By Brody Foster
The UNM Lobos basketball teams are making one final push for the NCAA Tournament, which begins March 14.
Lobo fans are watching anxiously as the men’s and women’s teams have only a few more weeks to build a resume good enough to see their names called on Selection Sunday.
The NCAA Tournament, known as March Madness, draws from a field of 68 teams selected after the conference tournaments in early March. In order to immediately qualify, the Lobos would have to win at the Mountain West Tournament.
When the conference tournaments are over, an NCAA committee ranks and creates a bracket leading to the championship game April 13.
The buzz around the tournament would be a great thing for the university, UNM Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez said in an interview.
“I’m excited for our fans,” he said. “We’re getting national recognition that’s helping this institution, this university, really give themselves a platform we haven’t had in a long time.”
The process, Selection Sunday, is nationally televised and watched by millions of fans, which would be the beginning of weeks of a spotlight on UNM.
“It would be a great opportunity for us,” Nuñez said. “It’s unbelievable financially for us, for our fanbase, for the trust, for the passion, for the brand.”
In early February the Lobo’s men’s basketball team had a record of 19-5 while the women’s team was 14-11.
Looking at predictive brackets the men’s team is hanging around a 9 or 10 seed, while the women are on the outside looking in.
The men’s team started the season hot, 14-0 but hit a little slump in January, going 5-3. The women had more of an up-and-down season, hanging above .500, starting 8-5 and going 5-4 in January.
Both still have time to get big wins and avoid upsets before the teams are locked into the bracket. Winning at Mountain West could also earn a team automatic qualification.
Almost half the teams in March Madness get there by winning their conference tournaments, a low-stress path for the teams and their fans during the selection process.
Lobo fans have been waiting a while to see their teams back in March Madness, playing meaningful basketball. It has been nine long years since the men’s team has been to the dance, and 15 for the women even after they won the regular season Mountain West title in 2021.
Ben Baker-Livingston has been closely watching Lobos basketball for years and is excited about UNM’s chances. Playing in March Madness “would just bring excitement back to all the (UNM) sports,” he said.
Fans showed their appreciation for Lobo men’s success this season by showing up in droves to home games at the Pit. They played several home games with more than 14,000 fans in attendance; the Jan. 7 game versus UNLV had a sell-out crowd of over 15,000.
Fans and the atmosphere they create should continue to help the Lobos in the final home games of the season as the push for March continues. The Mountain West tournaments start the first week of March and the Lobos need to have a good final showing before Selection Sunday.
The next game for the Lady Lobos is Feb. 16 in the Pit versus Wyoming (17-8), while the men also play at the Pit against Wyoming (7-17) on Feb. 14.
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