Fresh off its stunning home loss to South Dakota State, The University of New Mexico (12-1) dropped completely out of the rankings after sitting at No. 16 in the AP and No. 17 in the coaches’ poll. It was the biggest slip of any team in either poll, topping the slide of Syracuse, which fell six spots from No. 3 after a weekend loss to Temple.
UNM had been ranked for the previous four weeks and was one of eight undefeated teams in the country heading into last Saturday’s game against South Dakota State. The 70-65 loss was the Lobos’ first December home loss in exactly eight years.
Duke (11-0) remained the consensus No. 1 in both polls while Michigan (12-0) held firm at No. 2. Arizona (11-0) jumped to No. 3 in both polls, but the Wildcats get a stiff test on Christmas Day when they face No. 17 San Diego State (11-1) in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu.
The Aztecs are one of two teams from the Mountain West Conference in the top 25, joining No. 20 UNLV (11-1). The Runnin’ Rebels visit unranked North Carolina on Saturday.
Time off: Lobos head coach Steve Alford cut his players loose immediately after the South Dakota loss, giving them two full days off to spend with family and friends. They were to return to campus Tuesday for a practice on Christmas night.
The team flies out of Albuquerque on Wednesday for a nationally televised game on ESPN2 at No. 8 Cincinnati (12-0) on Thursday. It’s part of a challenging stretch that Alford calls the toughest part of his team’s schedule. The Lobos visit St. Louis on Dec. 31, then return home to open the MWC schedule against UNLV.
“It’s a very demanding stretch, so hopefully the break comes at a good time where they can clear their heads and come back and refocus on the things that we’ve done pretty good all year,” Alford said.
Letdown? Alford said any notion of UNM’s loss to South Dakota State being the result of holiday distractions and two emotional games against in-state rival New Mexico State is a weak argument.
“You can always look at those things,” he said. “We addressed that after the game, that if that’s what happened, that’s a really soft mentality.”