

Speaking of Jaelen House thefts, he had four more of them on Saturday, giving him 39 on the season and his 16 in Mountain West play leads the league in total and average (2.67 per conference game).

He's now within striking distance of Top 3 on UNM's all-time steals list:

UNM all-time steals

1. Kelvin Scarborough — 235

2. Hunter Greene — 203

3. Phil Smith — 197

4. Jaelen House — 192

5. Kendall Williams — 186

His nine points, meanwhile, moves him into the top 20 on UNM's all-time scoring list:

UNM career scoring

18. Makuach Maluach — 1,308

19. Francis Grant — 1,283

20. Jaelen House — 1,278

21. Elijah Brown — 1,276

22. Tony Danridge — 1,260

But while House played fine on Saturday (nine points, three assists, two turnovers, four steals), he once again didn't have all his minutes determined by his stats or regular rotations, but by his own foul trouble.

House had four fouls on Saturday, the fifth time in six league games he's gotten to four fouls. And while he's only fouled out of one Mountain West game (Tuesday's home win over No. 16 Utah State), his minutes have been limited in the second half because of the foul trouble and it's been clear that most games, he is the most valuable player for this Lobos team.

"I mean 11 steals (overall for UNM), so much of that has to do with him. He was really, really disruptive," UNM coach Richard Pitino said. "Obviously he's been in foul trouble a lot. So you want him to be aggressive. How can we maybe save one of those (fouls) because this has definitely been a trend this year where we've had to pull him out.

"When he's on the court, just defensively, he's so disruptive. I mean, they had 18 turnovers, they don't turn the ball over a lot. So we felt like we could certainly try to speed them up, and that all starts with Jaelen."

Oh, those O-boards ...

The Lobos out-rebounded Air Force 36-28 and had 13 offensive rebounds.

Now, they've certainly had more offensive rebounds than that in games before, but a team usually has their best offensive rebound games when they're missing a lot of shots. UNM on Saturday shot 54.7% from the field and 78.6% from the free throw line, giving the Lobos an offensive rebound percent of 40.6%.

UNM's 40.6% offensive rebound rate is the best in a true road game and best in any Mountain West game in the Richard Pitino era.

Top 5 OR% games in Pitino era

1. 53.1% — Nov. 27, 2022, vs. Northern Colorado (the Pit)

2. 45.2% — Dec. 20, 2022, vs. Prairie View A&M (the Pit)

3. 43.2% — Dec. 2 vs. New Mexico State (the Pit)

4. 40.6% — Saturday at Air Force (Clune Arena)

5. 40.5% — Dec. 9 vs. Santa Clara (Henderson, Nev.)

Mustapha getting it right ...

This note originally published in Saturday's game preview article, but I'm repurposing it here today with updates from Saturday's game ...

Mustapha Amzil has been playing exceptionally well of late and on Saturday, he had 11 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and was 2-of-2 at the free throw line.

Lobo fans may have noticed something not lining up with transfer forward this season, and it has nothing to do with the early season shooting slump now in his rear view mirror.

The 6-foot-9 former Dayton Flyer who also played this past summer for this home country Finland in the World University Games, shoots his free throws significantly to the right of the center of the charity stripe.

"In high school, I thought I was in the middle, to be honest, and then somebody pointed it out" Amzil said. "I thought I was always in the middle. And then I realized I wasn't, but I just kept shooting like that. And it hasn't been a problem. I'm shooting like 80% like that."

It is, indeed, working for him.

Now in his fourth season of college basketball, he is a a career 77.6% free throw shooter and this season at UNM he has hit 27 of 33 free throws, an 81.8% clip, which is third best on the team for any player who has attempted at least 10 free throws (Braden Appelhans is 4-for-4 on the season).

Also, in case you haven't noticed, Amzil has evolved into a key contributor to the Lobos' success of late on both ends of the floor.

His defense in the post has improved and his offense has been vital off the bench.

Amzil's first 10 games:

—2.8 points per game

—0 double-digit scoring games

—1-21 3-point shooting (4.8%)

Things got so bad that in his 11th game as a Lobo, he was a healthy did-not-play at New Mexico State on Dec. 15. But he's turned it around since.

Amzil's past eight games:

—9.8 points per game

—6 double-digit scoring games

—8-19 3-point shooting (42.1%)

Attendance ...

