By Arnie Leshin
For the University of New Mexico’s men’s basketball team, the only March Madness road would be the longest of all postseason tournaments, the National Invitational Tournament.
Yes, the NIT is not a bad path to take. Make the Final Four and you land at the Meca of all arenas, Madison Square Garden, which back in the day was the only national championship, where some schools won both the NCAA and NIT.
Now it travels from the higher-seed courts of teams that qualified with .500 or better overall records, but the biggest prize is to visit New York City and play at MSG.
It was Wednesday night‘s Mountain West Conference tournament 91-76 loss to Utah State that finally erased the Lobos, with a good 22-11 overall mark, from joining the 68-team field.
The 2nd-seeded Aggies were just too good for 6th-seeded UNM, taking a quick lead and never allowing the Lobos within double digits of them. It was quickly a 13-2 Utah State run that began the setback.
In the other Mountain West tourney games, top-seeded San Diego State had a rather difficult time with 8th-seeded Colorado State before prevailing, 64-61, 3rd-seeded Boise State got past 7th-seeded UNLV, 87-76, and 5th-seeded San Jose State turned back 5th-seeded slumping Nevada, 81-72.
No doubt, San Diego State (24-6) will gain the NCAA tournament, as will Utah State and Boise State. Nevada is on the bubble. The NIT? Maybe New Mexico, San Jose State, UNLV, and perhaps even Steve Alford’s Nevada team.