|The Lobos won their their third MWC title in the past four years and third overall. (US Presswire)|
If you'd like to know right now, less than 24 hours before the bracket is released, one of the teams that will be a very popular Elite Eight sleeper pick, you're looking at it. New Mexico won the Mountain West championship Saturday night as the No. 2 seed, knocking off No. 1 San Diego State, 68-59. It's the 13th NCAA tournament appearance for the team from Albuquerque. It has never reach the Sweet 16.
The Lobos are likely to be a No. 4 -- a five at worst -- in the West region, meaning they'll probably be sent to Portland for the first weekend (ABQ gets a first-weekend pod, but it's on UNM's home floor so it cannot play there), and if they survive there, it's off to Phoenix for the regionals. Steve Alford's done a fine job in his five seasons at UNM, yet somewhat surprisingly, this will be only his second time getting the Lobos into the field. He's won more than 20 games every season -- and never less than 22 -- but the out-of-conference schedules have been burdensome in the past.
Not in 2012. It's true that New Mexico didn't play a tough non-con again, but being that the MWC was the sixth-best league in the nation this season, the Lobos beat every team in the league once and swept others, and looked extremely good getting a crown the past few days in Las Vegas, you can believe this team is worth the chatter. Some will doubt it because of its best wins out of the conference being against Saint Louis, Oklahoma State and New Mexico State, but for anyone who followed that Non-BCS Power Pyramid on the blog this year, you know we've been high on UNM.
Kendall Williams is an improved point guard and Drew Gordon at times looks indefensible. New Mexico's a pain to play. It's a joy to watch. You've seen the confidence of this team grow since February. Alford's built himself something special here, and it's plain to see he's grown comfortable in a place where, 10 years ago, he probably thought he could never wind up.