The University of New Mexico Lobos received a number 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. Selection Sunday was a huge occasion in Albuquerque this year, asthousands of people flocked to the Pit to watch the Lobos receive their placement in the Big Dance. The Lobos were rewarded with a ranking of 10th in first AP poll of the postseason. As a top 16 tourney team, the Lobos were placed in the West division of the NCAA, meaning they will play the vast majority of their early games (assuming they continue to win) near home.
The Lobos will play their first game against 14th-seeded Harvard on Thursday, March 21 in Salt Lake City. The game will be nationally broadcast on TNT, and regional preferences will almost assuredly guarantee that New Mexicans will see the majority of the game, unless something extremely dramatic happens in one of the other games scheduled around 7:50 PM MST.
With the disparity in seedings and overall records for the year, Lobo fans are expecting a big victory. If UNM does win on Thursday, they'll play again on Saturday, again in Salt Lake City, against either the sixth-seeded Arizona Wildcats or the eleventh-seeded Belmont Bruins.
A win over either of those teams would send UNM back to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1974, the first time the NCAA Tournament was strictly a Division I affair, but also a time when the post-season only took in 25 teams. The ESPN preview of the West bracket, written by Robbi Pickeral, says the team is ready. The fans who celebrated on Sunday seem to believe so. But with a run into the Sweet Sixteen, the path gets significantly more difficult.
If the seeding holds up, UNM will match up with Ohio State University in the Sweet Sixteen on March 28 in Los Angeles. OSU is a powerhouse that many feel could have qualified for a number 1 seed. The game is never easy, of course, but this match-up might prove difficult for the Cherry and Silver squad. However, the Lobos aren't without their believers. Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis says the Lobos will not only defeat OSU, but will be carried into the Final Four.
A victory in the quarterfinals would take UNM—again, if the seeding all holds up and the teams that are supposed to win do so—against the little mid-major that could, Gonzaga. A constant presence in the NCAA Tournament for the last 15 years, Gonzaga's been rewarded for its consistent non-conference play, and the winning they did along with that schedule this year, with a number 1 seed in the West. An Elite Eight appearance would match Gonzaga's best-ever Big Dance record, but it'd be a new one for the Lobos. Both teams, then, will have plenty to fight for, if the match up arises, in order to make the Final Four in Atlanta.
With five teams from the Mountain West conference in to the NCAA Tournament, UNM doesn't have to go to the trouble of scheduling so many non-conference games to toughen up their schedule. In fact, UNM had the second most difficult schedule strength in the nation. And it's clear that the MWC is holding its own during the season. Now is the time, however, for the real stars to shine. If any MWC teams can make deep runs in the postseason, it's good for the whole league. And Burqueños are hoping that it'll be their beloved Lobos that get the chance to shine the brightest, with a possible trip to Atlanta at the end.
The University of New Mexico Lobos basketball team has continued to climb in the national rankings, rising to number 12 this week in the AP top 25. With only two games left in their regular season, now is the right time for the Lobos to be making that climb. On Wednesday, UNM plays at Nevada. While no team should ever be overlooked, nor any game looked past, the Wolf Pack currently sit in the basement of the Mountain West Conference rankings and have only won 12 games all season. If the Lobos can get past Nevada, the Air Force Falcons wait in Colorado Springs on Saturday night for the conference finale. If both of those games fall in the W category, things will look pretty good come Monday, when the next rankings are released, and it would be reasonable to expect a little bump before the MWC Tournament begins in Las Vegas on March 12.
The focus in the team's locker room, of course, will remain solidly committed to the sports cliché of “one game at a time” and never looking past any opponent. But that's not something that we have to pretend to indulge in, so let’s let the speculation run rampant! If UNM does what they should and wins out in Nevada and Colorado Springs, they'll have a clear path to a 1 seed in the MWC Tournament—not to mention the early rumblings of their deserving a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If they can manage to run the gamut of the MWC, they'll earn the automatic berth into the Big Dance, and Selection Sunday will be an interesting day to say the least.
Of course, nothing is automatic. Nothing is promised or guaranteed. But, if the standings stay as they are, UNM will play either Nevada or Fresno State on March 13, followed by either San Diego State or Boise State on March 14. The path to the MWC Championship Game and the automatic berth looks possible. More appealing than the auto-entry to the tournament, though, is the prospect of reeling off all those wins in a row and entering March Madness with all that momentum on the side of the Cherry and Silver. While there will always be anonymous commentators who dismiss any non-major conference team's placement in the national rankings (don't even think about reading the comments on Gonzaga's recent ascent to number one if you want to retain faith in your fellow humans), the numbers are pretty solid on the side of the Lobos in this case. With an RPI of 2 right now, and a strength of schedule of 3, the data-driven amongst the selection committee have to be looking very hard at UNM.
