New Mexico team capsule
New Mexico (29-4)
COACH: Steve Alford, three years at New Mexico, first year in NCAA Tournament
HOW THEY GOT IN: At-large bid
MATCHUP BREAKDOWN: The Lobos open Thursday in San Jose, Calif., against 14th-seeded Montana, which already enters the NCAAs as a tournament darling. The Grizzlies advanced by overcoming a 20-point halftime deficit in the Big Sky tournament final — against top-seeded Weber State on its home court — as guard Anthony Johnson turned in one of the most brilliant performances of the season. Johnson, a unanimous selection to the all-conference team, scored 42 points, including 34 in the second half. Montana has four players who shoot better than 40 percent from 3-point range and could cause some problems with 6-11 center Brian Qvale.
GO-TO GUYS: Junior college transfer Darington Hobson, a 6-7 wing who can play any perimeter position, score, distribute, crash the boards — cue the Penny Hardaway comparisons — is the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year. He had 13 double-doubles on the season and eight in the 10 games before the NCAA Tournament. "Just his maturity as a basketball player has been amazing," coach Steve Alford said. The left-handed Hobson averages 16.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists — leading the team in each category. He also is shooting 36.9 percent from behind the arc. Speedy junior point guard Dairese Gary has been hot, leading the team in scoring in three of the past five games and averaging 12.7 points for the season. Forward Roman Martinez scores 13.8 points per game and is one of the most prolific 3-point shooters in the MWC, hitting 42.2 percent (94 of 223).
THEY’LL KEEP WINNING IF: The Lobos have had a magical season — setting a school record with 29 victories after being picked fifth in the league in a preseason media poll — and can’t let a loss to San Diego State in the MWC tournament semifinals affect their psyche. Before that 72-69 setback, New Mexico had been 12-0 in games decided by six points or less … and at some point that becomes more than just a statistical oddity, it grows into a late-game confidence that all teams need in the NCAAs. Beyond that, New Mexico would like to avoid teams with big front lines — or a single dominant, tall center — for as long as it can.
STRENGTHS: The Lobos exerted their usual dominance at The Pit, but this isn’t a typical New Mexico team that struggles outside of Albuquerque. UNM had eight true road wins in five seasons under former coach Ritchie McKay; this team had 10 such victories this season. For a team that lacks size, the Lobos really attack the offensive glass and are aggressive enough to draw fouls and get to the line 25.7 times per game. They can run but they also can settle into a half-court game and take advantage of their 3-point shooters. New Mexico typically has the edge from the outside, hitting nearly 38 percent of its 3-point shots while its opponents are at 32.2 percent. New Mexico started the same starting lineup in every game.
WEAKNESSES: New Mexico lost a pair of 6-10 centers — one to a knee injury, the other to disciplinary problems — leaving the team with no one taller than 6-8. A.J. Hardeman and Will Brown rotate in the post. "Hopefully, in the NCAA tournament, we’ll get a favorable matchup to where we’re not playing against a huge team, because we’re deficient there," Alford said. "We’re very vulnerable there with the lack of size that we have on this year’s team." While New Mexico gets to the line seven more times than its opponent on average, the Lobos make a pedestrian 67.7 percent of their attempts.