The most frustrated college basketball fans in the country have to be New Mexico Lobo faithful in Albuquerque.
Every year the Lobos come ever so close to making the NCAAs only to miss out and make their annual trudge to the NIT. They've won 20 or more games five of the last seven years (including 24 wins in '84 and 25 in '87) and ended up in the NIT every time.This year the Lobos were preseason picks to win the WAC, but have been up and down all season. They appear to be on the bubble again with a 17-8 mark heading down the homestretch.
According to Andy Kantz, the New Mexico beat writer for the Albuquerque Journal, hopes aren't too high for the Lobos making their first NCAA appearance since 1978, although an Eastern columnist included the Lobos in his projected 64-team bracket earlier this week.
"They figure we have to win the WAC tournament (to make it)," said Kantz, speaking for the frustrated Lobo fans.
Kantz has his own theory about the Lobos' chances. Win their remaining three regular-season games (home and away vs. UTEP, Air Force on the road) and two games in the WAC tournament. That would give them a 22-9 mark and with the WAC likely to get three teams this year, they would go along with Utah and the WAC tourney champ (assuming it isn't Utah).
The Lobos own two wins over ranked teams - Utah and New Mexico State, both at home, but one of their wins was against Division II competition and won't count in the eyes of the NCAA. The killer defeat for the Lobos, according to Kantz, was the loss to BYU last week.
TRIVIA: Louisville is the NCAA record-holder with 46 consecutive winning seasons, but with a 9-14 mark is likely to see its streak end this year. Which school would take over with the most consecutive winning seasons?
WAC PREVIEW: With just two weeks left until the WAC tournament in Laramie, the only certainties are that Utah (14-1) will be the No. 1 seed and Air Force (1-12) will be No. 9.
BYU (10-4) can clinch the No. 2 spot with a win over Air Force tonight. Wyoming (7-6) should be No. 3 with three home games remaining. New Mexico (7-6) and UTEP (7-6) play each other twice (tonight and Saturday), and will likely split, but even if one team sweeps, the two rivals will likely finish 4th and 5th. Hawaii (6-8) with its road win over San Diego Thursday gives it the inside track on the 6th spot with Colorado State (4-9) and San Diego State (5-9) vying for 7th. With an easier remaining schedule, the Rams should edge the Aztecs.
So here's the latest in the probable WAC pairings: Utah vs. San Diego State-Air Force winner; BYU vs. Colorado State; Wyoming vs. Hawaii; New Mexico vs. UTEP. The Utes would be in the same bracket with New Mexico and UTEP, while BYU would have a possible semifinal matchup with the host Cowboys.
BIG WEST LOOK: The only thing certain in the Big West is that UNLV and New Mexico State will finish 1-2. The rest of the mediocre league is a mess. No one has been eliminated yet (only eight of the 10 teams are invited to the tourney this year), although San Jose State and Cal Irvine are the most likely to stay home this year.
With a win over Long Beach tonight, Utah State (7-8) would pretty much lock up a spot in the 4th vs. 5th first-round game, putting them in the same bracket as UNLV. With three straight losses, the Aggies could fall low enough to face a first-round game with UNLV or New Mexico State.
BIG SKY LOOK: In the Big Sky, Weber State (6-7) remains on the bubble for the six-team tournament along with Boise State (7-6), Montana State (6-8) and Idaho State (6-8).
Montana (11-2), Nevada (9-4) and Idaho (8-4) are safe, with Montana holding the inside track to host the conference tourney after Nevada's home loss to Boise this week. Eastern Washington and Northern Arizona are out of it.
After tonight's game at Nevada, Weber has two home games next week, one against Boise, as does Idaho State. Montana State looks like the most likely odd team out with two road games at Montana and Idaho next week.
SEVEN OUT: One reason the WAC should get at least three teams in the 64-team NCAA this year is the number of good teams on probation. Kentucky and Illinois, which would be locks and Missouri, which would be a probable, aren't eligible.
Four other teams that are ineligible, but who wouldn't have made it without winning their conference tournaments are Maryland, Robert Morris, Marshall and Northwestern Louisiana.
TRIVIA ANSWER: ACLA has 42 consecutive winning seasons.
TOO MUCH EXCITEMENT: Earlier this year, the University of Utah had a harrowing experience on a flight from Denver after the Michigan game.
For the University of Iowa, it's getting to be a common occurrence. The Hawkeyes have been late leaving or returning from every Big Ten Conference road game this year because of bad weather or mechanical problems.
The worst was Thursday night after their upset win over Indiana when the team's twin-engine charter lost an engine and had to make an emergency landing in Peoria, Illinois.
From Peoria, the team had to bus the rest of the way to Iowa City and arrived at 5 a.m.
According to Iowa Coach Tom Davis, the team doesn't fly commercial because of too much missed class time. But he said Iowa is searching for a new charter company, to replace the St. Louis-based company that has given them a few too many thrills this year.