February 8, 2011

Lobos need solid finish for chance at NCAA tourney

The University of New Mexico Lobos can unfold their lanky frames on Wednesday morning and feel pretty good about what faces them in the near future - and what they have accomplished in the recent past.
UNM won three straight games heading into a six-day mid-conference break that ends today in The Pit against Wyoming. That spurt included a highly improbable victory over highly-ranked BYU and brought the Lobos back from a season on the brink.
The Lobos (16-7) can lick their chops a bit against a Cowboys team that has just had its head coach dismissed and is 1-8 in the Mountain West. Heath Schroyer was let go on Tuesday in favor of associate head coach Fred Langley.
To add a little more incentive, UNM lost at Wyoming, 67-66, to begin league play.
The Lobos have performed recently like they intended to all along. Contributions are coming from across the roster, and not just from Dairese Gary and Drew Gordon. Against the Falcons four Lobos hit double figures in the scoring column. Versus BYU, five guys got there. In the win over TCU only two players scored in double digits, but 10 players played 14 or more minutes in a 71-46 rout.
The Lobos have been able to spread out defenses with multiple scoring threats and they have been exceptional at getting to the foul line. They drained 16 of 19 free throws against the Cougars and 19 of 21 versus the Falcons.
Freshman guard Kendall Williams has been a spark, scoring 16 points in back-to-back games. Shooting guard Phillip McDonald can be streaky, but he's providing a necessary outside threat. McDonald dropped in 20 points against TCU and 11 against the Cougars.
UNM hits the road after Wyoming to visit Colorado St. and San Diego St. Both teams are ahead of UNM in the conference. The Lobos are exactly in the middle of the MWC season with a 4-4 record and eight games to play. They are ranked 59th in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) by CBSSports.com The RPI is a considerable factor used by the NCAA Seeding Comittee when March Madness rolls around. The NCAA has UNM ranked 61st in RPI. With a field of 65 in the NCAA tournament, the Lobos are living squarely on the bubble. To get inside that bubble, they probably can lose no more than two more games before the MWC tournament to finish at 10-6 in the league. A couple wins in the tournament would obviously help, too. Otherwise, UNM will have to win the conference tournament to earn the automatic bid.
UNM faces challenges ahead and the road to the NCAA tourney isn't easy, but as longshots from Seabiscuit to the 1983 North Carolina State basketball men's team will attest, sometimes having a shot is all that's important. The Lobos can feel good they have earned one.

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