Dates set for UNM/NMSU hoops series; Lobos release entire schedule

New Mexico State forward Johnny McCants dunks in the Pit in December 2017. McCants and the Aggies will play in the Pit in December as part of this season’s Rio Grande Rivalry series. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

It’s a date. Two of them, actually.

And this time, it’s in writing.

On the eve of the renewal of the football edition of the Rio Grande Rivalry being played Saturday in Albuquerque, the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State announced Friday they finally had settled on dates for this season’s men’s basketball home-and-home series.

The football and men’s basketball rivalry series had each been played every year since 1945 (World War II) until the pandemic forced them off the schedule in the 2020-21 season.

UNM, under first year head coach Richard Pitino, will host the Aggies in the Pit on Monday, Dec. 6. That is one week after NMSU, under fifth-year head coach Chris Jans, hosts the Lobos in the Pan American Center on Tuesday, Nov. 30.

Minus the dates for the NMSU games, the Journal published the entire nonconference schedule for the UNM Lobo men’s basketball team in late July based on reviewing public records of the game contracts.

The game in Albuquerque is not the Saturday, Nov. 20 date, the two schools originally verbally agreed to play on. NMSU had to back out of that original date.

UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez has made clear he wanted to ensure the Albuquerque portion of the rivalry would be played on a weekend, as both schools had agreed to previously, as that provides the possibility of the best attendance.

Generally speaking, weeknight games limit the likelihood of out of town fans from both schools coming to the game as well as forcing some fans to opt out due to work or school early the next morning.

After the two schools verbally agreed to the dates early in the offseason, the Western Athletic Conference opted to admit several new members into the league this season, leading to conference games starting the last week of December unlike years past.

NMSU was already contractually tied in to play in the ESPN-owned Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, which ends on Christmas Day and would lead the Aggies to be traveling back from the islands at the same time they are supposed to play their league opener.

So, NMSU backed out of the Diamond Head Classic, but was still under contract to play in an ESPN tournament. ESPN placed the Aggies in the Nov. 18-21 Myrtle Beach Invitational in Conway, S.C., meaning the Nov. 20 Saturday night game in Albuquerque could not be played.

NMSU AD Mario Moccia acknowledged the scheduling issue stemmed from something caused by their conference and was no fault of UNM’s, but also noted there was little he could do as the Aggies were already under contract for the ESPN tournament.

“Obviously both sides want to play this rivalry, and I know UNM wanted this game to be played on a weekend, which isn’t happening through no fault of their own,” Moccia said. “What I would encourage our guys to do moving forward on our end is to schedule this game — this series — first and foremost every year with the UTEP (rivalry) series getting set right after that. Get those dates down and in writing and then build the rest of the schedule around that.”

Both schools had reached out to UTEP in recent months to see if moving games with the Miners — UTEP has one game against UNM and two against NMSU — could help get the UNM/NMSU game back on a weekend. It didn’t work.

2021-22 Lobo men’s basketball schedule

• Nov. 5: )D-II) New Mexico Highlands – Exhibition (the Pit)
• Nov. 10: vs. Florida Atlantic (the Pit)
• Nov. 13: at Colorado (Boulder, Colo.)
• Nov. 15: vs. Grambling State (the Pit)
• Nov. 20: vs. Montana State (the Pit)
• Nov. 22: vs. (D-II) Western New Mexico (the Pit)
• Nov. 25: vs. Alabama Birmingham (Las Vegas Classic at Orleans)
• Nov. 26: vs. TBD (Las Vegas Classic at Orleans)
• Nov. 30: at New Mexico State (Pan American Center/Las Cruces)
• Dec. 6: vs. New Mexico State (the Pit)
• Dec. 9: vs. Denver (the Pit)
• Dec. 12: vs. UTEP (the Pit)
• Dec. 19: vs. SMU (the Pit)
• Dec. 21: vs. Norfolk State (the Pit)
Mountain West schedule
(Mountain West games subject to a one-day change depending on television broadcast decisions yet to be finalized)
• Dec. 28: vs. Colorado State (the Pit)
• Jan. 1: at Nevada (Reno)
• Jan. 8: vs. Utah State (the Pit)
• Jan. 11: at UNLV (Las Vegas, Nev.)
• Jan. 15: vs. San Diego State (the Pit)
• Jan. 18: at Colorado State (Fort Collins, Colo.)
• Jan. 22: at Wyoming (Laramie, Wyo.)
• Jan. 25: vs. Fresno State (the Pit)
• Jan. 29: vs. San Jose State (the Pit)
• Feb. 1: at San Diego State (San Diego, Calif.)
• Feb. 5: at Air Force (U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo.)
• Feb. 8: Boise State (the Pit)
• Feb. 15: vs. Wyoming (the Pit)
• Feb. 19: at San Jose State (San Jose, Calif.)
• Feb. 22: at Utah State (Logan, Utah)
• Feb. 26: vs. Air Force (the Pit)
• March 1: at Fresno State (Fresno, Calif.)
• March 5: vs. UNLV (the Pit)
• March 9-12: Mountain West Tournament (Las Vegas, Nev.)

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