Craig "Noodles" Neal cuts down the net for the 2013 MWC Conference champions
It's official. Previously-titled UNM men's basketball assistant coach Craig "Noodles" Neal will take the reigns as the program's head coach heading into the 2013-2014 season. Neal quickly became a favorite for the position following Steve Alford's sudden departure from the position as he accepted the title of head coach for the UCLA Bruins.
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.
With the Lobos' victory over the Valparaiso Cruisaders last weekend, they improved to 10-0, their best start since going 12-0 back in 2009. Fans are extremely happy because there is a high chance that they can at least match that opening record this season.
This Lobo team is just as deep as last year's and possibly even deeper. Alex Kirk sat last season out due to an injury, but has started this season off with some exciting play that has helped earn the Lobos the number 17 spot in the Associated Press top 25.
"They are being mentally challenged right now," head coach Steve Alford said in the post-USC victory radio interview in reference to the final exams that the players were focusing on. But he admitted that they would also be physically challenged in attempt to keep their undefeated record alive. Challenging the players during finals week paid off with another victory, and we'll just have to wait and see how it affected them academically.
The next three games that the Lobos play are games against unranked opponents that should add more victories to their impressive resume. In fact, the next game that should pose any challenge will be when they face the 11th ranked Cincinnati Bearcats on the road. Starting with this game on the Dec 27th, the Lobo's schedulewill increase in difficulty as they move into conference play soon afterwards.
This year, the Mountain West Conference is arguably the most competitive it has ever been. While the Lobos are definitely one of the best teams in the conference, there are several teams that would like to take the conference championship away from them this year.
San Diego State is currently rankedjust below the Lobos in the AP top 25. This makes sense considering last year the Lobos were able to win two out of three matches against the Aztecs. There are also the UNLV Runnin' Rebels and the Wyoming Cowboys who are going to give the Lobos tough matches. While Wyoming is not currently ranked, there is a good chance that they will be because they are receiving votes in both the AP top 25 and the USA Today Coaches polls and have also started out with a perfect 10-0.
With high expectations this year, the Lobos are going to have to practice hard and show some true resilience as they face the stiff competition of conference play.
Last weekend, Lobo football defeated Texas State for their third victory of the year, matching the total wins of their last three seasons combined. When Bob Davie took over the cherry and silver head coaching duties, not even the most jaded Lobo fan could have imagined such a convincing change of course.
Infamous former head coach Mike Locksley evoked some ridicule with an early statement that the Lobos were going to need “... a third digit for the scoreboard ...” because they were going to be piling on the points under his leadership. So far this season, the Lobos are still nowhere near that level of ambitious boasting, but they are averaging more than 28 points a game, which far surpasses previous records. Consider that in 2011, the Lobos scored a meager 17 touchdowns over the entire season (and only 21 in each of the two before that).
Unlike the Lobos' first victory this season, their last two have come over respectable, even if not powerhouse, Division I schools. The win two weeks ago against instra-state rivalry NMSU was extremely important to most sports-loving New Mexicans. But the near-win last week against burly Boise State seemed to say even more. With these games adding to the Lobos' self-esteem and win total, things seem to be primed for a turnaround.
As exciting as the early season has been, don't declare the future a bed of roses just yet. Despite a Lobo triumph, the game against the Bobcats wasn't pretty. New Mexico managed only one completed pass in the entire game. Though rushing yards were ample, making up for the lack of a passing game, that won't be enough to assure wins in the future. The Lobos have now rushed for more than 400 yards in four separate games, but they'll need to balance out their attack in order to see victories over more quality opponents.
And the more quality opponents are on their way. All of the games from this point on are conference matches, and the Lobos currently sit at 7th in the Mountain West. Staring up at our opponents is not necessarily the way we want to start conference play but, fortunately, next week the Lobos face Hawaii (one of the three teams that hasn't won a game in our conference thus far).
If the winning ways can keep up, even just for next week, the Lobos can lay claim to something they haven't had in more than four years: a winning record halfway through the season.
The No. 4 University of New Mexico Lobos looked a bit sloppy against the Houston Baptist University Huskies on Sunday, allowing a goal in the 16th minute. However, they managed to put two in the back of the net to come out on top in Houston.
The Lobos continue their march forward in the wake of last year's undefeated season—a remarkable season that, due to the odd rules of soccer, concluded in the third round of the NCAA Tournament with a match that sent the Lobos home, but did not count as a loss.
The Huskies have lost five games this season, but the Lobos have taken only a single loss. Their tenacity after a 13-hour weather delay and a site change for the game shows how focused this team is on improving last year's considerable accomplishments.
This game was the conference opener for the The Lobos and who now face nine consecutive matches with members of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation all vying for the NCAA Tournament automatic bid. UNM's last conference game will be another against Houston Baptist on Saturday, November 3. In between, of course, there will be plenty of tough matches, though none against the old giants of the MPSF, Sacramento State and Colorado. The Lobos should still brace themselves October 21 for a home battle against CSU Bakersfield, another Mountain Pacific team that qualified for the NCAA Tournament last year.
In a year full of individual accolades that continue to pile up for the Lobos, the most promising praise is the national ranking and the knowledge that, after such repeated success, this team deserves to be considered among the national title contenders.
This weekend, the Lobos will continue their assault on two in-conference visitors: Air Force on Friday and Denver on Sunday. Both matches should showcase the Lobos' talents and serve as excellent opportunities for fans to jump on the wagon and get behind a local team that could make waves come championship time.
Do I look better in this cherry blazer than Steve Alford?
