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UNM Basketball Team in Top 25

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UNM Listed 23rd in Coaches Poll, 25th by the Media

For the third time in the past four seasons, the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team has broken into the national polls.

Thanks to a 6-0 start to the season and a Paradise Jam tournament championship win over previously ranked Connecticut last week, the Lobos were ranked No. 25 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll released Monday and No. 23 in the USA Today coaches poll

“To be six games in and in the top 25, that’s great for our program,” UNM coach Steve Alford said.

Alford thinks his team getting national exposure early in the season and beating teams from time zones east of Albuquerque helped grab the attention of national voters.

“After growing up in the midwest, I don’t think I believed it,” Alford said. “But after spending six years in the Southwest, I know there’s definitely an East Coast bias. So being able to get some wins, not just over east coast teams, but actually playing even further east than the east coast being in the Virgin Islands, I think that did help. And being on national TV, I think that always helps.”

Four of UNM’s first six games were broadcast on national cable television – Nov. 12 vs. Davidson on ESPN and each of the Lobos’ three games in the Nov. 16-19 Paradise Jam were on CBS Sports Network. Beating nationally respected programs like Davidson, George Mason and previously ranked Connecticut, also didn’t hurt.

Alford said maybe the best part about being ranked is the reality that the Lobos have not yet played their best basketball.

“If we are the 23rd best team in the country,” Alford said, “I know we can get better.”

In the coaches poll, UNM was ahead of No. 24 UCLA and No. 25 Georgetown. Fellow Mountain West schools UNLV (No. 20) and San Diego State (No. 21), both of whom already have losses, are ranked ahead of UNM. In the AP poll, San Diego State was No. 23 while UNLV checked in at No. 24. Colorado State received votes in both polls but did not crack the Top 25.

Previously ranked teams UConn, Memphis, Wisconsin and Baylor dropped out of the rankings this week, making way for UNM, Georgetown and Illinois in both polls. Colorado broke into the coaches’ poll for the first time this season and Minnesota into the AP poll.

The Lobos put their new national ranking on the line twice this week – Wednesday night at home vs. Mercer, a team the Lobos saw compete in the Paradise Jam, and Saturday at Indiana State in the Missouri Valley/Mountain West Challenge.

TOP OF MOUNTAIN: Colorado State’s Colton Iverson, a 6-foot-10 senior center, was named the Mountain West Player of the Week on Monday, the second honor of the season for the Minnesota transfer.

Iverson had back-to-back double-doubles last week in road wins over Denver and Washington. He averaged 14.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and shot 52.2 percent from the floor last week.

He also won the honor on Nov. 12.

WINNING WALKER: Former UNM assistant coach Chris Walker has his Texas Tech Red Raiders 4-0 on the season after beating Jackson State 84-75 on Monday night in Lubbock.

Walker, an assistant under Alford from 2007-09, was named interim head coach at Texas Tech before the season after the awkward parting of ways with former head coach Billy Gillespie.

With Monday’s win, Walker became just the second Texas Tech coach to start his coaching career 4-0. Pat Knight was the other after starting 9-0 in 2008.

PIT STOP: Phoenix Westwind Prep junior Zylan Cheatham, who attended Sunday’s Lobos win over Portland in the Pit with teammate and fellow class of 2014 basketball recruit Tate de Laveaga, felt the love from UNM fans.

Cheatham took to Twitter to express his appreciation to Lobos fans, tweeting, among other messages, “Man New Mexico fans are crazy I had an amazing time s/o to all of you” and “Im inspired lol can’t Wait to get back in the gym.”

The 6-foot-8 wing player told the Journal he is impressed with the recruiting efforts of Alford and UNM assistant coach Craig Neal.

Cheatham will be ranked in Scout.com’s next Top 100 recruits list for the Class of 2014, recruiting analyst Josh Gershon told the Journal.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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