ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — While the New Mexico Lobos are still trying to finalize its 2013-14 men’s basketball schedule, one of their already intriguing non-conference games got a lot more interesting on Tuesday.
Andrew Wiggins, considered by some to be the the highest-rated prep recruit since LeBron James, announced on Tuesday he would be attending Kansas next season, spurning other finalists Kentucky, Florida State and North Carolina.
UNM and Kansas play each other Dec. 14 in Kansas City, Mo., a game considered a Kansas home game and one the Jayhawks are selling tickets for as part of their season ticket packages. (NOTE: An earlier version of this article reported this game was deemed a neutral court game by the NCAA, but that is incorrect. It is a Kansas home game/UNM road game).
While many fans will be paying top dollar to see Kansas games next season to catch a glimpse of Wiggins before his expected future stardom in the NBA, the Lobos are actually getting paid $90,000 to play the game by the Jayhawks.
Tuesday, UNM head coach Craig Neal said the Lobos are close to finalizing another couple of home games to fill out the program’s 15 or 16 game home slate of games for the 2013-14 season.
Neal said the Lobos are close to deals with San Diego and New Orleans for games in the Pit, which would be the 13th and 14th home games on the schedule if you count the expected, though yet unsigned deal to host a game in the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon to start the season.
“Hopefully the San Diego (game) will be done in the next couple of days,” Neal said.
UNM already has commitments for 15 games outside of the Pit (11 road games, four neutral court games).
The Lobos continue, according to Neal, to have issues getting quality opponents to agree to play in Albuquerque, especially with the team he has returning next season coming off a 29-win campaign that was ranked in the Top 10 in the nation in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll.
“Not a lot of people want to come here with the team we have coming back,” Neal said. “But we’ve got some games going. We did get the Marquette game in Vegas, we’ve got Kansas, I’m working on the marathon game, they just haven’t given me a team we’re gonna play, so then if they give me a team I don’t like, I don’t have to play the game.”
UNM would like to get to 16 home games, but can only do so if a team participating with the Lobos in the Charleston (S.C.) Classic exempt tournament in November agrees to play in the Pit within 14 days of that event. In that scenario the NCAA allows for teams to play 31 regular season games.
Along those lines, UNM is in talks with Nebraska and the University of Alabama-Birmingham, both Charleston Classic participants.
The final home game could be played with Wisconsin-Green Bay or Loyola Marymount, according to Neal.
The tentative UNM’s 2013-14 schedule, with most dates still pending, looks like this:
Non-conference (12 or 13 games)
- • TBD – The Pit – ESPN Tip-Off marathon game (opponent TBD)
• Nov. 21-24 – Charleston, S.C. – Charleston Classic (Day 1)
• Nov. 21-24 – Charleston, S.C. – Charleston Classic (Day 2)
• Nov. 21-24 – Charleston, S.C. – Charleston Classic (Day 3)
• TBD (if within 14 days of Charleston Classic, vs. a team in that event) – The Pit – (ongoing talks with Nebraska and Alabama-Birmingham)
• TBD – The Pit – vs. New Mexico State
• TBD – Pan American Center (Las Cruces) – at New Mexico State
• Dec. 14 – Kansas City, Mo. – vs. Kansas
• Dec. 21 – Las Vegas, Nev. – vs. Marquette
• TBD – The Pit – vs. Cincinnati Bearcats
• TBD – The Pit – TBD (expected to be San Diego)
• TBD – The Pit – TBD (expected to be New Orleans)
• TBD – The Pit – TBD (among teams being talked with are Loyola Marymount or Wisconsin-Green Bay)
Mountain West (18 games)
- • 9 home games in the Pit (teams TBD)
• 9 road games (teams TBD)
NOTE: With 11 Mountain West teams and an 18-game league schedule, every league member will play eight schools home and on the road and play two opponents only once — one being a road game, one being a home game. The Mountain West has not yet determined the schedule.
TIGHT SCHEDULE: The Lobos have very little room to work with in terms of non-conference scheduling. With an 18-game league schedule, the Lobos are left with 12 non-conference games to schedule every season, 13 if they get a one-game exempt game approved by the NCAA each season.
Two of those games are locked up each year with New Mexico State. For the next four seasons, three more games a season are eaten up by participating in ESPN-owned non-exempt tournaments. That leaves UNM with seven games to schedule in the non-conference.
For budgeting purposes, UNM shoots for 15 or 16 home games a season. Nine of those are Mountain West games and a 10th is vs. NMSU. The other five or six home games have to come out of a window of seven or eight available non-conference games (eight if they get granted an exemption to play a 31st game each season).
That leaves UNM with only two non-conference spots per season to get either neutral court games (like the one they have this season with Marquette) or to play true road games, like the one they play against Kansas this season or the one they will do in 2014-15 with Valparaiso to honor a contract that had the Crusaders play in Albuquerque this past season.
Home and home contracts with teams like St. Louis, Southern California or Cincinnati, as the Lobos have had in recent years, requires UNM to play a road game there every other year and the program simply doesn’t have much flexibility to do so, which could hamper getting the much coveted home-and-home regional rivalry with the Arizona Wildcats re-established or locking up future home-and-home series with other big conference teams.