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January 14, 2013

Road wins give UNM better shot at MWC crown

Winning a conference championship in college basketball is a two-step process and the New Mexico Lobos have a good start on the first step.

Now they have to move to Part II.

Part I - You can't win a league title at home, but that is where you lose it. If you lose home games, you aren't going to win the league, that's a simple fact.

New Mexico and San Diego State both are 2-0 atop the Mountain West Conference standings and Boise State is 1-0. The Lobos have protected their turf. If they had lost to UNLV or Fresno State, their chances of winning the regular season would have dropped off sharply.

UNM does not have a good track record for starting the MWC schedule. Before this season, Steve Alford team had never won its first two league games. Only once before in the 14-year history of the league have the Lobos won their first two conference games.

The Lobos always seem to lose an early game and spend the next two months trying to catch up. They've managed to make up for it several times, but losing early can make life tough.

Part II - You win a conference title on the road. The Lobos play their first conference road game Wednesday at Boise State. The Broncos have a reputation for being a football power but they were a doormat in basketball last year.

BSU is no longer a doormat. The MWC is divided into four groups. First, there is the top echelon, which seems to include New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV. All three are ranked and have impressive wins.

There is a second level with Wyoming, Colorado State and Boise State. They are capable of beating the top teams on a given day, especially at home.

And then there are Nevada, Fresno State and Air Force at the bottom.

UNM now goes on the road against a team that not only can but will beat it if it doesn't play well. The Lobos know how to win on the road, proven by wins at Cincinnati and New Mexico State and neutral wins over Connecticut and George Mason.

This is a good test for New Mexico. If it is going to win the conference title, it must beat the middle-tier teams, starting with Boise State.

The regular-season champion in the MWC probably will have two conference losses. The league is that balanced and that tough on the road. It is possible several teams might share the regular season title at 13-3 in the league, though 14-2 is more likely.

The Lobos have never started the MWC with a 3-0 record. If they can do that by beating Boise State on Wednesday, then they have started the conference season by taking care of Part I and Part II.


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