The 2012-2013 New Mexico Lobos basketball team is one of the country’s most underrated, in spite of their scorching 25-4 start which includes a stellar 12-2 record in Mountain West Conference play.
Owners of the No. 2 slot in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) which measures schedule strength, the Lobos have dispatched conference and non-conference opponents alike, with only conference games against the Nevada Wolfpack and Air Force Falcons prior to the conference tournament.
Given that RPI is nominally the most important factor which determines not only whether a team makes the 68-team NCAA Tournament field, but where those teams are seeded that do make the tournament, the Lobos hold their destiny in their hands. With a strong finish against Nevada and Air Force — and a strong showing in the conference tourney which at this point is non-essential — there’s an argument to be made that the Lobos deserve one of the No. 1 seeds in March Madness.
Of course, on the surface, the Lobos aren’t one of the top four teams in the country but their RPI and the elements included within it suggest they are being overlooked. The Lobos have beaten more top 100 teams than any other team in the country, they have as many top 25 and top 50 wins as several of the teams highly ranked and their success against teams on the road is better than teams like the Duke Blue Devils, Michigan State Spartans and Michigan Wolverines.
In other words, the Lobos are not to be taken lightly.
Steve Alford made a calculated risk when arriving in Albuquerque in 2007 after an eight-year stint with the Iowa Hawkeyes and it appears that risk was well thought out. Not only has Alford further solidified an impressive pipeline of talent from the fabled Australian Institute of Sport, his ability to recruit California and the Southwest has been impressive.
The result is a program that’s defense-focused — the Lobos are only scoring 67.2 points per game but only giving up 60.4— and play with composure and strong fundamentals night-in and night-out.
In that respect, they are a true reflection of their coach — a player who did things the right way all of the time, in spite of being under the constant scrutiny of legendary coach Bobby Knight while with the Indiana Hoosiers.
If you’re looking for a Cinderella to follow during March Madness, keep your eyes on the Lobos.
You’ll be glad you did.