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February 14, 2013
Lobos driving for Sweet 16 - Again
It's the question Lobos men's basketball fans are afraid to ask.
And you really can't blame them. Their hopes of NCAA glory have been beaten down like a fuzzy, faded Whac-A-Mole for years. Every time they pop up, the hammer comes down.
But maybe it's time to ask. Could this be the year UNM makes school history and takes a deep plunge in the NCAA tournament? Could the school make its first Sweet 16; or better? The Lobos resume indicates: Maybe.
The Lobos are 21-4 overall. But followers have grown used to regular-season success over the years, and especially during the Steve Alford era. UNM is ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 and has been for most of the year. Lobos fans are used to that recently, too. The Lobos have wins over Connecticut, USC and Cincinnati to go with conference wins over UNLV and Colorado State. They sit atop the Mountain West as of Wednesday.
Fans have seen this all before. What makes this year different? Oddly, it may have little to do with New Mexico. It may have more to do with the quality of the MWC and the parity in college basketball overall.
There is not a dominant team or conference at the top levels of the sport, and being ranked No. 1 in the country has been more of a curse than a blessing. The AP had a new top team for five straight weeks until Indiana managed to keep the ranking in the lastest poll -- despite a loss to Illinois.
Last week, four of the top five teams in the country lost; six of the top 10.
Does this kind of talent dispursement open the door for a team like UNM to become this year's George Mason or Butler? Why not? Recent mock drafts have the Lobos as high as a 3-seed in the tourney. Any top-5 seed is a good perch from which to make a run.
UNM has been flirting with greatness for longer than most care to admit. But an 8-14 record (13 appearances) in the sport's premier event is an ugly reminder of what ultimately happens to the Lobos. New Mexico was a 5-seed last season and picked up a win over No. 12 Long Beach St. before falling to No. 4 Louisville, 59-56.
There is certainly a long way to go before the Lobos postseason question is answered. But it may be the perfect time to start asking it.
New Mexico NEWS