College basketball is a game of runs and momentum. UNM taking care of business in its non-conference schedule was the first step. The Lobos are now close to finished with taking care of business during the in-conference schedule. Next up, the MWC conference tournament. After that, who knows how far these boys could go? With the right momentum, match-ups and seeding, it could be an unprecedented time.
On Monday, the AP released their latest rankings for the NCAA Division I men's college basketball teams and the University of New Mexico's Lobos moved up to number 14. Although the Lobos have been ranked higher (the 2009-2010 team hit number 8), this week's movement represents significant gains for a team that's made no bones over their serious goals. Since head coach Steve Alford took over the program in 2007, his squads have made some kind of post-season each year. While the NIT appearances in his first two seasons may have disappointed some, it was clear in 2010 that the incremental progress meant something. The Lobos crashed in the second round of the NCAA Tournament as a (possibly over-seeded) 3-seed, which had come about because of the only 30-win season in New Mexico's history. Their seeding meant a match up against Montana in the first round, but an upset by Washington in the second.
The next season began with high expectations, but failed during that season to live up to most of them. Finishing the year 22-13, the Lobos headed back to the NIT. However, in the wake of the super-successful previous season, coach Alford and the University signed a new contract, locking Alford up until 2020 and it would soon be proved that both sides were serious about keeping the forward momentum.
Last year, the Lobos finished with a record of 28-7, going 10-4 in Mountain West Conference play. They won the MWC Tournament and earned a 5-seed with their automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. They lost again in the second round eventual Final Four team Louisville.
So, with momentum and history on our side, the Lobos now gear up for their final four games of the regular season. San Diego State visits the Pit tonight, and though the Aztecs are only the fourth place team in the Mountain West Conference, they are one of only two in-conference teams to have beaten the Lobos (the other being UNLV). SDSU will come to the Pit looking to knock off a quality opponent, hoping to boost their resume for the Big Dance in March. After SDSU's visit, the Lobos have only one home game left—Wyoming will come to play on Saturday. The Lobos then finish up their schedule on the road at Nevada on March 6 and at Air Force on March 9. The Mountain West Tournament will be held in Las Vegas March 12-15.
The biggest thing for these Lobos at this point is to continue their impressive streak. Winning in Fort Collins against top-25 ranked Colorado State in an impressive fashion last Saturday was a great boost for the team's RPI, which is the single biggest determining factor in figuring out seeding for the NCAA Tournament. Losing to any of our remaining opponents has the potential to crash that rating. Winning the regular season outright and taking that momentum through the MWC Tournament would obviously be ideal. While everyone loves to be nationally ranked during the season, there's a clear preference to be one of the last teams standing, regardless of ranks. These Lobos have shown they've got a strong will to win. They've got four conference games and a conference tournament to show that it has not been a fluke.
The 2013 National Basketball Association's All-Star Weekend in Houston is officially in the books, and the League, after suffering through a lockout-shortened season last year, is back on track in a major way. While LeBron James is playing at a record-breaking efficiency rate and the Lakers have stumbled in ways that no one expected, the regular season has been full of drama. Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs might be having his best season ever and the Oklahoma City Thunder, after shocking the League by trading James Harden have quietly put together one of their best seasons. The Boston Celtics are in the midst of proving the Ewing Theory as valid, going 8-1 in games since star point guard Rajon Rondo went down. And the Chicago Bulls are sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference despite Derrick Rose being far from returning to the court.
In the midst of this tumultuous return-to-glory season, the NBA's just-over-halfway break is a welcome change of pace for the competitors. On Friday night, things kicked off in the most relaxed way possible: an All-Star game in name only, celebrities and ex-players attempted to show off their skills. Amongst the players this year: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who played professionally in Australia, and comedian Kevin Hart, who makes a habit of winning the MVP trophy in these games, whether he has the best game or not. Theoretically, after the celebs get off the court, things are supposed to pick up a notch. Formerly called the Rookies versus Sophomores Game, All-Star Friday night's last event has been rechristened the Rising Stars Challenge. The reason? The NBA wanted to break up the 1st and 2nd year players, making for a more competitive game. This year's game showed that intentions don't always follow format. The Rising Stars game's final score was 163-135.
