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Friday, December 19, 2014

Opener gets airtime on ESPN

sports@dailylobo.com

The Lobo men’s basketball team will face stiffer competition in its out-of-conference schedule this season.

The 2012-13 men’s basketball schedule was released last week, and the Lobos open up the season against the Davidson Wildcats (RPI 64) at The Pit. The game will be broadcast on ESPN’s 24-hour Tip-Off Marathon. Last year, UNM played New Orleans (RPI rank 341) in the home opener and blew them out 92-40.

RPI, or Relative Power Index, is how teams are ranked based on wins, losses and strength of schedule. The system is used in both NCAA basketball and baseball.

UNM head coach Steve Alford said in a press release that he is ready to tackle the onerous nonconference agenda.

“I’m very excited about our schedule,” he said. “It’s a very demanding schedule with a number of difficult home games and some very challenging road games. To get ESPN back in our building during the regular season, to open up college basketball in the ESPN Marathon is very exciting for our program.”

Potentially, the Lobos could face up to seven nonconference teams in the RPI 100 in South Dakota State (RPI 42), Valparaiso (RPI 95), University of Connecticut (RPI 32), Iona (RPI 40), New Mexico State (RPI 59), George Mason (RPI 82) and Davidson. The Lobos’ out-of-conference schedule is composed of opponents ranked in the top 150 in RPI with the exception of USC and University of Illinois-Chicago.

UNM has some key travel dates, beginning with the The Paradise Jam in Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands. The Lobos could potentially play the Huskies and Gaels, both of whom made the NCAA tournament last year.

At the end of December, the Lobos travel to Cincinnati and St. Louis to take on another pair of NCAA tournament teams. Last year, the Bearcats advanced to the Sweet 16, while the Gaels advanced to the round of 32.

Alford said the trip at the end of the calendar year will be among the most challenging of the season.

“We have some BCS schools on our schedule again, and our road trips are going to be extremely demanding with a game at Cincinnati that will be on ESPN2, and then concluding that trip at Saint Louis, two very good NCAA Tournament teams,” he said.

The nonconference games end Jan. 9, when the Lobos face conference rival UNLV at The Pit. Last time the Rebels visited, they were crushed on national television 65-45.

Alford said he hopes the daunting schedule helps the Lobos defend their MWC belt.

“I really like our nonleague schedule, and then in the Mountain West, it’s just going to be another grind in league play,” he said. “We are the defending champions and hopefully we can do the things we need to do to defend that title.”