ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — ST. LOUIS – We may not be in Kansas, anymore, but it seems as if everyone from Kansas was in or around the Scottrade Center on Thursday.
Of the eight teams playing this weekend in St. Louis, three are from the state of Kansas, including Midwest Region No. 1 seed Wichita State and No. 9 seed Kansas State as well as South Region No. 2 seed Kansas, the possible round of 32 opponent for the New Mexico Lobos.
Kansas and New Mexico are the only two states with each of its Division I programs playing in the Big Dance (Nebraska is close as Omaha is in a D-I transitional phase and plays in the D-I Summit League, though was not eligible this season for the tournament).
“I think as a state we all – Jayhawk, Shocker, Wildcat faithful – should all be very proud in a state that’s not populated by many can have the three Division I institutions all represented here,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
For the Land of Enchantment, this marks the third-consecutive season both D-I programs have played in the NCAA Tournament.
HELLO FRIENDS: After the Lobos opened practice Thursday, UNM coach Criag Neal walked over to CBS play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz and presented him with a bag of baby gear. Nantz welcomed baby daughter Finley into the world March 14.
“It was a great gesture,” Nantz said of the gifts that included Lobo onesies and baby blankets. “And now I’m trying somehow to transition from our March Miracle into this March Madness.”
AGGIE MEMORIES: Turner/CBS analyst Greg Anthony, whose wife is expecting a baby girl any day, has plenty of college hoops memories from New Mexico, but not so much with the Lobos.
As a member of the 1990 national champion UNLV Runnin’ Rebels team that knocked off Duke in the title game, Anthony and his teammates lost to the New Mexico State Aggies that season in Las Cruces.
“Of course I remember that,” Anthony said. “Neil McCarthy had some great teams then. People forget, they had future pros on that team, too. They were always tough.”
Of course the Rebels later wiped the floor with the Aggies in a rematch in Las Vegas, Nev., but in Las Cruces, the memory from that season seems to be the win in the Pan American Center.
“They always had a confidence to them that they could beat us,” Anthony said. “Not everybody had that when we played them.”
MORE ANTHONY: Anthony, who was roommates with current UNLV coach Dave Rice on that 1990 UNLV team, said he’d decline commenting on the current state of affairs of the Rebels program, other than to say Rice is still a close friend and he’s hopeful for the program’s future.
MISTAKEN IDENTITY, AGAIN: An article posted Wednesday on ESPN.com included a large image and link to a video breakdown of New Mexico State. The headline read, “Lobos hope to learn from mistakes.” In the past two weeks there have been at least a dozen instances from national media outlets mistaking UNM for NMSU or the other way around, errors that led UNM to remind them of the difference.
HALF WAY THERE: The Lobos will take any good signs they can get this week and on Thursday, they got two.
In the season-long coaches vs. players halfcourt shot contest at the end of every practice the day before a game, Craig Neal on Thursday hit a halfcourt shot on his first try. The Lobos then turned to the other basket on the other end of the court and, again on his first attempt, Neal sank the halfcourt shot to the loud cheers of fans — UNM’s and others — in the Scottrade Center.
Last year in Salt Lake City, the Lobo players won the halfcourt shot contest before the Harvard loss.