Yes, Ed Johnson, this is the year. The 2012-13 New Mexico Lobos will play in the Sweet Sixteen at the Staples Center— to be known henceforth to long-suffering UNM fans as the Sixteen Chapel — in Los Angeles.
Here are 16 reasons why the Lobos will reach the Sweet Sixteen (or CLICK HERE for 16 reasons why they won’t):
1. The law of averages: The Lobos have broken this law in the Big Dance so often, they could be arrested. But it’s about time, would you not agree?
2. They’re really good: We’ll have more on this subject as we progress.
3. Doug Gottlieb says so, that’s why: In fact, Gottlieb and his CBS Sports colleague, Seth Davis, have the Lobos going to the Final Four. As sure as these guys are of themselves, how could they possibly be wrong?
4. Dick Vitale says they won’t: I have no idea how good or bad Dickie V is at predicting such things, but I find his lack of faith in the Lobos somehow comforting.
5. Defense: The Lobos rank 22nd among the NCAA’s 345 Division I men’s basketball teams in field-goal percentage defense (38.8). Only two teams in the West Regional, top-seeded Gonzaga and 16th-seeded Southern, are better in that department.
6. The weak West: Everyone seems to agree that New Mexico is a strong No. 3 seed in the tournament’s weakest region.
7. Scoring balance: Can Tony Snell keep shooting the way he did at the Mountain West Tournament? That would be awfully nice from a UNM standpoint, but if this season has taught us anything, it’s that the Lobos are not dependent on any one player. Six different players have led UNM in scoring in at least one game this year. The fact that one of the six is Demetrius Walker, who has been suspended, doesn’t bother me at all. How about you?
8. No poison Ivy: Harvard, the Lobos’ opponent in Salt Lake City on Thursday, is a tough team to figure. A victory over California and a narrow defeat to St. Mary’s, both NCAA Tournament teams, suggest Harvard could be a tough out, but look for UNM, as it has done all season, to find a way.
9. Inside, outside: The Lobos are quick where quickness is needed, big where bigness — er, size — is demanded. Opposing teams have struggled to find a weakness.
10. The Arizona Mildcats: We’ll assume for these purposes that sixth-seeded Arizona will get past 11th-seeded Belmont and face the Lobos in the round of 32, though that might prove an unwarranted assumption. This is a talented and dangerous Wildcats team, but one the Lobos can handle.
11. The faithful: Lobo fans’ joyous din all but drowned out UNLV fans in their own building during Saturday’s Mountain West Conference Tournament final. Salt Lake City ain’t Vegas, but expect Lobos fans to be loud and energetic at EnergySolutions Arena.
12. Livin’ at the line: All basketball teams, pretty much, aspire to make more free throws than their opponents attempt. The Lobos actually do it — 581 free throws made this season compared to 480 attempted by the other guy. The Lobos’ parade to the foul line hasn’t always made for pretty basketball, except on the scoreboard.
13. The karma of 16: Lobos freshman forward Nick Banyard’s birthday is the 16th of February. Sophomore point guard Hugh Greenwood once averaged exactly 16 points a game in a tournament for the Australian junior national team. A reach? Maybe, but it’s best to take karma wherever one can find it.
14. Playing with purpose: The 2012-13 Lobos are a talented team that performs above its talent level. Not many teams do that.
15. Screening with a vengeance: Gottlieb was complaining the other day via Twitter that the Lobos often are guilty of setting illegal, moving screens. Legal or illegal, few teams I’ve seen this season screen as effectively as New Mexico does.
16. Steve Alford: As I write this, the elephant in the room reminds me that I panned the hiring of Alford as UNM coach back in 2007. Wrong guy for the job, I wrote. For the wrong guy, he’s done surprisingly well. It’s truly remarkable how few missteps he and his staff have made, whether the subject is recruiting or coaching, in bringing the program to national prominence.
Now, you pitiless pachyderm, will you leave me alone?
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal