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Lobo hoops notebook: UNM to play in tournament with much-needed power conference opponents

Mar. 25—Out with the old and in with the new.

The 2023-24 season may have just ended on Friday and player transfer decisions are just getting rolling, but it's never too early to look ahead at future schedules, especially for a UNM Lobos team in desperate need of bulking up its nonconference scheduling moving forward.

The Lobos over the past two seasons have the second best nonconference record in the country (25-1, second only to Purdue's 22-0) and still wouldn't have made the NCAA Tournament either year had it not won the Mountain West Tournament earlier this month.

With budget issues forcing UNM to play so many home games to generate revenue, Lobos coach Richard Pitino has acknowledged the program's need to get into a much better MTE (multi-team event), the nonconference tournaments that teams often play in and that give teams like UNM a chance to face power conference schools even if those teams won't come to the Pit to play.

UNM has signed a contract to play in the Palm Springs Invitational in November — a three-game (one in the Pit, two in Acrisure Arena in Palm Springs, California) event with specific opponents, broadcast information and game times not yet announced.

What the contract the Journal reviewed does indicate is that UNM will pay $85,000 to be in the event, which will include hosting one game in mid-November against an opponent the event organizers will choose (UNM can keep gate revenue from that game) and then play two games over a three-day span Nov. 28-30 (it is not certain if the games will be back-to-back days or on Nov. 28 and 30).

While the contract does not stipulate opponents or even which teams will be participating, CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein last month posted on X that the Thanksgiving Week event "will feature USC, San Diego State, Arizona State, TCU, SMU, New Mexico, Washington State, Saint Mary's and others."

CBI TIME: OK, so the Lobos are out of the Big Dance. But there are still some players with Lobo ties in the postseason.

The final four (no trademark infringing capital letters there!) of the pay-to-play CBI tournament begins Tuesday night in Daytona Beach, Fla., with three of the four teams having a former Lobo connection.

—No. 1 seed High Point, which plays No. 4 Arkansas State at 5 p.m. on ESPN2, is coached by former UNM assistant Alan Huss (2014-17) with one of his assistants being former UNM walk-on (2015) and one-year graduate assistant (2016) Mike Nesbitt, who also was an assistant for the 2019-20 season at New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs.

—No. 4 Arkansas State's leading scorer (12.5 points per game) is guard Taryn Todd, who played for the Lobos in 2021-22 (Pitino's first season) and averaged 4.2 points with 13 starts. He transferred to UNM from TCU and last year played at Northwest Florida State College.

—No. 7 Fairfield, which plays No. 3 Seattle in the other semifinal on ESPN2 at 7 p.m., features two-year Lobo forward Birima Seck, who transferred there this season after playing the previous two with the Lobos. The 6-foot-10 Seck played in 24 games this season for the Stags, averaging 3.0 points, 2.7 rebounds and 13.4 minutes per game.

TV TIME: UNM's NCAA Tournament game against Clemson on Friday afternoon on truTV — the least available of all the networks carrying men's NCAA Tournament games — received a viewership of 857,000 according to the X account @SportsTVRatings, which published Monday a list of most of the games broadcast in round 1 (Thursday and Friday).

That was the fifth highest-rated game of the nine broadcast on truTV.

IT'S OFFICIAL: The NCAA on Monday announced the 40 game officials who have made the grade to get the call for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight round of games in the Big Dance.

Ten of them have called UNM games this season — with Michael Reed, Tony Padilla, Randy Richardson and Michael Irving getting multiple Lobo games.

Irving did the most Lobo games of the final 40 refs still calling NCAA Tournament games, with UNM going 3-4 in those games. Reed worked six UNM games, with the Lobos going 4-2 in those games.

The top viewed game of Round 1 was the prime-time upset of No. 14 Oakland over Kentucky on CBS, which had more than 6.2 million viewers.