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Lobo Schedule More Challenging

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11 Teams Finished In RPI Top 100

If Steve Alford’s Lobos tear through their nonconference schedule this season, the sixth-year head coach may not have to deal with questions in March about whether his team is worthy of an NCAA Tournament invitation.

The University of New Mexico on Tuesday released the Lobos 2012-13 men’s basketball schedule, and it features at least seven nonconference games against teams that finished last year in the top 100 of the RPI rankings – a metric geared at ranking teams based not only on winning, but on beating quality teams. Depending on how things play out in the Nov. 16-19 Paradise Jam tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Lobos could face two more RPI Top 100 teams, all before New Year’s.

Throw in a league schedule that features another five Mountain West teams that also finished in the RPI Top 100 a season ago and the Lobos have enough schedule strength to quiet most critics of what has traditionally been considered a rather nonchallenging schedule.

UNM, for the record, finished last year ranked No. 27 in the RPI according to ncaa.org.

This year’s Lobos could play a total of 19 games against teams that finished in the RPI Top 100 and at least 12 games against teams that played in last year’s NCAA Tournament. Last year’s schedule featured just 11 games against teams that finished the previous season in the RPI Top 100.

Of course they still have to win, but at least on paper this year’s schedule shapes up to be one of the more challenging in recent memory, even if the names of the programs aren’t ones the nonhard-core fans would recognize.

Entering last year, UNM had on its schedule just eight opponents that had finished the previous season in the RPI Top 100 – five in nonconference and three in league play – and just three opponents that played in the previous season’s NCAA Tournament.

After two exhibition games in the Pit on Oct. 31 and Nov. 5, the Lobos open the regular season Nov. 12 at the Pit with an 11:59 p.m. tipoff for a nationally televised ESPN game against last year’s Southern Conference champion Davidson, which won 25 games and played in the NCAA Tournament. That game will be a part of ESPN’s “24 Hours of College Basketball.”

From there, the Lobos travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands for three games in the Paradise Jam tournament with a field that includes three teams that finished in last year’s RPI 100 – George Mason, Iona and 2011 NCAA champion Connecticut.

Other teams on UNM’s schedule that played in last year’s NCAA Tournament include South Dakota State, Cincinnati, Saint Louis and two games each against New Mexico State, Colorado State, San Diego State and UNLV.

The rival Aggies will visit the Pit on Dec. 15, and the Lobos turn around and play the Aggies in Las Cruces four days later Dec. 19.

A tough road trip to close out 2012 features a Dec. 27 game at Cincinnati (26-11 last year) and a Dec. 31 showdown with former Lobos nemesis Rick Majerus and his Saint Louis Billikens (26-8 last year).

Mountain West play tips off Jan. 9 with UNLV, with the conference tournament being played March 13-16 in Las Vegas, Nev.

UNM’s schedule features 15 televised games – some nationally, others available on regional sports packages.

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