How Can New Mexico Win The Mountain West Championship?

How Can New Mexico Win The Mountain West Championship?

Mountain West Basketball

How Can New Mexico Win The Mountain West Championship?


 How Can New Mexico Win The Mountain West Championship?

Coach Pitino’s squad have real dark horse candidate potential to cut nets down in Las Vegas.

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New Mexico looks to use battle tested stars to make a run in Las Vegas.

March is here folks, and around the country tickets are getting punched and teams are going into overdrive. With games on the docket everyday for the next four days, we dive right in.

A team more primed to make a dark horse run to the championship game on Saturday you ask? An easy answer to that question is the New Mexico Lobos. Richard Pitino’s program has enjoyed a near one hundred and eighty degree turn around in just year two of the coache’s tenure. The Lobos logged their best start to the season in over five decades in 2022-2023.

Highlighted by an undefeated non-conference slate, several weeks in the AP Top-25 and “upsets” over several top-5 teams in the conference standings, including the regular season champions on the road. All of this though, to be overshadowed by a 6th place finish, mainly related to a collapse in early-to-mid February resulting in a four game losing streak.

The Mountain West Conference was an absolute gauntlet this year. The phrase “nobody is safe” typed countlessly in tweets and uttered on nationally televised broadcasts weekly. The Lobos fell victim to it but played their part as well.

But as previously stated, this is March. And tournament runs during this month are what drives this sport. New Mexico, like any of the other ten teams making the trip has a chance to punch their first ticket to the big dance in slightly under a decade, here’s why.

The Lobos road to the championship game on Saturday is definitely not an easy one. As they failed to secure the sweep on any team on their side of the bracket during conference play. Instead taking splits with Air Force, Boise State and Wyoming. While suffering losses in their one game showdowns against UNLV and Utah State.

But this team has the all-conference caliber star power who can score with the best of them any given night, key role players finding their rhythm at the perfect time and a team bought into their programs vision. Not to mention a squad at full strength, as floor general and the team’s second leading scorer Jaelen House was injured for half of that aforementioned four game slide down the standings.

Also keep in mind, of New Mexico’s ten losses this season, five of those were two possession losses or lost by five or fewer points. Let’s say the Lobos were able to push through and secure those wins, you are looking at a team fighting for a piece of the regular season title.

Hypotheticals aside, it will take four straight wins for the Lobos to secure their trip to the NCAA Tournament. But given the uncertainty of the game this time of year, it’s better to focus one the near surefire games in front of them. As their first opponent, Wyoming, has posed a threat to New Mexico of late.

With an appropriate 14-point Valentine’s Day win over the Lobos inside the Pit. Their a team, like their first round counterpart has a lack of true depth off of the bench. Weakened by injury and a mass exodus of their “Pac-12 talent” this past month.

If the same New Mexico squad we saw in the first-half of conference play (6-3 & vying for a top-3 conference spot each night) shows up to Sin City, this should be a solid W. Next up is a tougher task, a Utah State team that tied for second place in the conference. Who also gave the Lobos their first loss in the month of February, with a double-digit momentum killer inside the Dee Smith Spectrum.

The Aggies have five players that average double-digits, including the Mountain West Sixth Man of the Year (voted by the media) Dan Akin. Giving this Utah State team, one of the top-two offenses in the conference. The other you may ask? Richard Pitino’s New Mexico.

Where the Aggies hold the advantage is a slightly better defense that helps when things aren’t exactly going your way. While the Lobos excel in run and gun situations, scoring points off of turnovers and getting to the line.

With an off night from of Ryan Odom’s stars and or a truly great defensive performance by New Mexico on Wednesday, the upset potential is high.

New Mexico faces Wyoming in their first round matchup on Wednesday March 8th. Tip-off is scheduled for 5:00 PM MT inside the Thomas & Mack Center and can be streamed on the Mountain West Network.

Larry Muniz covers college basketball as a writer for Mountain West Wire and WAC Hoops Digest. Also as a co-host of the college basketball podcast “Hoops Talk W/Jay & Larry”. He is also a USWBA Member.


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