The announced attendance for Saturday's UNM at Air Force game in Clune Arena: 2,785

For the Lobos ...

Saturday's game was the largest home attendance for Air Force this season, largely due to the fact that the Lobos had 40-50% of the fans, at least it seemed, in the arena.

With really just the two drivable road games a year — at New Mexico State and at Air Force — Lobo fans, especially those living in Colorado and throughout Northern New Mexico, always seem to show up well at Clune Arena.

"Felt like a home game," UNM coach Richard Pitino said. "Credit to our fans — the people that drove up to five hours (from Albuquerque). Just amazing.

"It'll be different, obviously, at San Jose. I don't expect (Lobo fans) to drive from Albuquerque to San Jose."

Sellout tracker ...

There were no sold out arenas around the Mountain West on Saturday, but with Friday night's sell out of Moby Arena in Fort Collins, there have been seven sellouts around the Mountain West so far in league play.

The quest to 18 Mountain West sellouts is well on its way.

OK, so 18 is an arbitrary number I threw out as a challenge when league play began, setting up an unscientific over/under of 17.5 sell outs as a good betting number for sold out arenas this season.

For the record, I did say it would get over, I think at this pace, the sellouts could get into the 20s.

Here is the team-by-team tracker ...

3 — San Diego

1 — Boise State

1 — Colorado State

1 — New Mexico

1 — Utah State


Plus/minus ...

Here are the plus/minus numbers for the UNM/Air Force game with minutes played in parenthesis:

New Mexico

+27 Mustapha Amzil (26:49)

+21 Donovan Dent (32:01)

+19 JT Toppin (30:31)

+17 Jamal Mashburn Jr. (28:48)

+11 Tru Washington (23:00)

+7 Jaelen House (26:46)

+3 Jemarl Baker Jr. (4:17)

-1 Sebastian Forsling (1:55)

-1 Braden Appelhans (2:34)

-1 Isaac Mushila (2:34)

-1 Quinton Webb (2:34)

-6 Nelly Junior Joseph (18:11)

Air Force

+1 Luke Kearney (2:34)

+1 Kolby Gilles (2:34)

+1 Brady Ruggles (1:55)

-2 Byron Brown (1:00)

-10 Chase Beasley (9:16)

-12 Jeffrey Mills (34:42)

-17 Kellan Boylan (35:53)

-17 Rytis Petraitis (37:26)

-20 Ethan Taylor (37:14)

-20 Beau Becker (37:26)

Line 'em up ...

The UNM Lobos played 12 players and used 13 unique lineup combinations. The Air Force Falcons played 10 players and used just nine unique lineup combinations.




—WHO: Jaelen House, Donovan Dent, Jamal Mashburn Jr., JT Toppin, Nelly Junior Joseph



—NOTE: First, the repetitive thing I always say: When your worst lineup is your starting lineup, you're probably in trouble.

Of course, that wasn't really the case on Saturday, despite the starting five spending more time on the floor together than any other grouping in the game. The main reason for this struggle was clear: Nelly Junior Joseph struggled mightily on Saturday at Clune Arena after his breakout game on Tuesday against Utah State. The starting five had seven of UNM's 14 turnovers despite playing less than a quarter of the game together.

Of course now would be a fair time to note Air Force's worst lineup was also its starting five, going -10 in a much longer 28:32 in Saturday's 40-minute game.


—WHO: Donovan Dent, Jamal Mashburn Jr., Tru Washington, JT Toppin, Mustapha Amzil



—NOTE: Amzil in for Junior Joseph and Washington in for House and this unit goes off for a 22-9 spurt that included them scoring 2.0221 points per possession in 7 minutes on the court. Huge minutes again for Amzil at the "5", something I really didn't think was going to be the case this season and he continues to prove me wrong.


—WHO: Jaelen House, Donovan Dent, Jamal Mashburn Jr., JT Toppin, Mustapha Amzil



—NOTE: Pretty similar to the first "best" lineup listed above. In this case, Jaelen House was still in and the only difference from the starting five was Mustapha Amzil in for Nelly Junior Joseph.

Meanwhile, in Las Vegas ...

In case the Lobos men's basketball team beating two ranked teams wasn't enough last week in the Pit, the UNM Lobo women's basketball team on Saturday decided to get in the mix, beating No. 25 UNLV on the road in Las Vegas.

