Hard to believe, but one month from now is both the final day of the prep basketball season and the championship round of the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
One month from this very moment, we’ll all be a lot smarter about the teams we love and despise.
With prep hoops being the virtual lifeblood of Northern sports, it’s reasonable to assume that we’ll all have plenty to talk about come the evening of March 16. Some schools will have undoubtedly fulfilled their regular season potential while others will head into the spring sports calendar frustrated over a failure to meet expectations.
Will the Santa Fe Indian School girls really take on Albuquerque Hope Christian in the Class AAA title game like everyone expects? Can the boys teams from Capital and St. Michael’s pull things together long enough to play for a championship?
Can the Pecos boys and Mora girls follow through on their early success and reach the AA finals?
A month from now, we’ll all know for sure.
That same night we’ll also learn a lot more about The University of New Mexico men’s team. The 19th-ranked Lobos, at 21-4 overall and a MWC-leading 8-2 entering Saturday night’s home against Boise State, have many a folk scratching their heads over how good they really are.
In short, they’re good. In many ways, not as good as last season’s MWC championship team. In many, better.
As almost every game this season has shown, they’re much worse in the shooting category. The Lobos connect on roughly 41 percent of their shots, some five percentage points off last year’s pace. Their lack of accuracy ranks them 258th in the country in putting the ball in the basket.
One thing that won’t take a month to figure out: It won’t get any better. There will be flashes where they’ll go LeBron on us and drop in close to 60 percent. In others they’ll resort to their Mr. Hyde persona and connect on fewer than 30 percent. In the end, it’ll average right around 41, so get over it.
If the Lobos win the MWC, they’ll do so with defense and controlling games in the final 10 minutes. This year’s identity is founded in poor shooting, solid defense and an unflappable sense of confidence when the game’s on the line.
You’ll see that again Saturday night when Boise State visits The Pit. The Lobos are favored, as they should be.
What will happen is some variation of what we’ve seen all year: Boise connects on some ridiculous shots, the Lobos keep the game close by laying bricks, it’s a one- or two-possession game in the final few minutes, then UNM pulls it out by getting the Broncos to start shooting even worse than the home team.
It’s a tough thing for fans to accept, but that’s just what this team is.
One month from now, Lobo Nation might very well be celebrating another MWC title and automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. One month from now they’ll also know what we have known since Day 1, that no game for UNM is easy.