Things were planned to pick up on Saturday night, but once again didn't necessarily live up to expectations. After the much-maligned Shooting Stars challenge, the guards took to the floor for the Skills Challenge. The only safe bet was that defending champ Tony Parker wouldn't want to win again in order to avoid being asked back next year. Damian Lillard won the event with a time of 29.8 seconds. After the presumable rookie of the year got his trophy, the anticipation for the next two events continued to build. Normally a snoozable event, the Three Point Contest had received a little press for the grassroots Twitter campaign of Matt Bonner. Bonner's dedication to the event paid off when he made the final round, but he couldn't overcome the red-hot shooting of last year's ROY, Kyrie Irving. Last but not least, the Dunk Contest was supposed to be filled with pure dunkers, despite a lack of star-powered names. While Gerald Green got things off on the right foot the first dunk of the night, the contest quickly descended and shooting sunk to less than 30 percent. Granted, some of the dunks were incredibly difficult, but it's hard to maintain enthusiasm for something when the misses are piling up. Terrence Ross of the Toronto Raptors eventually took the crown from last year's champ, Jeremy Evans, despite an amazing so-cheesy-it-was-good dunk where Evans jumped over a painting of himself dunking.
When Sunday finally rolled around, the elements were all in place for a great game, the cream of the basketball crop getting to play fast-paced ball without any of that pesky defense getting in the way. The game never descended into the trap of a blowout that makes viewers tune out and players give up on anything other than one-on-one clear outs and dunk contests. The biggest attention gatherers were the MVP-performance of Chris Paul and the stifling defense that Kobe Bryant played on LeBron James down the stretch. More than anything else, those two factors led to the West triumphing over the East, with a final score of 143-138.
The NBA's regular schedule returns on Tuesday as the players make ready for the second half of the season and the push to the playoffs.
In making a furious comeback over the Falcons, San Francisco firmly established their young quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, as a foundational piece for the future. After recordinga performance in last week's game against the Packers that tops the list of rushing yards for a quarterback, Kaepernick continued his hot streak, matching Matt Ryan in efficiency, if not in yards thrown. The 49ers got the all-important W, and coach Harbaugh's decision to switch Alex Smith out of the quarterback position in favor of Kaepernick seems validated. The 49ers will be appearing in their sixth Super Bowl. They have won all five of their previous big games. They are the only team in NFL history to have an undefeated Super Bowl record. It's a lofty record to rest on the shoulders of a young man who took over the team during their sixth game of this season. However, he's proved himself to be more than capable.
In stark contrast to San Francisco's reliance on a young QB, the Baltimore Ravens showed that their defense still reigns supreme. Their leader, Ray Lewis, announced that this season is his swan song. He is just about set up to exit the stage on a perfect note. The Ravens smashed the Tom Brady-led Patriots. Humbling the would-be dynasty with a smothering defense in the second half, and leading to the Patriots' first ever defeat at home after leading at half. Baltimore is far from a one-note team. Generating plenty of heat from the QB position, they've gotten more from Joe Flacco than ever before. The 5 year veteran has hovered right around the same completion rate for each of his seasons, but he's played with a loose air this postseason that is reflected in this Super Bowl appearance. This mixture of Flacco's experience on offense, and Lewis' veteran status on defense combines to make the Ravens a tough out.
For now, the two teams will retreat to their respective corners and cede the spotlight to the Pro Bowl, while their coaches plot strategy. But next week, as media day approaches and the teams arrive in New Orleans, the bright lights will appear even more frequently as we all prepare for something unseen: brothers coaching against one another in a Super Bowl. Fortunately, the teams match up well enough to justify all the hype it's going to get. The San Francisco 49ers get the early edgeas 4-point favorites, proving that sometimes, the little brother can have an advantage.
It's official in all but the most limited capacities now: Oprah Winfrey has confirmed that Lance Armstrong confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs. The interview was apparently so intense (or somebody really needs the ratings so badly) that it's going to be split into two parts. The first half will air tomorrow night, as originally planned, but the second half will be shown on Friday, extending Lance's confession into movie-length territory. This seems appropriate for a used-to-the-publicity Armstrong. When he was diagnosed with cancer and subsequently told that there was a significant chance he wouldn't live, he beat the odds. After that, he went on to win an unprecedented seven Tour de France races in a row. After retiring from the sport in 2004, he made a comeback that went better than anyone had a right to expect. He maintained his innocence all that time, despite the cloud of PEDs hanging over cycling in general, and the news of other winners being stripped of their titles. He continuously flaunted his 100% pass rate of the United States Anti-Doping Agency's tests, despite claims from others that he shouldn’t have been able to do so.
