Kendall Williams James Rahon Skylar Spencer

Just how good is New Mexico? Is a No. 1 seed in their future? Potentially.

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Another day, another New Mexico win.

The No. 14 Lobos had a bit of a scare in the second half, as San Diego State whittled a 15 point lead down to six, but generally speaking, the last 20 minutes of UNM’s 70-60 win over the Aztecs was played with a pretty healthy cushion.

And now, with just three games left in the regular season, the Lobos have a strangle hold on the MWC’s regular season title. They lead second-place Colorado State by two full games and don’t play another game against a team that is in the top five of the league standings.

The question now becomes just how good these Lobos truly are.

We know about their defense, which currently ranks 10th in defensive efficiency according to Kenpom. The issue is on the offensive end of the floor, but some answers are being found. Two weeks ago, the Lobos were sitting in the 120 range in offensive efficiency. Heading into Wednesday night’s game, UNM was 96th, and it’s not all Kendall Williams and his 46 points.

Alex Kirk has turned into an absolute monster the last five games. He’s averaging 15.4 points, 10.8 boards and 3.4 blocks during that stretch, capped by the 25 points, nine boards and three blocks he had on Wednesday. He’s playing at a level that we’ve never seen out of him, and it’s made a difference. A little offensive balance never hurt anyone.

But here’s where things will get interesting for Lobo fans: New Mexico’s profile is really impressive. They’re 3rd in the RPI and 4th in strength of schedule. They now have eight top 50 wins, only half of which came at home, and are 15-4 against the RPI top 100. Their worst loss? At home to South Dakota State and Nate Wolters.

Let’s compare that with, say, Florida. The Gators have five top 50 wins, but none are true road games and only one came away from home. They’re 11-5 against the top 100, with their best road win coming in early December at Florida State. Their worst loss? At Arkansas.

What’s more is that the Lobos are going to have a ton of chances to pick up impressive wins down the stretch of the season. Air Force and Wyoming are both in the RPI top 100. Then comes the MWC tournament, where the Lobos could end up playing two more top 50 teams.

Let’s toss out a hypothetical: UNM wins out, beating UNLV and Colorado State in the MWC tournament. They’ll have five top 25 wins (three away from home), 10 top 50 wins (three on the road, three on a neutral court) and 19 top 100 wins. They’ll have won the RPI’s No. 1 conference by two full games and taken home the MWC’s tournament title on a court in Vegas.

That’s a long way away, but that looks an awful lot like a No. 1 seed, doesn’t it?

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Marcus Paige, Joel Berry lead No. 9 North Carolina past No. 2 Maryland

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — He’s back.

For the first time this season — and for the first time in more than a year that he hasn’t been hampered with some kind of foot or ankle injury — Marcus Paige donned a North Carolina jersey, and it didn’t take him long to find the form that made him the Preseason National Player of the Year.

On the first Tar Heel possession, Paige came off of a ball-screen, drove the lane and found Kennedy Meeks at the rim for a layup. Not 30 seconds later, he came off of a down screen and buried a three. Paige would finish with 20 points and five assists as No. 9 North Carolina put together a fairly resounding win over No. 2 Maryland in the Dean Dome on Tuesday night, winning 89-81.

Paige finished 7-for-12 from the floor and 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, hitting a number of threes in the second half that helped hold off a Maryland push sparked by their own all-american point guard, Melo Trimble.

Trimble was erratic early on, committing three turnovers in the first six minutes and eight on the night, but it was his play at the end of the first half and early second half that kept North Carolina from blowing their doors. At one point, Maryland was down 32-19 and in danger of getting run out of Tobacco Road.

In total, Trimble finished with 23 points and 12 assists, hitting four big threes during that stretch. He either scored or assisted on 11 of Maryland’s first 12 second half field goals.

As good as Paige was, the bigger story may actually be Joel Berry II. He took two dumb threes in the first half — which played a role in Maryland being able to make this a game — and he missed a few free throws late, but overall he was terrific. He finished with 14 points and five assists, making 3-of-5 threes and turning the ball over just twice. He’s clearly beat Nate Britt out at the point guard spot, and his ability to take pressure off of Paige as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker is huge.

(More to come from Chapel Hill…)

VIDEO: Melo Trimble drops Nate Britt with a crossover

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North Carolina is hosting No. 2 Maryland in a heated contest in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Terps sophomore guard Melo Trimble is playing very well and part of his performance was dropping North Carolina’s Nate Britt with a crossover in the second half.

(H/T: The Cauldron)