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With expectations rising, NIT not OK with Lobos hoops fans

March 21, 2014.

Kendall Williams, Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow walked off the court in St. Louis for the last time as Lobos after a 58-53 NCAA Tournament loss to Stanford.

Little did fans know then that 4½ years later, that game would still be the last time the Lobos played in a postseason basketball game beyond the Mountain West tournament.

So, while expectations around Paul Weir’s second-year team seem to be riding high, an interesting tweet was posted this week that put Lobo fans in an interesting spot.

John Templeton, a sportswriter who has pretty much had the market covered on college basketball’s bracketology for the National Invitation Tournament while most of the rest of the media tries to predict the NCAA Tournament, made his first prediction of the 2018-19 season on Twitter on Thursday.

He predicted on his @nybuckets account his four No. 1 seeds for the 2019 NIT in March: The Lobos were one of the four, along with Loyola Chicago, Purdue and Louisville.

While the NCAA Tournament or bust seems to be the mind-set of most fans, after this long of a drought, wouldn’t the program be pretty happy knowing that the program at least improved enough to be considered a No. 1 seed in the NIT? After all, the No. 1 seeds in the NIT are basically the first four at-large teams left out of the Big Dance and usually ranked, depending on the computer metric, somewhere in the 30-40 range in the nation.

Would that improvement not be good enough for a Lobo program that has fallen on hard times?

Based on the always-scientific Twitter world, the answer is a clear no.

“It means settling for second-best, and if we’re going to do that now before the season even starts, why play the games at all?” wrote David Santiago in a reply to a Journal reporter.

“NCAA or bust!” wrote another fan.

Even former Lobos chimed in.

“Nah Geoff, we dancing this year #LoboGang” wrote Tim Jacobs, the former point guard from Las Cruces.

Some fans acknowledged that the NIT would be a sure sign of significant improvement, but the reality is September is no time to think about the NIT for any team, let alone one with high expectations again.

So what does UNM’s second-year head coach think? After all, one year ago at this time he was keeping the magazine industry in business buying up copies of the preseason publications that pretty much universally predicted the Lobos to finish ninth to last in the 11-team Mountain West. He was constantly reminding his team, and fans, that nobody expected them to be any good in order to build a chip on their shoulder.

Now, when his team will likely be predicted to finish second or third in the league, he’s rethinking that approach.

“Last year,” Weir said earlier this week, “based on where we were picked, when I first started going through the summer and the fall and I was emphasizing where everyone was picking us — some picking us last, some picking us second to last and all the rankings about how bad we were going to be — I started communicating that to the team, then as I started to go down that process, I started to think that maybe it was too much. And maybe that would affect our confidence. And maybe I didn’t want that to become its own self-fulfilling prophecy. … Quite honestly, that’s where I’m at now. Let’s not worry about how high we’re picked. Or necessarily how low we’re picked.”

SPECIAL VISITORS: Brendan Wenzel, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard from San Antonio, Texas, and Kasean Pryor, a 6-8 wing from Ann Arbor, Mich., are in Albuquerque this weekend on official recruiting visits with the Lobos. They are high school seniors and part of the 2019 recruiting class.

Pryor played at Robertson High School in Las Vegas until moving to Michigan last year as a high school junior.

Lobo hoops fans clearly won’t be satisfied with berth in NIT

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