But last year, when news broke that the World Anti-Doping Agency and its U.S.-based affiliate had finally accumulated enough evidence against Armstrong, he retreated. He said he wouldn't be “hounded anymore.” He said he wouldn't legitimize their witch hunt against him. And the general public started to doubt. They started to waver in their commitment to the man who made cycling a topic at all in America. And most of all, there were some who felt duped. Not just by the sporting accomplishments of Armstrong, but by arguably the biggest category of his life, the one thing conspicuously missing from his bio thus far: his super successful charity, Livestrong.
It's hard to separate the story of Lance Armstrong, world-renowned cyclist and recently-admitted doper, from the story of Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor and advocate. Some argue that it's impossible. Because of the amazing work that Armstrong did in raising awareness of the disease and the incredible funds his foundation has raised in fighting its spread, his doping case doesn't seem to be as clear cut as the baseball Hall of Fame voters seem to think their era's cloud is. There were claims, after the news broke last year about Armstrong's doping, that Livestrong donations increased. There were also individuals who said they felt cheated and they wanted their donations back.
And therein lies the rub in the case of Lance Armstrong. Some feel "hoodwinked" and others feel like his inspirational message trumps all else. Why is he confessing to Oprah now? We won't know until everything's out, and the show doesn't air its first part until tomorrow. But as contrite as Armstrong may be, as much as he may want to focus on moving forward with triathlons or re-focusing on the good the Livestrong foundation does in its fight against cancer, there will be some who never forget or forgive. Armstrong doesn't always put his best foot forward and it will be interesting, to say the least, to see where he goes from here.
For the majority of the teams in the National Football League, the playoff picture is beginning to take shape. On the AFC side, things are relatively clear-cut. The New England Patriots, Houston Texans and Denver Broncos have clinched the AFC East, South and West, respectively, and the Baltimore Ravens have claimed the North.
The New York Jets, the ugly step-sister in the eyes of New Yorkers infatuated with the Giants are out of the playoffs, and have benched their quarterback. The big-sister Giants, don't forget, won the Super Bowl last year in a dramatic fashion.
On the NFC side of the football divisions, the Green Bay Packers have secured the North, as has become habit for the publicly-owned team. The Packers are looking as strong as ever, but perhaps not as strong as the San Francisco 49ers, who have sealed at least a playoff berth in the NFC West, and are well thought-of in the ESPN Power Rankings. The 49ers and the Packers both have favorable schedules to end the season.
The Atlanta Falcons have ruled the NFC South's roost so far and sent a bruising message last week to the Giants and, perhaps, the rest of the NFC East as well. But that's where things get confusing.
The Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys and those champs from last year, the New York Giants, are all tied at the top of the NFC East with records of 8-6, leaving this competitive division as the last playoff knot to untie. And with only two weeks of regular season games left to play, the schedule makers have done football fans a huge favor by making sure that, even if next week is relatively calm, exciting rivalries are short in coming.
The last week of the regular season will bring over-hyped (and almost mathematically eliminated) Philly to the home of the Giants and, most importantly, Dallas to Washington. By scheduling these division rivalries at the end of the season, the NFL succeeds in two respects. First of all, neither the Cowboys nor the Redskins will be resting any players who should otherwise be playing. They'll want every able body to fight for playoff position. Secondly, we get super-compelling TV to watch, even when some of the other games that week (The Jets in Buffalo, anyone?) aren't going to be very interesting.
This past weekend, the National Hockey League should have been entering its ninth week of the season. While ESPN's front page for the NHL touts their collaboration with EA Sports on an innovative video game, no simulation highlights package is going to cover up the fact that the NHL, having canceled their season through mid-December's All Star Break, is in a precipitous position.
When the NHL announced that it was scrubbing the All-Star Game, the season should have already been under way. In truth, this has been a long time coming. Some hockey fans might even claim that it's a remnant from the previous lockout.
The poll results on ESPN's article, although far from scientific, speak strongly to people's beliefs that there will not be a hockey season this year. The commissioner of the NHL, Gary Bettman, has taken his fair share of the blame for this lockout. But there will always be those who look at the situation from the outside and think any players refusing to play a game for thousands—or hundreds of thousands—of dollars are the greedy ones. With the NHL Players’ Association union chief, Donald Fehr claiming that the sides are close to working out a deal and Bettman claiming the opposite, it's hard to know what exactly is going to happen with this season.
Stars such as Sidney Crosby are reportedly looking into playing overseas. This is a fine option if you're one of the most marketable names in the entire league, but doesn't help many more than the top ten percent of the NHL. Having gone witnessed one recently, NBA fans are familiar with situations such as JR Smith's delayed return from China and the troubles that might be associated with playing outside the U.S.
