Down went Purdue Monday night. Which means introductions are in order.
Say hello to the New Mexico Lobos, a team now alone in their perfection.
“We have a refuse to lose mentality,” junior guard Jamal Mashburn Jr. was saying about the 14-0 Lobos. So far, anyway. Here are 17 things to know about the last unbeaten team in the land.
(Editor's note: This article was written before undefeated Purdue lost to Rutgers. It has been updated.)
1. 55 years
We’re talking mostly black-and-white television the last time the Lobos started 14-0. That was 55 years year. Also, it is only Jan. 2 — not quite the halfway mark of the schedule — and New Mexico has already passed its victory total last season, when the final record was 13-19.
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The Lobos are No. 21 in this week’s Associated Press poll, their highest spot in more than eight years. They’ve been on a steady ascent, since not receiving a single vote in the AP preseason poll and being voted fifth in the Mountain West pre-season rankings. “I thought we would be improved, but probably not sitting here like this,” coach Richard Pitino said. Best start in a half-century? “Amazing,” Pitino said. One of the country’s last two unbeaten teams before Purdue went down? “Amazing,” Pitino said. There seems a theme here.
The Lobos are part of the unexpected landscape that is college basketball as 2023 begins. Purdue has gone from unranked to No. 1. North Carolina began the season No. 1 and Kentucky No. 4, and neither are ranked this week. Neither are Big East favorites Creighton and Villanova, who are a combined 15-13. But the College of Charleston is.
4. Free throws
The 2023 portion of the season begins with the Lobos second in the nation in free throws attempted. And made.
Their 84-63 win at SMU was the Mustangs’ worst non-conference thrashing on their home court in 28 years.
FINAL@UNMLoboMBB 84— Brandon Ortega (@Brandega) November 16, 2022
Dominant night for the Lobos@jaelenhouse10 18 pts, 3 stl, 5 ast@allick_josiah 18 pts, 9 reb@MorrisUdeze24 15 pts, 8 reb@its_jaymashjr 16 pts
Back at The Pit Saturday vs NM State
Highlights on @KOB4 @NMGameDay pic.twitter.com/ZhoVQVEbbr
6. Streaks snapped
They fell behind Saint Mary’s 13-2 after eight minutes but rolled past the Gaels to snap their 23-game homecourt winning streak, 69-65.
They were down 12 points to San Francisco but rallied to win 67-64.
They escaped at Wyoming 76-75 last weekend, with two Mashburn free throws with 17.7 seconds left. “They can’t all be beautiful,” Pitino said. “Sometimes you need to go on the road and make one more play than them.”
9. Family battles
New Mexico won the Pitino Bowl, as the Lobos defeated Iona 82-74. It was Richard Pitino coaching against Rick, the 21st father-son matchup in Division I history.
10. Points in the paint
The Lobos like to work close to the basket. Only 28.4 percent of their field goal attempts have been from behind the three-point arc and their 237 three-point shots are 330th in the nation. They’re averaging 36.9 points in the paint a game.
Between nine returnees and two transfers, New Mexico’s roster averaged a combined 93.5 points last season.
12. Transfer success
The Lobos are one of only three teams in the nation with three players averaging above 15.5 points a game — Mashburn and Jaelen House at 17.1, and Morris Udeze at 15.7. All three transferred to Albuquerque in the past two seasons.
13. Like father, like son
Mashburn followed Pitino from Minnesota to New Mexico last season to continue to play for him. It runs in the families. Mashburn’s father Jamal played for Rick Pitino at Kentucky. The son has scored double figures in 35 consecutive games, tied for the third-longest streak in the nation.
14. Family ties
House is the latest star of a basketball-rich heritage. His father Eddie is the career leading scorer at Arizona State, where Jaelen started. His uncle Mike played for the 1997 Arizona national champions, who beat Rick Pitino’s Kentucky in the title game. His grandfather Henry was a guard for UCLA’s championship team in the early 1970s. Seven more points and Jaelen will join his three relatives with 1,000 career points.
Pitino, whose eight seasons at Minnesota included an NIT championship and 2017 Big Ten coach of the year, has sent out the same starting five in all 14 games.
The Lobos hope this good karma carries over to March. New Mexico has not won an NCAA tournament game in 10 years. The last Sweet 16 appearance for the Lobos was in 1974.
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17. The hunted
The next threat to New Mexico’s perfect record is Tuesday’s trip to Fresno State, where the Lobos have not won since 2016. New Mexico has become a high-value target.
“We’ve been kind of like transformed from the hunters to the hunted,” forward Josiah Allick said. “We’re not going to have any easy ones the rest of the way.”
Indeed, Pitino knows what is required ahead.
“I mean, who are we to be arrogant?” he said. “Our guys have been humble, they’ve been hungry.”
And so far, impossible to beat. The only one left.