The University of New Mexico Lobos basketball team continued to climb in the national rankings, rising to number 12 this week. With only two games left in their regular season, now is the right time for the Lobos to be peaking, and it appears to be working out that way. On Wednesday, UNM plays at Nevada. While no team should ever be overlooked nor any game looked past, the Wolf Pack currently sit in the basement of the Mountain West Conference rankings and have only won 12 games all season. If the Lobos can get past Nevada, the Air Force Falcons wait in Colorado Springs on Saturday night, for the conference finale. With no games between then and next Monday, when rankings are released, it's reasonable to expect a little bump before the MWC Tournament begins in Las Vegas on March 12.
The focus in the team's locker room, of course, remains solidly committed to the sports cliche of one game at a time and never looking past any opponent. But that's not something that we have to pretend to indulge in - let the speculation run rampant! If UNM does what they should and takes care of business in Nevada and Colorado Springs, they'll have a clear path to a 1 seed in the MWC Tournament - not to mention the rumblings of their deserving a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament already. If they can manage to run the gamut of the MWC, they'll earn the automatic berth into the Big Dance, and Selection Sunday will be an interesting day.
Of course, nothing is automatic. Nothing is promised or guaranteed. But, if the standings stay as they are, UNM will play either Nevada or Fresno State on March 13, followed by either San Diego State or Boise State on March 14. The path to the MWC Championship Game and the automatic berth looks possible. More appealing than the auto-entry to the Tournament, though, is the prospect of reeling off all those wins in a row and entering March Madness with all that momentum on the side of the Cherry and Silver crowd. While there will always be anonymous commenters who dismiss any non-major conference team's placement in the national rankings - don't even think about reading the comments on Gonzaga's recent ascent to number one if you want to retain faith in your fellow humans - the numbers are pretty solidly on the side of the Lobos in this case. With an RPI of 2 right now, and a strength of schedule of 3, the data-driven amongst the selection committee have to be looking very hard in the direction of UNM.
College basketball is a game of runs and momentum. UNM taking care of business in its regular season schedule was the first step. The Lobos are now close to finishing taking care of business during the in-conference schedule. Next up, the conference tournament. After that? With the right momentum, match-ups and seeding, it could be an unprecedented time.