MWC releases hoops schedule; Nevada returns to Pit for first time in two years

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Paul Weir waves to the student section after the Lobos’ victory against Colorado State on Jan. 27. Weir is excited for the Lobos to play host to league favorite Nevada in a Mountain West Conference game on Jan. 5 in Dreamstyle Arena.

728 days.

But who’s counting?

The Mountain West Conference on Monday released its 2018-19 men’s and women’s conference basketball schedules — nine league home games, nine on the road — and gave Lobo fans a thrilling opening-week rematch, of sorts, that could garner at least a little bit of national attention.

On Jan. 5 in Dreamstyle Arena – the Pit, the second game of the conference portion of the schedule, defending league champion Nevada will return to Albuquerque for the first time since its historic comeback victory on Jan. 7, 2017, that made national news and helped send the two programs, or at least the confidence their two fanbases had in their programs, in very different directions.

Now, based on a roster full of returning starters, a plethora of talented Division I transfers and the recent signing of McDonald’s All-American high school star Jordan Brown, the Wolf Pack is expected to be a preseason Top 10 team in the nation.

“It was too bad that last season our fans missed out on seeing MW champion Nevada in the Pit,” Lobos coach Paul Weir said. “Thankfully our league scheduled them this season and they can come to see a remarkable program play the Lobos. It is an amazing opportunity to watch a national contender here in Albuquerque that unfortunately doesn’t come along as often as it used too.”

Should the Wolf Pack indeed be ranked in the Top 10 when they return to Albuquerque this coming season, it would be the first top 10 opponent to play in Albuquerque since San Diego State was No. 6 when it lost to the Lobos, 58-44, in front of a sold out Pit crowd of 15,411 on Feb. 22, 2014. There have been just three Pit sellouts since that 2014 game.

Aside from that, there’s the memory — painful though it may be for some Lobo fans — of that last Nevada game in Albuquerque that might pique some interest, too.

In that game, the Lobos held a 25-point lead with under 11 minutes remaining in the game in the Pit. The statistics-based website KenPom.com listed Nevada’s win probability in that game at 0.0 percent when, with 1:16 left in the game, the Lobos still held a 14-point lead.

Powered by a barrage of Marcus Marshall circus 3-pointers in the final minute and a Lobo opponent Pit scoring record 45 points from Jordan Caroline, who is still playing for Nevada, the Wolf Pack won 105-104 in overtime.

Now, Nevada is the clear favorite in the league, but there is growing buzz around the Lobos again. Weir’s team, picked ninth in the preseason a year ago, took a depleted roster to a third-place finish in the league last season and an appearance in the MWC Tournament championship game. The roster now boasts the addition of three former highly touted former Power 5 Conference transfers and several junior college players to a core of four returning players from last season.

UNM will open MWC play at Air Force on Jan. 2, opening with the Falcons for the second year in a row.

Due to the 11-team league’s unbalanced 18-game schedule, every team plays eight league foes at home and on the road while playing one team only on the road and another team only at home. This season, the Lobos will not get to host Air Force and won’t play a road game at Boise State’s Taco Bell Arena.

Last year, UNM benefited statistically the most from the unbalanced schedule, avoiding a home game against league champion Nevada and avoiding a road game at league tournament champion San Diego State.

As for those Aztecs, the Lobos play at Viejas Arena on Jan. 16 and host their rivals in the Pit on Feb. 6.

UNM’s two bye slots in the schedule will come Jan. 30 and Feb. 23.

Senior night will be March 6 vs. Boise State and the final game will be on the road at Wyoming on March 9. The conference tournament is March 13-16 in Las Vegas, Nev.

Game times and broadcast information has not yet been announced. Television could change the dates of some games by one day (i.e. move a Wednesday game to a Tuesday night slot if being televised or a Saturday game to a Sunday).

UNM has not yet finalized its non-conference schedule.

Jan. 2 — at Air Force Jan. 5 — vs. Nevada Jan. 9 — vs. UNLV Jan. 12 — at Colorado State Jan. 16 — at San Diego State Jan. 19 — vs. Wyoming Jan. 23 — at UNLV Jan. 26 — vs. Utah State Jan. 30 — BYE Feb. 2 — at Fresno State Feb. 6 — vs. San Diego State Feb. 9 — at Nevada Feb. 13 — vs. San Jose State Feb. 16 — vs. Fresno State Feb. 20 — at Utah State Feb. 23 — BYE Feb. 27 — at San Jose State March 2 — vs. Colorado State March 6 — Boise State March 9 — at Wyoming

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