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January 18, 2012Inside warm and fuzzy Loboland, The University of New Mexico is keeping hearts content and mass producing goodwill.
Winning 13 straight games after a sputtering start will do that.
But for UNM, which was left out of the NCAA Tournament last season, the goals are more significant than simply producing hope.
The Lobos left their fate to the tournament seeding committee after an average conference showing last season amid lofty expectations, and they paid the price. This year, they hope to get in by removing all doubt.
UNM has the perfect opportunity to jump on the national stage this week when it gets No. 16 (Associated Press) San Diego State and No. 14 UNLV back-to-back. Tip-off against SDSU is set for today at 8 p.m. in The Pit. These are the kind of games that Top 25 voters and seeding committees scrutinize.
The Lobos are gaining momentum in a respectable Mountain West Conference, but because of a laughably weak home schedule most pundits are awaiting more proof before judgement. Bracket experts from ESPN and the like have the Lobos currently projected to receive a middle seed (8-10) in the NCAAs. Voters have UNM just outside the AP Top 25.
So far the MWC is picking up the slack for a lot of schools west of the Rockies. The Pac-12 is struggling without a marquee program to lead it and no teams currently in the Top 25. As of Saturday, the MWC was 11-3 against its western counterpart. UCLA is partially to thank. Mike Moser and Chace Stanback have starred for UNLV this season after transferring. Drew Gordon has been a stud in Albuquerque.
The Lobos (15-2 overall, 1-0 MWC) sit atop the MWC with a bevy of impressive stats: first in scoring margin, first in field goal defense, first in rebounding margin, and the list goes on. The Lobos are playing well on both sides of the ball to be sure. But UNLV (16-3) and SDSU (15-2) have equally impressive stats, and they swept UNM last season. There is certain motivation for the Lobos.
What is in doubt is the health of starting point guard Hugh Greenwood. The freshman has missed the last two games due to a sprained ankle. He is expected to be a game-time decision.
The Lobos will also have to contend with the tide of recent history. UNM has dropped 10 of its last 13 games against the Aztecs. SDSU already has a win over UNLV, 69-67.