Predicting the Lobos’ Postseason Chances
A talented roster looks to bring success in Weir’s third year
Will New Mexico find its way past the first weekend of March?
The 2020 Mountain West Men’s basketball tournament will be played from Wednesday March 4 to Saturday March 7, 2020. In a presumed one-bid league, conference opponents will be battling it out for the tournament crown to secure their only shot at the NCAA tournament – an automatic bid.
If you’re Utah State, there is a lot in your favor and, while nothing is guaranteed especially when making preseason speculations, an at-large bid is expected.
If you’re the Lobos, or anyone else in the Mountain West Conference, you’re far more likely to need to win the Las Vegas-based tournament. But to its merit, New Mexico has at least one prominent voice on its side when it comes to the tournament.
In a video with a few quick-hitting points and predictions for the Mountain West Conference, Andy Katz predicts New Mexico beating Utah State in the Mountain West Tournament final as his “bold pick”.
Of course, needing to win the tournament is less than ideal for any team wishing to find its way back to March Madness, and this is no different for the Lobos.
Much is expected in 2019-20, and rightly so. In year three for Paul Weir, the Lobos have assembled a roster that should allow them to be competitive with any other team in the Mountain West, and perhaps the country.
Returning a respectable 64.8% of its minutes and adding an influx of additional transfer talent in JaQuan Lyle (Ohio State), JJ Caldwell (Texas A&M), Zane Martin (Towson) and Vante Hendrix (Utah, eligible in December), the Lobos are in good position to finish in the top half of the league.
But does New Mexico have any reasonable chance at an at-large bid?
After all, having a loaded roster is only half the battle.
While the talent in Albuquerque is generally not debated, concerns regarding how well the team will play together, and if the Lobos’ schedule is sufficient to attain a prized at-large bid come March certainly exist.
The question is, are there enough opportunities for an at-large bid?
While there a few games on the schedule that can polish said schedule and boost NET ratings, there are more than enough opportunities for losses coming from opponents that, more than likely, will not be in the upper two quadrants in the NCAA’s NET ranking system.
Games against Auburn then either Wisconsin or Richmond in the Legends Classic are good potential resume builders and the Lobos have two good opportunities with New Mexico State as well as a few games against the upper half of the conference, but losses against teams like McNeese State, Montana, or any of the bottom of the conference could spell doom for New Mexico’s chance at the NCAA tournament. This is a team that had expectations of the postseason in ’18-19 but struggled to be consistently competitive.
And if last year’s NCAA Tournament at-large bids are any indication, there is not a whole lot of wiggle room to go through growing pains with the schedule that Paul Weir and his staff have assembled.
New Mexico has nine projected games that could be categorized in either the quadrant 1 or quadrant 2 categories.
If we compare these numbers to the total number of quadrant 1 and quadrant 2 games of the four number one seeds and the last four at-large bids in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, we can get a rough idea of the what it takes to make it into the tournament and what it takes to be a highly seeded team.
The top four seeds (Virginia, Gonzaga, Duke and North Carolina) had a combined average of 19 quadrant 1 and quadrant 2 games played and a combined win/loss ratio of 77.6% in such games.
Let’s be clear. While the Lobos could be good, this is probably not the year New Mexico gets a one seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Now that we got that out of the way. . .
The last four in (Belmont, Arizona State, Temple and St. John’s) had a combined average of 15 quadrant 1 and quadrant 2 games played and a combined win/loss ratio of 55.7% in such games.
Now, this is a little more reasonable.
Still, of the last four in on the 2019 tournament, only Belmont had a similar number of quadrant 1 and quadrant 2 games played to New Mexico’s nine projected quadrant 1 and 2 games. The Bruins played eight combined quadrant 1 and quadrant 2 games. Of the rest of the eight teams that were compared (the four number one seeds and last four in), Gonzaga had the next fewest number of opportunities with 13 quadrant 1 and 2 games played.
Because New Mexico has a schedule that looks similar in strength to the ’18-19 Bruins, we can take a closer look at Belmont’s schedule to get a vague idea of what the Lobos need to do to secure a berth in ’19-20, assuming all other things equal.
Teams on the bubble last year that got an at-large bid generally took care of business when it came to quadrant four games, leaving virtually no room for a loss to a quadrant 4 team. Belmont epitomized this.
So no losses to San Jose State this year. *Ahem*.
I expect New Mexico will undergo a few hiccups early in the season and will hover around the bubble for much of the year. This team does have a chance at an at-large bid with just enough opportunities to make a few statements, even if not many.
But many things have to go right for that to happen, including some that are out of the team’s control (looking at you other potential bubble teams). The conference faring well during the non-conference slate always helps too.
Ultimately, I suspect New Mexico to be in the postseason, but struggling to differentiate itself from the bubble, eventually competing in the postseason, highly seeded in the NIT.
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