Every year we hear the same things about the New Mexico Lobos. “Watch out for the Lobos in March!” … “The Lobos are having a great year and are underrated, they are going to be a beast come March Madness!” …. “The Lobos are a solid bet to make the Sweet 16!” Just don’t listen ever again, and you will have a smarter bracket. New Mexico, which has won 182 games in the past seven seasons, saw yet another would-be strong campaign end early Friday afternoon as the Lobos were knocked out of the NCAA Tournament by the Stanford Cardinal 58-53. The Lobos were a No. 7 seed, so it was technically an upset, and there were some who would have argued that the Cardinal (22-12) didn’t even belong in the tournament, so that makes the loss that much worse.
Many thought the reason the Lobos hadn’t been able to move past the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend in recent years was The Curse of Steve Alford, who now coaches at UCLA and has had a rough NCAA Tournament history when it comes to winning games early. But Alford is gone and now so is New Mexico. Despite 24 points from the Lobos’ top player, forward Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico fell apart late after tying the game at 45 as the Cardinal then immediately scored seven straight points and never looked back. And it’s not like Bairstow got a whole lot of help. He finished 10-for-18 from the field while the rest of his teammates combined shot a woeful 9-for-34 (26 percent). Bairstow also led New Mexico with eight rebounds. Chasson Randle (23 points) was the high scorer for Stanford.
In this seven-year period ending today when the Lobos have averaged 26 wins per season, New Mexico still hasn’t gotten to the second weekend of the Big Dance. The Lobos won opening-round games against Montana and Long Beach State in 2010 and 2012, respectively, then were knocked out in their second game each time. Last year, the Lobos were upset by Harvard in the first round (so perhaps Harvard’s win on Thursday over Cincinnati was no fluke, after all) and in the other three years, New Mexico didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament, having to settle for early exits in the NIT, winning no more than one game in any appearance. Simply put, there may be no team in the country that has won more games of late as New Mexico has yet achieved so little.
Yet every season we hear how dangerous the Lobos are going to be. The only way the Lobos are dangerous is if you pick them to go the Sweet 16 in your bracket, because it’s never going to happen and your bracket will be ruined. New Mexico made the Sweet 16 in 1968, but that was thanks to a bye and the Lobos lost in that round. In 1974, New Mexico won a game in the old Round of 23 to get into the Sweet 16 and lost. Since 1968, New Mexico has never won more than one game in any one NCAA Tournament. That didn’t change against Stanford on Friday, as the nation’s most overrated team everyone thinks is underrated got bounced early again.