Lobos can make some noise in the Big Dance

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Sometimes a nine-point margin can be deceiving, and New Mexico’s 68-59 win over No. 18 San Diego State to win the Mountain West tournament title is a prime example of that. Steve Alford’s Lobos never trailed, leading by as many as 16 points before the Aztecs mounted a rally late in the second half.

The reason why SDSU couldn’t climb any closer than five points: New Mexico’s defense, which was nowhere near as good in either regular season meeting (the teams split the two games). After watching the Aztecs shoot 48.1% and 45.5% in those two games, UNM clamped down in the most important meeting and limited San Diego State to 37.7% shooting in Las Vegas.

Chase Tapley may have scored 25 points to lead all scorers but he needed 21 shots from the field to do so, and Mountain West Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin made six of his fourteen field goal attempts and scored 16 points. No other SDSU player would score more than eight points, combining to shoot 7-for-36 from the field.

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Of course the Lobos don’t lack for talent, with forward Drew Gordon (who fans serenaded with chants of “MVP” during the on-court celebration) and guards Tony Snell and Kendall Williams being the main cogs in the attack. If they work defensively as they have the last two nights (UNLV shot 35.6% on Friday), and role players such as Demetrius Walker continue to improve, New Mexico is capable of reaching the second weekend.

However where the Lobos will be seeded is a factor that needs to be taken into consideration. Did their tournament title push them past San Diego State and UNLV in the Mountain West pecking order?

That can definitely be argued, but given a non-conference slate that doesn’t jump off the paper (it includes a loss to Santa Clara, who went winless in the WCC), UNM could be destined to be the most dangerous 5-7 seed in the field.