Two more wins this week and the Lobos will have a lot more to feel good about when the next round of national rankings are issued early next week.
As the only unbeaten team in Mountain West Conference play, UNM can open at least a two-game lead in the standings with a sweep of Colorado State and San Diego State.
At 16-2 overall and 3-0 in league play, New Mexico moved up to No. 15 in The Associated Press Top 25 and to No. 17 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
Every other team in the MWC has at least one loss.
Every team outside of Colorado State has at least two.
The Rams (15-3, 2-1) visit The Pit on Wednesday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:06 p.m.
The Lobos are the only MWC team currently ranked in the AP poll while San Diego State (14-4, 2-2) dropped to No. 25 in the coaches poll.
The Aztecs and UNLV had been in the polls all season until each stumbled through a slow start in what is quickly proving to be a rugged MWC slate.
The conference has enjoyed unprecedented success this season, posting the highest nonconference winning percentage in the league’s history.
At some point there have been four different schools in the Top 25.
“How you could be the third best league in the country and only have one ranked team is bothersome,” said Steve Alford, UNM head coach. “We’ve got probably four teams deserving of a ranking right now if you look at their body of work. But unfortunately when we do what other leagues are doing, which is beat up on each other we seem to be penalized more than that.”
Defending the home court is a major priority, according to the league’s coaches.
Five of the nine teams have already failed to do so in the first two weeks of the conference slate. Only the Lobos, Colorado State, UNLV and Air Force are unbeaten at home.
UNM is the only team in the league not to lose on the road.
It all lends credence to the notion that the MWC is quietly becoming one of the power conferences in the nation, not just the West.
“Well I haven’t been able to see the national advertisements, but from my perspective it’s the best I’ve ever seen from top to bottom,” said Larry Shyatt, Wyoming head coach. “There can’t be a coach, regardless of arrogance, that cold be comfortable at home or away this year.”
“Every game you play, you better be ready to play,” said Steve Fisher, San Diego State head coach. “I don’t think you can consider any game, the out come of any game, an upset.”
It all makes Wednesday’s game between the Lobos and Colorado State all the more important for the entire league.
A UNM win gives the front-runner a big edge as the 16-game regular season race reaches the first turn.
A Rams upset not only gives them a big win in a building few teams will have success in, but it brings the Lobos a little closer to the pack heading into one of its tougher road games of the season on Saturday at San Diego State.
As the coaches are quick to point out, there are no gimmies on the MWC road this year. With the exception of possibly Fresno State and Air Force, each environment is a serious challenge for any visiting team.
That said, the biggest road win thus far is UNLV’s breakthrough at San Diego State. The Runnin’ Rebels have had the toughest slate in the early going, traveling to UNM, San Diego State and Colorado State. That’s arguably the three most daunting road trips in the league.
Boise State’s win at Wyoming is also big because not many teams will have success in the Arena Auditorium. Just ask San Diego State, which scored just nine points in the first half in its 13-point loss to the Cowboys last weekend.
Out sick: UNM’s Alex Kirk did not participate in Monday afternoon’s practice.
The 7-foot sophomore (12.3 points, 7.9 rebounds) is the latest Lobo to come down with the flu.
Travel well: The Lobos are 24-16 in MWC games in Alford’s six seasons. They were 7-37 in the previous six.