Lobo hoops notebook: Non-conference schedule is done; Mathis off to NBA Summer League

Lobo men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino looks on as Jordan Arroyo dribbles in a drill in April at the Rudy Davalos practice facility at UNM. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

The Bobcats are coming to the Pit.

It isn’t exactly the start of regional home-and-home series with a high-profile team the New Mexico Lobos wanted, but for now, it’ll do.

The UNM men’s basketball team has completed its non-conference scheduling after recently signing a contract to host Big Sky member Montana State in the Pit on Nov. 20.

Technically, two games remain to be finalized as the re-scheduled dates have not yet been agreed upon between the Lobos and New Mexico State Aggies, but after the pandemic led to that series not being played last season for the first time since World War II, neither school is going to be able to justify finding a way to skip those games this coming season.

The hang-up there, for now, stems from NMSU entering the Nov. 18-21 Myrtle Beach Invitational after the rivalry game dates with UNM had already been agreed upon and the Lobos having since filled spots on the calendar with other non-conference games.

The Journal reported earlier this month the schedule was 12 of 13 games completed, with new head coach Richard Pitino holding out hope that a home-and-home series with the Lobos starting on the road could be found — which ideally would bring a strong mid- or high-major program back to the Pit next season.

With the Lobos’ six-win 2020-21 campaign and a dismal 303 NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) ranking out of 347 Division I programs that played last season, UNM ran into several roadblocks trying to schedule schools from power conferences that simply weren’t interested in hurting their computer ratings by playing a team that carried such a low rating itself.

UNM will play nine home games, two road games (at Pac-12 Colorado and at NMSU) and two neutral-site games on Nov. 25-26 in the Las Vegas (Nev.) Classic at the Orleans.

Montana State finished 13-10 last season, fourth in the Big Sky. Third-year coach Danny Sprinkle’s Bobcats had an NET rating last season of 212 and a 207 ranking on KenPom.com.

UNM will pay Montana State $75,000 to play the game, bringing its total payout to $370,000 to teams coming to the Pit this non-conference season. Five games cost UNM between $70,000-$75,000, one game with Division II Western New Mexico University will cost UNM $5,000 and three of UNM’s home games are part of home-and-home series with no payouts (UTEP, NMSU and SMU).

WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE: The 2021-22 Lobo men’s basketball schedule as we know it today:
• Nov. 10 vs. Florida Atlantic
• Nov. 13 at Colorado
• Nov. 15 vs. Grambling State
• Nov. 20 vs. Montana State
• Nov. 22 vs. (D-II) Western New Mexico
• Nov. 25-26 at Las Vegas Classic (field of UNM, Alabama-Birmingham, San Francisco and Towson)
• Dec. 9 vs. Denver
• Dec. 12 vs. UTEP
• Dec. 19 vs. SMU
• Dec. 21 vs. Norfolk State
• TBD at New Mexico State
• TBD vs. New Mexico State

DO I KNOW YOU? Montana State and UNM have only played one time — a Dec. 20, 2011 Lobos blowout (91-46) in the Pit in which a sophomore guard named Tony Snell had a game-high 24 points (21 in the first half) and hit six 3-pointers.

NO MORE TBT: There are no more TBT (The Basketball Tournament) player connections remaining for the UNM Lobos or NMSU Aggies among the final eight teams in the $1 million winner-take-all tournament.

Former Lobo Anthony Mathis had qualified for the event’s “33-point” 3-point contest (first to hit 11 3s for a 33-point score was the setup that explained the name), which will be aired on ESPN on Sunday with the winner set to get $33,333.

But Mathis confirmed to the Journal on Wednesday he will instead be reporting to San Antonio for NBA Summer League obligations with the San Antonio Spurs. Mathis played for the Spurs’ G-League Austin Spurs last season and is hopeful to earn at least a spot as a “two-way” contract player for the Spurs this season, on a contract awarded to players who split time between the NBA and G-League.

NO MEDIA DAY: While the Mountain West had its football media days event last week in Las Vegas, there will be no such gathering for basketball (men’s or women’s) — meaning no in-person interviews with Pitino, Steve Alford, Brian Dutcher or any of the league’s coaches or players.

Instead, the league has opted to stick with the virtual media event it used a year ago, which was forced by COVID-19 restrictions.

Javan Hedlund, the league’s Associated Commissioner for External Communications, said in an email there was no negative feedback from coaches when told they would do the event virtually this season and added, “the lack of media attendance (at past media day events) and the challenge of taking the student-athletes out of class were also taken into consideration.”

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