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.