Here is colleague Ken Sickenger's write up after the upset at Cox Pavilion:

—'A win here is huge': UNM women shock No. 25 UNLV

VIDEO: Pitino and Toppin postgame ...

Here is video of the Journal's courtside postgame interviews with JT Toppin and Richard Pitino:

Meanwhile, in Boise ...

The Boise State Broncos beat San Diego State in a close one Saturday at home, 67-66, picking up their league-best fourth Quad 1 victory of the season:

Around the Mountain ...

There were five weekend games around the Mountain West and five more coming up for the midweek slate.


—Colorado State 78, UNLV 75


—Boise State 67, San Diego State 66

—New Mexico 85, Air Force 66

—No. 16 Utah State 83, Fresno State 62

—Wyoming 98, Nevada 93


—Wyoming at San Diego State, 6 p.m. PT/7 p.m. MT (CBS Sports Network)

—Boise State at Fresno State, 7:30 p.m. PT/8:30 p.m. MT (FS1)

—Air Force at UNLV, 8 p.m. PT/9 p.m. MT (CBS Sports Network)


—Colorado State at Nevada, 7:30 p.m. PT/8:30 p.m. MT (FS1)

—New Mexico at San Jose State, 8 pm. PT/9 p.m. MT (CBS Sports Network)

Mountain West standings ...

Through Saturday's games ...

5-1 Utah State

4-1 Boise State

4-2 New Mexico

4-2 San Diego State

3-2 Colorado State

3-2 Wyoming

2-3 Nevada

2-3 UNLV

1-4 Fresno State

1-4 San Jose State

0-5 Air Force

Road/home standings

The old home/road standings give a +1 (plus-1) for any road win and a -1 (minus-1) for any home loss. By season's end, these should line up with the real standings, for until then, this sometimes gives a good idea about the teams actually making some headway on the road, not just holding serve at home.

+2 Utah State

+1 Boise State

+1 New Mexico

+1 San Diego State

0 Colorado State

0 Nevada


0 Wyoming

-1 Fresno State

-1 San Jose State

-3 Air Force

You can't have KJ without 1K ...

Remember KJ Jenkins, the former UNM team co-captain and sharpshooting guard off the Lobos bench the past two seasons? Well Jenkins is doing just fine at the school he transferred to, UNC-Wilmington, where on Saturday he scored a team-high 20 points in leading his team to a league win over Charleston.

On Thursday, the 6-foot-2 guard surpassed the career 1,000 point scoring mark in NCAA games (Division I+Division II) in an 82-70 road win at Elon.

Now, Jenkins had plenty of scoring at the Division II and junior college levels, but

Jenkins' NCAA DI+DII scoring:

—287 — 20 games at D-II North Georgia (2019-20)

—537 — 2 seasons at New Mexico (2021-2023)

—198 — 18 games at UNC-Wilmington (2023-present)

—1,022 — Total at the NCAA level

(this does not including his junior college stats, where Jenkins averaged 15.8 points in the 2020-21 season at Kilgore College in Texas)

RIP Jim Thrash ...

Jim Thrash impacted the game of basketball at virtually every level, from youth hoops to the NBA.

Colleague Rick Wright on Saturday wrote about the passing of a great basketball mind from Albuquerque.

Stats and stats ...

Here is the postgame stat sheet I posted after Saturday's game: New Mexico 85, Air Force 66

And if you prefer the digital stats, here you go: New Mexico 85, Air Force 66

Grammer's Guesses ...

The Guesses go 2-2 on Saturday, getting the UNM -10.5 and Wyoming +7.5 picks correct.

I'm now 8-21 on the season.

My daughter's coin flip picks went 1-3 on Saturday and she's now 15-14 on the season.

Up next ...

For UNM: The Lobos play at San Jose State on Wednesday night in the Provident Credit Union Event Center at 8 p.m. PT/9 p.m. MT in a game that will be televised on CBS Sports Network.

For Air Force: The Falcons play at UNLV on Tuesday night in the Thomas & Mack Center at 8 p.m. PT/9 p.m. MT in a game that will be televised on CBS Sports Network

Until next time ...

Until next time, Clune Arena in the Cadet Field House on the campus of the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado ...

And here are a couple bonus "Until next time pics" from my walk out of the Cadet Field House on Saturday ...

Lobo schedule/results ...