The back-and-forth of professional hockey has been more of a rule than an exception in comparison to other leagues, but that doesn't excuse the lack of progress by now. Bettman's palpable anger at a recent press conference is merely the latest salvo in a war that's been waged since he took over as commissioner of the league. It's also a sharp reminder that the NHL is the only major sports league in America to ever miss an entire season. Seven years ago, the entirety of the 2004-2005 season was lost to labor disputes.
With rumors circulating this morning that that more games had been canceled, the NHL is teetering on the brink of furthering its own irrelevance and setting back most, if not all, of the gains that had been made since that lost season.
Major League Soccer has officially put the 2012 season to bed. In a rematch of last year's finals, the Los Angeles Galaxy beat the Houston Dynamos 3-1 after scoring all three of their goals in the second half, two of which were penalty kicks.
The game, of course, was a fitting cap to David Beckham's career, which is all anyone can talk about when it comes to soccer. In America, we're still waiting for a transcendent star to break the glass ceiling of soccer's appeal to the masses. Many thought it would be Beckham, but while plenty are finding reason to celebrate in his going out on top, there have been rough patches in his MLS career as well.
The simple truth is that soccer, even at its post-Beckham level, is nowhere near the popularity of the four major sports in America. Football is king. There are a myriad basketball and baseball purists. Even hockey, a virtually unheralded sport in New Mexico, has regional swells of popularity. By pure television rankings of championship events, the Super Bowl crushes all the sports combined. An estimated 111 million Americans tuned in to the big game last February. The last baseball championship, where the San Francisco Giants swept the Detroit Tigers, managed 15.5 million viewers for Game 4. The Miami Heat’s triumph over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 nabbed 18.4 million viewers. When the Los Angeles Kings beat the New Jersey Devils in Game 6, the NHL only wrangled five million viewers. This year's MLS Cup meanwhile, backtracking on the progress they'd made last year, managed only a 0.7 Nielsen rating. This translates to just over one million viewers.
Experts have offered suggestions about how to improve the ratings, but it still remains that soccer is averaging significantly fewer viewers for its championship game than the NCAA women's college basketball championship game, which is dismissed outright by many sports fans. It seems to be a chicken or egg problem: sponsors aren't going to spend money supporting a game that isn't bringing sets of eyes to the tube, but without that money and hype, how will people be attracted?
David Beckham was going to be that answer. For now, the question remains unsolved. But don't feel bad for Beckham. He's going to play for another year somewhere before returning to MLS with some sort of managerial or ownership role. And don't pity the Los Angeles Galaxy. Joining the NHL Kings, they're now the reigning champs of a sport that few might be tuning in for, but which still allows plenty of room for growth.
The University of New Mexico's men's soccer program began their season as the number two team in the country. Their successful season ended on Sundayin Storrs, Connecticutas as the number 13 Lobos fell to number 4 University of Connecticut. The Lobos scored the lone goal of the first half in the 32nd minute, but gave up an equalizer in the second half. UConn's Mamadou Diouf put a header in the back of the net in the 76th minute to knot things up. Despite coming out of the second-half break on fire, UNM never found the right mix, even missing a point blank shot with only two minutes left in regulation.
Heading into the overtime periods, the rules change from the regular season, and the Lobos had to fight for every inch, knowing that the golden goal would send whichever team scored first to the Elite Eight. Both teams only managed one shot on goal, UNM in the first OT and UConn in the second. It was this kick in the 105th minute that sealed the deal.
UConn will play in Storrs again next weekend when they face Creighton, who beat Akron with a 5-4 penalty count after 2 scoreless overtime periods. That game will be played to determine who will to make the trip to the Final Four.
UNM ended their season in the Sweet Sixteen for the second consecutive year, disappointing fans who were looking for improvement on last year's incredible, undefeated season. The bitter taste is sure to hang heavily on senior Devon Sandoval, who played a phenomenal game and had an excellent season. Sandoval, one of six seniors on the team, recorded 15 goals for the season. He had been mentioned all season as one of the top seniors in the nation, and is now considered as a possible draft pick in Major League Soccer's draw.
Although Sandoval stands out as the senior with the most prospects for the future and the Lobos are heading home earlier than both they would like, it should be noted that these six seniors helped the team equal a record set by the the 2004-2005 Lobos: 35 wins over a combined two seasons. The net result of those teams? A national runner-up spot in 2005 after losing to Maryland in the final game of the season. The lesson here is that Lobo soccer is back. Losing six seniors will hurt, but this team should be a force to reckon with for some time.