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Just a couple of months, the University of New Mexico Lobo coaches were lamenting that the Mountain West teams weren’t getting the national attention they felt they deserved.
Now those teams, particularly the Lobos, are getting all kinds of attention, although certainly not the kind they were hoping for.
As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, the Lobo men’s basketball team was humbled in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Despite their No. 3 seeding in the West Region, the Lobos were stunned by 14th-seed Harvard 68-62.
One only had to watch the game for a few minutes to realize something wasn’t right with UNM Thursday. Harvard was beating UNM to every punch. Harvard was getting open looks and knocking them down. Harvard was playing with a spring in its step while UNM looked flat and, until midway through the second half when it had been trailing the Crimson for the entire ballgame, almost uninterested in the matchup.
Going in, the Lobos seemingly had every physical advantage that could be had over the Crimson. They had the height down low and they had the athleticism that the Crimson couldn’t match. They were battle tested, coming through the very tough Mountain West.
But Harvard, not surprisingly, had the smarts. Harvard controlled the tempo and forced UNM to play its game.
UNM didn’t respond well. If not for hometown hero Alex Kirk’s prime-time performance (22 points, 12 boards) the Lobos might have been run out of EnergySolutions Arena with their tails between their legs.
With Lobo Nation now having two long, lonely nights to ponder what might have been, it’s hard to say what kind of fallout there might be from this humbling defeat.
Certainly, UNM and fans will think twice before grousing about not getting a No. 2 or above seed — ironically, based on Thursday’s performance, the Lobos would’ve needed a No. 2 to face a lesser team and escape the first round — and will certainly not be looking past a first-game opponent next season, regardless of where the two teams sit in the bracket.
Relatively speaking, the MW teams did OK in the second round, going 2-2. Colorado State and San Diego State both advanced. The 10th-ranked Lobos and the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, unofficially 28th in the AP poll and a No. 5 seed in the East Region, were both on the unhappy end of upsets.
Barring the mother of all hangovers from Thursday’s loss, there’s no reason to believe the Lobos can’t duplicate their 2012-13 accomplishments next year and get to the elusive Sweet 16 round. Many of UNM’s key personnel will be back. Should Kirk continue to improve as a redshirt junior the way he did this year, he could very well grab the attention of pro scouts, and Tony Snell will return, likely to take over that leadership role that was occupied by Kendall Williams this year.
The pieces are there, including coach Steve Alford, who just a day before the loss signed a 10-year deal that, with incentives could pay him as much $2 million per annum.
And come this November, even the craziest citizens of Lobo Nation will have certainly forgiven. Maybe they will even forget.
But it’s a safe bet the ranking and seeding committees will have much longer memories.