LAS VEGAS, Nev. — In case you missed it, Richard Pitino seems to like the Pit.
He has spoken often, including after his team’s Mountain West Tournament loss to Nevada on Wednesday, about his appreciation of the fans making the Pit such a tough place to play. He’s also said there is a responsibility by him and his program to do their part in making it the Pit of old once again.
In November, UNM will start by bringing back, for one season, at least, a popular Pit tradition.
The Journal has learned UNM will host November 25-27 a four-team basketball event with each team playing the other (it won’t be a bracketed tournament format). Most every other detail, such as teams involved, television broadcast rights, even the name, have yet to be determined.
UNM’s men’s basketball team hosted at least one and as many as three home tournaments every year from the 1965-66 season — the season before the Pit opened its doors — until the 2007-08. At least one of the home-arena events each year from 1965-2007 was dubbed the “Lobo Invitational” and at one point brought in some top-level programs.
The Lobo Invitational’s last occurrence on the men’s side was in the 2006-07 season, and in the 2007-08 season UNM hosted an event called the Basketball Travelers Invitational.
The NCAA allows 28 games each season with the 28th game allowed to be either a single game or an exempt multi-team event (MTE) that can include as many as three games, allowing a team’s total number of regular season games to reach 30.
The new UNM event will be handed over to the Gazelle Group, a company specializing in running such nonconference MTEs. For the Lobos, it means no November tourney in Las Vegas, Nevada, Brooklyn, New York, the Virgin Islands or Hawaii, where they have participated in such events over the past decade.
It is uncommon for teams to host these events since they became big business for traveling fans and teams in resort towns over the past 15-20 years. But fellow Mountain West member San Diego State has hosted one, and this season, Duke hosted one also run by Gazelle.
This past season, UNM’s two games in the Las Vegas Classic, played in the Orleans Hotel & Casino (losses to UAB and Towson), were part of an MTE run by Basketball, Promotions & Events LLC.
If Mountain West television partners CBS Sports of Fox Sports don’t pick up the UNM tournament, something the league will assist in trying to arrange, then UNM will pursue other television opportunities.
The 2022-23 nonconference schedule for the Lobos will include at least 12 games, of which we know will include: Three games in the new UNM event in November, a home-and-home series with New Mexico State, and a game at SMU as the second part of a two-year series that brought the Mustangs to the Pit this past season.