When the University of New Mexico defeated the Southern Jaguars 66-21 their opening weekend, it was the fresh start the football program desperately needed. For the first time in three years every part of the team worked in sync, showing some potential for Lobo Football to be successful again. The only only damper on the victory was the fact they beat a poor team from a weak conference. Southern offered little opposition and little opportunity for UNM to show their stuff beyond a spectacular halftime show. So when the Lobos squared off against the No.15 Texas Longhorns, fans and critics were given an accurate depiction of New Mexico's football program.
Lobo fans watching the first half had reason to feel okay as their defense kept Texas to a less-than-terrifying 17-0 lead at halftime. But after UNM quarterback B.R. Holbrook suffered a concussion in the second quarter, the optimism quickly turned into panic. The Longhorns proved why they are a true college football powerhouse by forcing four Lobo turnovers and a crushing final score of 45-0. Even though UNM suffered another beat-down at the hands of a top college football team, the Lobos had a solid ground attack and were even able to rush for 206 yards. Local sports talk radio were surely filled with calls angry and depressed fans already claiming this season was a failure. But sensible fans can hardly expect head coach Bob Davie to work a miracle in one season. Former coach Mike Locksley caused huge damage to an already fragile program. It's going take years to transform UNM into a threatening college football program. As for this season, if Davie can lead his team to a decent performance at Texas Tech before the big grudge match against New Mexico State, the Lobos should feel confident heading into Mountain West Conference play.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Come on man, it’s my turn to hold the ball.
NFL Opening Weekend
Just two years ago, The San Francisco 49ers looked like the shell of a franchise that won five Super Bowls. But ever since second-year head coach Jim Harbaugh took over, honor and respect have been restored to the Bay Area. Last year, the 49ers proved to be a dark horse when came out of nowhere to go 13-2, win their division and play in the NFC Championship game. With the target off their backs, the 'Niners looked towards a tough season opener against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field this last weekend. Meanwhile, the Packers were looking to erase the memory of losing to the eventual Super Bowl Champions the New York Giants. If the 49ers could defeat Green Bay on the road, it would seal their place as one of the elite teams of the league.
San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith exercised his new offensive weapons MarioManningham and Randy Moss while picking apart the Packer defense. Along with Frank Gore's power-running game, he led the 49ers into a 16-7 lead at halftime. Aaron Rodgers was able to move the ball for Green Bay but failed to make the game-changing play that would have captured the lead. The Packers cut the Niners' 16-point lead to just 8 in the fourth quarter. But Harbaugh's signature defense held steady and managed to avoid a last-second Green Bay comeback. San Francisco’s 30-22 victory should give them the momentum they need moving forward into the season and will potentially set them up for a repeat of last year's success and beyond.
There's no doubt the University of New Mexico basketball team has had great success throughout its history. From conference championships to 30-win seasons, the Lobos have an impressive résumé. But when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, true prosperity has always been out of reach for New Mexico.
It looked like this might finally be the year that curse would be broken. In Thursday's Second Round matchup, the Lobos held off a tough Long Beach State 75-68 to face Louisville on Saturday night.
The first half featured a defensive battle with New Mexico only behind 33-31 and carrying momentum headed into halftime. Despite Drew Gordon injuring his knee early in the game, he returned and had a standout performance with 21 points and 14 rebounds. With Gordon's leadership, New Mexico seemed primed for their its first-ever appearance in the Sweet Sixteen, but when the second half started, the pressure finally got to the young and inexperienced Lobo backcourt. The Louisville Cardinals capitalized on Lobo turnovers and bad offensive execution to gain a 15-point lead. When the Lobos actually ran plays on the offensive end, they were successful and eventually closed the gap to 53-51 with 1:48 remaining. Louisville's star player Peyton Siva was contained by the Lobo defense but he proved to be the difference by hitting a pass to Gorgui Dieng to extended the Cardinal’s lead by four. Siva also nailed some free throws to give Louisville a conformable 59-53 lead headed into the closing seconds. Gordon did give Lobo fans some hope by hitting a three with 2.9 seconds left, but it was too late as Louisville advanced with the 59-56 victory.
While the Lobos have a lot to be proud of this season, head coach Steve Alford and his team have to feel they let a great opportunity slip away. Alford has lots of young talent to find a true leader to guide the Lobos out of the round of 32 and into competing with top basketball powerhouses. This loss with hurt in the short term, but Lobo fans should feel excitement for a promising future.
March Madness Sweet Sixteen Preview
As usual, this year's tournament has produced many upsets and busted brackets. With No. 2 seeds Duke and Missouri taking an early plane ride home, there are some refreshing matchups in the Sweet Sixteen.
Kentucky vs. Indiana has the potential to be one of the most memorable games in this year’s tournament. Marquis Teague hasn't let his inexperience affect his performance in the dance so far by having 24 points and 7 assists against Iowa State. Teague's lead the Wildcats to an impressive 87-71 victory and now will face a hot Hoosiers squad. Indiana had an easy time with New Mexico State but faced the dreaded VCU Rams in the second round. The Hoosiers’ Cody Zeller had 16 points and 13 rebounds to help his team survive VCU’s attempt at another run to the Final Four. Many experts and fans probably have Kentucky advancing, but Indiana has been the more battle-tested squad. If Kentucky doesn't bring the intensity, Indiana can spring the upset.
Despite winning back-to-back national titles, Florida doesn't get much national creditability compared to traditional basketball powers. The Gators haven't had the best season and their seven seed proves it, but they have improved their play and even took Kentucky to the limit in the SEC tournament. They handled their first two tournament games with ease but now will face their toughest test against Marquette.
The Golden Eagles have bounced back from their disappointing loss to Louisville with two wins over BYU and the Cinderella story of the regular season, Murray State. Now Marquette must battle a Florida team with a successful tournament track record.