New Mexico is one of the favorites in the Mountain West Conference, and if the Lobos want to reach the NCAA tournament with an at-large bid, they had better perform well away from The Pit.
On the road is where they can find signature wins.
That's because they'll be playing at Arizona State, at USC, against Oklahoma State in Oklahoma City. At the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif., they'll take on Santa Clara in the opening round, Oklahoma or Washington State in the next round and could be bound for a date with Villanova.
At home, New Mexico definitely needs wins as well with Missouri State, New Mexico State and Saint Louis coming to town. But after the Lobos declined to schedule UTEP at The Pit, some of the teams the Lobos will face might not help their strength of schedule, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
Nearly every non-MWC team on this year’s home schedule had losing Division I records last season. The exceptions are North Dakota (19-15 and 8-5 in the Great West Conference), Missouri-Kansas City (16-14, 9-9 in the Summit League) and Missouri State (26-9 and won the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title at 15-3). The latter game was set up by the leagues as part of the MVC-Mountain West Conference Challenge.
Houston Baptist was 5-26 and 2-10 in the Great West while NMSU was 16-17 and 9-7 in the WAC. Montana State and Idaho State combined for overall records of 22-38 and 11-21 in the Big Sky Conference.
New Mexico coach Steve Alford, who can't afford losses to some of those teams, remains confident that success during the nonconference portion of the schedule can get the Lobos to where they want to go.
"With a lot of returning players and experience from a year ago and the loss of two conference teams, a lot of emphasis was put on the strength of our nonconference schedule," Alford said in a statement. "For the first time in school history we will play 16 nonleague games and not start Mountain West play until Jan 14. I am very pleased that this schedule will prepare us for league play as well as give us plenty of opportunities to set us up for postseason play."