The University of New Mexico rarely has been accused of loading up its nonconference basketball schedule.
This year may be different.
At least seven of the Lobos’ 14 opponents prior to Mountain West Conference play finished the 2011-12 season ranked in the top 100 of the RPI rankings. Depending on whom UNM plays in the second and third rounds of the Paradise Jam tournament that begins Friday in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Lobos could face two more teams from last year’s RPI top 100.
Davidson vs. New Mexico, 11:59 p.m., The Pit TV: ESPN; Radio: 770 AM
“We’re going to be challenged in the nonleague as much as we ever have been, and we know that,” UNM head coach Steve Alford said.
Here are the Lobos’ nonconference opponents for the 2012-13 season:
Davidson Wildcats (Nov. 12, the Pit)
The season opener for the Lobos could be the toughest nonconference game. Davidson is the class of the Southern Conference and a 2011-12 NCAA Tournament team. Head coach Bob McKillop returns his top eight scorers, including SoCon Player of the Year Jake Cohen, a 6-10 forward, and guard De’Mon Brooks. That duo averaged 30.0 points and 12.3 rebounds per game last season.
Paradise Jam tournament (Nov. 16-19, U.S. Virgin Islands)
The Lobos open with the University of Illinois-Chicago in the eight-team tournament, but the Flames are the least challenging of UNM’s potential opponents. The Lobos’ second-round foe will be Colonial Athletic Conference favorite George Mason or Mercer, a 27-game winner last season. In the third round, UNM could face any one of four teams, the two most intriguing being Connecticut, who beat No. 14 Michigan State on Friday, or Iona, another NCAA Tournament team from last season.
Idaho Vandals (Nov. 23, the Pit)
Coming of a 19-win season, the Vandals are led by 6-10 senior center Kyle Barone, who averaged 12.9 points and 8.0 rebounds per game.
Portland Pilots (Nov. 25, the Pit)
The Pilots were picked to finish eighth in the nine-team West Coast Conference. Portland returns its top two scorers, including junior forward Ryan Nicholas (11.5 points and 7.6 rebounds).
Indiana State Sycamores (Dec. 1, Terre Haute, Ind.)
The Sycamores are coming off an 18-win season and host the Lobos as part of the Missouri Valley/Mountain West Challenge. Indiana State was 11-4 at home last season but returns just one starter.
Southern California Trojans (Dec. 5, the Pit)
There is plenty of talent for the defensive-minded Trojans, but it hasn’t translated to much success under head coach Kevin O’Neill. USC went 6-26 last year with one loss coming to the Lobos. USC returns four starters, including three double-digit scorers.
Valparaiso Crusaders (Dec. 8, the Pit)
Head coach Bryce Drew returns five senior starters from last year’s Horizon League regular-season title team. The leader of that group is 6-7 senior forward Ryan Broekhoff, who played at the Australian Institute of Sport on the same squad as UNM’s Hugh Greenwood and Cameron Bairstow in 2009.
NMSU Aggies (Dec. 15, the Pit; Dec. 19, Las Cruces)
The Aggies upset UNM in the Pit last November only to have the Lobos return the favor by 20 points six weeks later in Las Cruces. NMSU is led by sophomore guard Daniel Mullings, who came on late last year. NMSU also boasts 7-foot-5, 360-pound freshman center Sim Bhullar.
South Dakota State (Dec. 22, the Pit)
Another NCAA Tournament team from a season ago, the Jackrabbits are led by guard Nate Wolters. He was the only player in the nation last season to average more than 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game, and he opened this season with 30 points at Alabama on Friday.
Cincinnati Bearcats (Dec. 27, Cincinnati)
The Bearcats are ranked in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 and return leading scorer Sean Kilpatrick, who averaged 14.3 points per game for last season’s NCAA Tournament team.
St. Louis Billikens (Dec. 31, St. Louis)
Health concerns led head coach Rick Majerus to take this season off, but the Billikens are still expected to return to the NCAA Tournament. Senior point guard Kwamain Mitchell, who averaged 12.6 points and 3.7 assists, is expected back from injury by the time the Lobos come to town.
— This article appeared on page D2 of the Albuquerque Journal