Stevens: It's An NCAA Special Time For Alford's Lobos

March 19, 2013

New Mexico Men's Basketball - 2013 NCAA Championship - West Region

Who: No. 10 ranked New Mexico Lobos (No. 3 seed) vs. Harvard Crimson (No. 14 seed)
Where/When: 7:50 p.m. (MT), Thursday - Salt Lake City's EnergySolutions Arena (19,911)
On The Air: 770-AM KKOB/Lobo Radio Network - TNT (TV) Game Story, GameTracker, Statistics, LoboTV, Quotes

Lobo NCAA Game Notes vs. Harvard Get Acrobat Reader

"There's talk on the street, it sounds so familiar. Great expectations, everybody's watching you. -- Eagles.

By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/

The NCAA talk is back. The expectations for New Mexico basketball are as high as ever. A nation is watching.

A nation is full of NCAA smack, predictions, hopes and dreams as 68 teams reach for what only one team will grasp.

Is this a flashback to 1978 when Stormin' Norm Ellenberger's No. 4 ranked Lobos were supposed to ride The Pit to The Final Four? Sure - kind of. But it's also a flashback to just about any year the Lobos push their way into the NCAA bracket.

This is a program of standards and expectations backed by a community of Lobos with similar hopes and dreams. It is one of the things that make Lobo basketball special and unique.

Now it's time to reach out and see what can be grasped.

Coach Steve Alford's pack doesn't have the tease of The Pit as a potential boost to The Final Four. However, a UNM program that has never advanced to the Sweet 16 is being talked about as a Final Four contender.

This is a team that is respected on the national level and that respect has created great expectations and a great opportunity - an opportunity that New Mexico basketball has never exploited to full potential.

Do you remember who advanced to The Final Four in 2012? Maybe. But do you remember who lost third-round games in the South Region. Probably not. This is a special time for Lobo basketball.

Harvard Coach TommyAmaker says New Mexico is "a team that a lot of people are picking as maybe a dark horse to get all the way to The Final Four."

The No. 3 seed Lobos get their first taste of March Madness 2013 style Thursday in Salt Lake City when they battle an overachieving No. 14 seed Harvard team that lost two captains during an academic investigation and was supposed to watch somebody else win the Ivy League title.

Harvard trailed Princeton by a game with two to play and won the Ivy by a game as Princeton dropped its final two games and Harvard did not.

The expectations in Salt Lake City are that New Mexico will roll and likely clash with No. 6 seed Arizona on Saturday. If that happens, the Wildcats won't be easy. They were a Top 10 team throughout the season and are athletic and very quick - kind of like the Washington team that beat UNM in 2010.

The Lobos had a chance to set school history by entering the NCAA bracket as a No. 2 seed, but slipped the wrong way off that delicate bubble between No. 2 and No. 3.

Not that big a deal. That No. 3 seed pits you against No. 14 instead of No. 15 and - if there are no upsets - against a No. 6 instead of a No. 7.

The physical matchups are more of a factor than the seed number and then No. 2 and No. 3 clash anyway. The Lobos had a shot at a No. 2 seed in 2010, but lost to San Diego State in the finals of the Mountain West Tournament.

The snub might actually help the 2013 Lobos. The Alford Lobos seem to play nastier and better with a chip on their shoulder and the NCAA Selection Committee provided a small one.

In 2010, Darington Hobson predicted the No. 3 seed Lobos would advance to the Elite Eight and that didn't happen. UNM lost its second game, to Washington, and didn't make the Sweet 16.

Alford knows that the focus needs to be on the now - in this case Harvard. "Our minds are set on advancing," said Alford.

A length-of-the-court drive starts with a single dribble and the road to Atlanta starts - or ends - with a team's first game. This NCAA tournament is a lot easier to lose than it is to win. The 1978 Lobos were upset in their first game by Cal State Fullerton and never made it to the regional finals set for The Pit.

March Madness - the NCAA Men's Basketball Championships - is arguably the greatest championship series in sports. The PR advantages for a program are tremendous and special.

The Lobos took advantage of that Sunday with a Selection Day Pit Party that had to wow the nation. There were twice as many Lobo fans in The Pit than Harvard gets for a game (1,629).

In 2010, if the Lobos had advanced out of San Jose, Calif., they were heading to Syracuse N.Y. This time they can move on to Los Angeles - better, closer, drivable.

But the road to Los Angeles for Alford's Lobos really starts about 2,500 miles away on what's coming from the East Coast - Harvard.