LAS VEGAS, Nev. — And now, Season 4.
The New Mexico Lobos ripped through their toughest nonconference schedule, what they refer to as Season 1, in program history with a 13-2 record.
They tore through the Mountain West portion of their schedule with a 13-3 record and wrapped up their fourth regular-season title in five seasons in what they called Season 2.
Saturday night, they wrapped up Season 3, the Mountain West tournament, here with three wins and a second consecutive league title.
Season 4 represents the NCAA Tournament, college basketball’s biggest event and one that has represented for the Lobos a huge hurdle — no appearances in the Sweet 16 in the expanded field.
“We’ve not mentioned it,” UNM head coach Steve Alford said of the Sweet 16. “We’ve mentioned advancing in this tournament. We’ve talked briefly here in the last two weeks because of seeding, because the last two games of the season we were not playing for anything but seeding. …
“We’ve only talked about getting the best seed possible.”
UNM already knows it will be playing in its 14th NCAA Tournament and third in the past four seasons, but now the Lobos wait to see where they’ll be seeded.
Today, they learn where they’ll be playing, who they’ll be playing and what seed they’ll get in the Big Dance during the nationally televised “NCAA Selection Show” on CBS, which will be broadcasting live from the Pit for a portion of the show.
Fans are invited to join the party from 3-6 p.m. in the Pit. The selection show will air from 4-5 p.m.
“I think we deserve a 2 seed or higher because we definitely proved ourselves all year,” UNM junior guard Tony Snell said.
Without saying how far he’d like to advance, UNM junior forward Cameron Bairstow echoed his coaches’ wishes.
“The first three seasons have already been successful,” he said, “so it’s just up to us to continue into Season 4.”
Three major bracket projection websites had the Lobos among the top three seeds late Saturday night. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had them as a No. 3 seed. Andy Glockner (Sports Illustrated) and Jerry Palm (CBS Sports) had UNM as a No. 2 seed.
Alford said he hopes his team’s body of work is rewarded, maybe even as a No. 1 seed.
“We haven’t won the 10th best league, the 10th best tournament,” Alford said. “We’ve won the No. 1 or No. 2 league in the country by two games. We’ve won the conference tournament, as well. That’s deserving of at least being in a lot of discussions for those (top) seeds.”
The Lobos have 19 top-100 RPI wins (all in the top 80 of the RPI, according to CBSSports.com’s RPI replication), and 10 wins against RPI top-50 teams. They have 14 wins away from the Pit — nine true road wins and five neutral court wins.
Most bracket projections have the Mountain West getting four teams in: UNM, UNLV, San Diego State and Colorado State. But Boise State is on the dreaded “bubble” — a spot reserved for teams that may get in or may get left out.
“I don’t think Boise State should be a bubble team,” Alford said. “Boise State should be in the NCAA Tournament.”
Dave Rice, UNLV’s head coach, said this is the year the Mountain West has to make a strong NCAA showing.
“As a league, coaches, we understand we need to have postseason success,” Rice said. “We should have good seeds and have an opportunity to go on and have good success in the tournament. It’s a wide-open NCAA Tournament this year.”
— This article appeared on page D2 of the Albuquerque Journal