5 Reasons Why New Mexico Will Win the West Region

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5 Reasons New Mexico Will Win the West Region

newmex
Cary Edmonson - USA TODAY SPORTS

The New Mexico Lobos are one of the most underrated teams in the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Plain and simple. It’s hard to expand upon that statement other than to let it speak for itself. 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.

Lobos head coach Steve Alford has carefully crafted a program over the past seven years that has a defense-first focus and always seems to find the proverbial needles in the haystack in terms of state-based talent, but also solid players from California and overseas that may fly under the radar of more highly-regarded programs. This year’s squad has taken the defense creates offense philosophy to heart, giving up around 60 points per game, and becoming one of the country’s most feared defensive units in the process.

With a solid mix of fundamentally sound guard play, good perimeter shooting and a tough and gritty inside presence, you can bet the Lobos won’t back down from anyone, and in fact, have the tools to win the West Regional and move on to the Elite Eight.

Here are five reasons we see this as being the case. Enjoy!

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Lack of Respect Driving the Lobos to New Heights

respect
Frank Victores - USA TODAY SPORTS

It’s easy to forget about a team that plays in Albuquerque, New Mexico given that national media outlets aren’t exactly clamoring to make their way there to provide coverage. Just because a team is disrespected by the national media -- apart from us here at Rant who believe they deserve that respect -- doesn’t mean they don’t use it as a motivator. For all of the 2012-2013 campaign the Lobos have been the team on the back-burner, putting together a workmanlike effort from one game to the next and showing all those they face in Mountain West play just what they are made of. Now they have an opportunity to do just the same -- but on a national scale. That opportunity is often just the driver that good teams need to become great.

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Defense Wins Championships, and the Lobos Are Second to None

defense
Josh H. Holmberg - USA TODAY SPORTS

Giving up 60.2 points per game, the New Mexico Lobos have one of the top scoring defenses in the country. Sure, they only average a tick above 67 on the offensive side, but there is a direct correlation between the level of defense they play on a nightly basis and the offense that defense generates. Between Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow the Lobos have an intimidating interior presence -- Kirk being one of the nation’s best shot-blockers -- and also hit the boards aggressively on both ends of the floor. An early round matchup against Harvard won’t challenge this defense as a second round tilt against Arizona or Belmont, but regardless they’ll be up for the task at hand.

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Steve Alford Has an Experience Edge that Will Make the Difference When It Matters

ALFORD
Steve Dykes - USA TODAY SPORTS

New Mexico head coach Steve Alford is no stranger to the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Both as a player at Indiana, and with previous teams at Iowa where he coached prior to arriving in Albuquerque, Alford spent some time in post-season play. While this also true of Arizona coach Sean Miller -- who went there plenty of times himself at Xavier and now with the Wildcats -- Alford’s comfortable in his own skin, and there certainly won’t be situations he isn’t familiar with, regardless of how deep of a run the Lobos make.

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Balanced Scoring Allows the Lobos Some Breathing Room

SCORING
Ron Chenoy - USA TODAY SPORTS

In a Mountain West Conference that was as tough as its ever been this season, the Lobos had the luxury of balanced scoring, allowing them some breathing room from one night to the next. If it wasn’t Alex Kirk it was Cameron Bairstow. If it wasn’t Bairstow, it was Kendall Williams. If it wasn’t Williams, it was Hugh Greenwood. You get the notion. This balanced scoring, combined with the defensive intensity we mentioned previously make the Lobos a tough team to get a handle on. As soon as they have their edge, it’s too late to do much about it.

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New Mexico Has Been Close Before

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Ron Chenoy - USA TODAY SPORTS

It may seem trite, but don’t underestimate how important it is for teams to have had previous success in the tournament -- after all, success breeds more success. The Lobos were there consistently during the 1990s and early 2000s under former head coach Dave Bliss, and have been there three out of the last four seasons under Alford, with 2011 being the only exception. This experience combined with all of the factors previously mentioned will help the Lobos to finally break through the glass ceiling, win the West Regional and advance on to the Elite Eight.

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