University of New Mexico (7 Seed, South Bracket)
Record: 27-6 (15-3 Mountain West)
Coach: Craig Neal
Tournament Berth: Automatic Berth
Big Wins: New Mexico State, Cincinnati, Marquette, UNLV, San Diego State
Big Losses: UMass, Kansas, Boise State, New Mexico State, Kansas State, San Diego State
The Lobos began their 2013-14 campaign ranked 23rd in the nation and lived up to their billing through the first quarter of the season, winning seven of their first eight, highlighted by a 63-54 home victory over Cincinnati in which they held the Bearcats to a season-low 29.5 percent from the floor. New Mexico would then drop its next two home dates, however, losing 80-63 to a soaring Kansas team and 67-61 to New Mexico State in a thriller. The Lobos finished their non-conference slate without another loss, taking their final five to finish 12-3 heading to conference play.
The Mountain West Conference (MWC) was essentially a battle between New Mexico and San Diego State, with the two sides hovering atop the conference wire to wire. The Lobos fell narrowly 76-73 to open league play, but would reel off their next five before losing a 71-70 heartbreaker at Boise State. Another lengthy winning streak would follow, as New Mexico dominated its next six opponents by double-digit margins, including a 12-point victory over UNLV in their rematch and 14-point win over then no. 6 San Diego State. The Lobos would lose just one more regular season game 51-48 in the rematch at San Diego State en route to the MWC title, topping none other than the Aztecs 64-58 in the championship game.
C – Alex Kirk
F – Cameron Bairstow
G – Kendall Williams
G – Hugh Greenwood
G – Deshawn Delaney
Who’s Hot: Senior F Cameron Bairstow is the nation’s no. 19-ranked scorer, so he’s pretty much always on. Bairstow had just one game all season where he didn’t reach double-figures in scoring and it’s no coincidence that the result, an 81-65 loss to UMass, was one of New Mexico’s worst. With 21 games with 20 or more points and 55.6 percent from the floor, his contributions are vital.
Who’s Not: Junior C Alex Kirk. At 7-0 250 pounds, Kirk hasn’t always been as dominant in the pain as he maybe should. He’s shown flashes, but seems to go away in the big ones. In three games against San Diego State, Kirk has averaged 9.3 points. The Lobos will need an about face from Kirk for a deep run.
Outlook: The Lobos obviously helped themselves a great deal by winning the MWC tourney. They’re projected to be seeded as high as 5th, but, depending on the draw, that could be a dangerous place to start. The 12-5 matchup has produced an upset about 33 percent of the time, so a higher seeding might be a good thing. Bairstow will more than likely be on. He usually is. But the Lobos need much more, namely Kirk to flex his muscle down low and Williams to create. If everything’s clicking, a deep run is well within reason for New Mexico.
Commentary byRick Sarlat