Why New Mexico Is Not Safe At The Top

By John Engel
Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

The New Mexico Lobos appear to be placed well atop the Mountain West Conference standings, waiting to capture the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.

Things aren’t always as they appear.

The Lobos (20-3, 7-1 Mountain West) have proven to be the most well-rounded team in the Mountain West this season, but many obstacles still lie for head coach Steve Alford’s team. The importance of a No. 1 seed in the conference tournament cannot be understated, as the deference between facing Wyoming, instead of Nevada, is substantial.

With a one game lead over the second place Colorado State Rams, the Lobos have zero room for mistakes the rest of the way. Unfortunately, New Mexico still has four games against their most challenging opponents this season. Losing to any of them could mean a complete swap in the conference standings.

Game 1: New Mexico at UNLV (Feb. 9):

New Mexico may have defeated a ranked UNLV team earlier in the season, but their were some different circumstances at play. Not only were the Lobos at home, but UNLV freshman star Anthony Bennett faced foul trouble early in the second half. Bennett drew NBA scouts from all over the country in their last meeting, but flopped in the limelight. The Rebels still have a sour taste of Bronco and Bulldog in their mouth from their road losses to Boise State and Fresno State last week, leaving their aggression towards the Lobos at its highest possible point. New Mexico is riding a three game win streak, and may underestimate the kind of anticipation and energy the Rebels are bringing to this matchup.

Game 2: Boise State at New Mexico (Feb. 16):

The Broncos (15-7, 3-5 Mountain West) may not have the most illustrious record in conference play, but they have proved to be the “pesky little brother” of the Mountain West. Last week, Boise State took down UNLV at home, while they lost to San Diego State on the road, by way of an Aztec buzzer-beater. In their last meeting with the Broncos, New Mexico was forced to take the contest into overtime before rolling over Boise State. The Broncos may not be at the top of the Mountain West yet, but they are certainly never a matchup to look past. The three-point shooting tandem of Jeff Elorriaga and Anthony Drmic can change the entire look of a game in a matter of minutes, and leave opponents stunned. Just ask No. 11 ranked Creighton.

Game 3: New Mexico at Colorado State (Feb. 23): 

With Colorado State only two games behind the Lobos in the conference standings, New Mexico cannot afford to lose any of the games listed above. New Mexico may have defeated the Rams in a close matchup on Jan. 23, but playing in Fort Collins will be a whole new challenge for the Lobos. The last time the two teams met, New Mexico nearly squandered a 22-point lead in front of their home crowd. The Lobos came out with a 66-1 win, but rest assured five points is not much wiggle room when you have to do it again on the road.

Game 4: San Diego State at New Mexico (Feb. 27): 

The Aztecs are sitting at third in the Mountain West Conference, along with Air Force, two games behind the Lobos. Both San Diego State and Air Force each have one more matchup with New Mexico, leaving the chance of a three-way tie at the top very possible. The last time the Lobos faced San Diego State, they suffered their worst loss in the shot clock era.

New Mexico may be the best team in the Mountain West, but their position as the No. 1 team in the conference is far from set in stone.

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