UNM Lobos to host Utah Valley in NIT game Wednesday in the Pit - Albuquerque Journal

UNM Lobos to host Utah Valley in NIT game Wednesday in the Pit

UNM Lobos, from left, Morris Udeze, Javonte Johnson, K.J. Jenkins, Jamal Mashburn, Jr., and Jaelen House will play another game in the Pit. The team was selected to host an NIT game against Utah Valley. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

It ain’t the NCAA Tournament, but the Lobos get to slip on their dancing shoes at least one more time in the Pit after all.

The Lobos earned a No. 2 seed and will host Utah Valley on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. in the Pit in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament — the 32-team event that was announced late Sunday following the sport’s main event 68-team NCAA Tournament field was announced. The game will be streamed online on ESPN-plus.

The invitation ends a nine-year hiatus from postseason play — the longest such drought in the nearly 60-year modern era of Lobos basketball (the Pit era) — for a program that two years ago beat just four Division I teams and finished 303 in the NET rankings.

Utah Valley finished 25-8 this season and was an automatic qualifier into the NIT field as the regular season champion of the Western Athletic Conference. Coached by former Stanford star and NBA player Mark Madsen, the Wolverines from Orem, Utah, lost in Friday’s semifinal round of the WAC Tournament to Southern Utah, a team UNM beat in the Nov. 7 season opener.

The Wolverines are led in scoring by Le’Tre Darthard (14.2 points per game) and Trey Woodbury (13.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists). Their best win of the season was at Oregon on Dec. 20.

They are rated No. 138 in offensive efficiency and 39th in defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com. The Lobos are 20th nationally in offense and 111th in defense.

This season, the Lobos finished 22-11 (the first time reaching 20 wins since 2014), had a NET ranking of 52 and saw its average home attendance rise by more than 30 percent over last season.

The Lobos this season went 5-6 against teams playing in the NCAA Tournament, but faltered down the stretch and lost Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Tournament to Utah State, one of four teams the league sent to the Big Dance.

The Lobos have a 18-20 record all-time in the NIT, but haven’t played in the event since 2011 when it won a first-round game in the Pit vs. UTEP and then lost a road game to Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

UNM’s first appearance in the NIT was in 1964 when Bob King’s Lobos went 2-1 — beating Drake and NYU in New York before falling to Bradley in the championship game.

That 1964 runner-up finish was the Lobos’ best in the NIT with a semifinal showing in 1990 and six quarterfinal appearances, the most recent being 2001.

Pitino, in his first season coaching Minnesota, won five games and the NIT Championship in 2014.

The NIT, run by the NCAA, is structured to have the better-seeded team (higher or lower, depending on your perspective) host games the first three rounds with the semifinal and championship rounds being at a central, predetermined location that is no longer Madison Square Garden in New York City. This year, the NIT’s semifinals and championship are March 28-30 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev.

The winner of the UNM/UVU game will play the winner of the No. 3 Colorado vs. Seton Hall game being played Tuesday night in Boulder.

UNM can host Round 1 and 2 games in the Pit, but cannot host a Round 3 game in the Pit due to prior obligations with the PBR’s annual bull riding stop in Albuquerque that takes place in the arena. It is not yet determined if UNM, should it be in a position to host a Round 3 game, would “host” the game at a different local venue or where it would be played.

WOMEN: The University of New Mexico also learned Sunday that it has received a Women’s NIT bid. All other details on that bracket, including opponent, time and place, will be released on Monday.

TICKET INFO: Single-game tickets for the men’s game are on sale at GoLobos.com/tickets.

Lobo season ticket holders will have the seats they sat in all season reserved for Wednesday’s game until 10 a.m. on game day. They must log in to purchase those tickets by then or their seats will go on sale to the general public at that time.

Ticket pricing for the NIT is as follows:

  • $15 – bench seating
  • $25 – chairback seats
  • $35 – Lobo Level and club seats

UNM students can get in for free and sit in the UNM student section (UNM Athletics is covering the costs of all student tickets “as a thank you for showing up all season long,” it said in a release). UNM students wanting to buy tickets for non-students will have to pay $10 and those tickets are still for the student section.

NO HEELS: The North Carolina Tar Heels — last season’s national runner-up who opened this season as the preseason Associated Press No. 1 team — declined their spot in the NIT.

It is, after all, an invitational.

UNC, which finished 20-13 overall and 11-9 in the ACC, good for 7th place, would have been a No. 1 seed in the NIT as the top four seeds were awarded to the “First Four Out” teams, as seeded by the NCAA Selection Committee.

Those four were, in order, Oklahoma State, Rutgers, UNC and Clemson.

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