May Madness in effect.
By this time next week, the curtain on the high school basketball season will go up as the 2021 state basketball tournament gets underway — sans fans — in the Albuquerque area.
The thought of prep hoops in May seems bizarre, but holding an entire state tournament without fans only adds to it. Because Bernalillo County is still in yellow status on the state’s framework for the coronavirus pandemic, spectators cannot attend indoor events. The county needs to be at least at the green level to have fans indoors.
The state updates its color framework every other week, and the next update doesn’t come until May 5 — the third day of the tournament. The likelihood of Bernalillo County elevating to green isn’t great. While the positivity rate is well below the minimum threshold for a green status, the number of cases per 100,000 residents is 11.3; the minimum to move out of yellow is 8.0.
Barring a late change in policy by the state, the best anyone can do is buy a subscription to the NFHS Network and watch games online. Just so you know, it’s $10.99 for a monthly pass or $69.99 for a year.
Pairings for the state tournament come out Saturday night, and the tournament begins May 3.
u u u
Speaking of which, the playoffs have already started for boys basketball’s District 5-5A, thanks to Capital’s season-saving win over Los Lunas last week. The Jaguars would have done themselves no favors with a loss at home to the Tigers.
Heading into the final week of the regular season, Santa Fe and Los Lunas are tied for first with 6-2 records, and Capital is half a game back at 5-2. With only three at-large bids for the Class 5A tournament distributed between the five districts, it’s entirely likely only one (or none) will go from 5-5A. That makes Wednesday’s Capital-Santa Fe game in Toby Roybal Memorial Gym the Super Bowl of playoff eliminators.
Capital has three games in the span of four days this week, the last being a makeup date with Albuquerque High. The team’s scheduled date last week was postponed over an abundance of caution for COVID-19 risks and will be made up Saturday afternoon at Bulldog City.
By then, however, we should have a pretty clear understanding of who’s going where. If the Demons win Wednesday’s game, it’s a race between them and Los Lunas for the 5-5A title. If Capital wins, Santa Fe’s playoff chances drop dramatically, if not to zero.
Bottom line, it’s not likely that both city teams will make the state tournament.
u u u
Even if you’re not a fan of mixed martial arts or the UFC, there’s no escaping the highlight-reel moments the sport generates from time to time. Witness Saturday night’s broken leg sustained by Chris Weidman on the undercard for UFC 261 featuring the Usman-Masvidal bout.
If you haven’t seen it, good for you. If you have, hopefully you weren’t eating at the time.
The local scene certainly has its fair share of MMA fighters. Last week Santa Fe got a visit from the one known as “The Dirty Bird,” Tim Means. The 37-year-old was at St. Michael’s, coaching the Moriarty wrestling team in its season opener against the Horsemen.
As the country slowly begins to return to normal — Saturday’s UFC 261 had a capacity crowd of over 15,000 in Jacksonville, Fla. — Means said the toughest thing to do is move on from what we’ve already gotten used to. In that regard, masks and social distancing.
The UFC doesn’t mandate mask-wearing for its fighters, but prep athletes here at home must use them in competition. Means said it’s easier said than done, particularly when training like an MMA fighter — or a prep wrestler.
“I’ve been wearing mine just standing here coaching and it feels wet,” Means said. “Try doing that if you’re in there doing your thing, getting fingers stuck in them and putting your face on a shoulder or on the mat. You can go through three masks in a minute. I understand it and I agree, you know, but it’s not easy keeping these things on when you’re wrestling.”
As for Means, he’s preparing for his next fight June 19 against Danny Roberts in Las Vegas, Nev. At 31-12-1 in his career, he’s the 23-ranked welterweight fighter in the world. Of those fights, 23 have come in the UFC.
u u u
The scaffolding around the outside of the John A. Wilson Complex is a dead giveaway, but look further. Go inside and snoop around. Changes — long overdue and much-needed — are on the way at New Mexico Highlands University.
The home of the school’s volleyball, wrestling and basketball teams, the Wilson Complex is getting an upgrade for the 2021-22 season. Two video replay boards will bookend the court to go along with new bleacher seats and a few other smaller projects, like a refinished floor.
While it’s not your multimillion-dollar facelift you see so often at larger schools, it’s enough to inject some pride into a place that needed it. Athletic director Andrew Ehling said the new video boards cost $100,000 and can be run with two iPads.
The outside of the building will get a fresh look, and the football field is on the wish list. Ehling is hoping to finally get the faded and unusable track finally replaced. While the once-purple track has faded into a pastel shade of lavender with dangerous wrinkled spots all around it, Ehling said the subsurface foundation is cracked and needs to be replaced.
Aside from that, he’s hoping to install a video replay board in the north end zone to replace the scoreboard that’s been in place for several years.
Truth be told, the monster of all wishes would be a new football stadium built on the site of the NMHU-owned Gene Torres Golf Course, the nine-hole course that has had its fair share of financial troubles over the years. If (and it’s a monumental if) the school decides to do away with the course, Ehling wouldn’t mind a push for a new multipurpose stadium on that land.
Eastern New Mexico University, which like NMHU is an NCAA Division II university that competes in the Lone Star Conference, opened its new $15.3 million, 5,200-seat stadium in 2016.
u u u
As of Sunday morning, the NCAA men’s basketball transfer portal has swelled to 1,455 players. Among them is soon-to-be-former Lobo Bayron Matos. The 6-foot-9 sophomore will be immediately eligible this season and, by all accounts, be hailed as the next big thing for whatever team that lands him.
Matos averaged 6.0 points and 4.1 rebounds in 20 games for the University of New Mexico last season, his only one in a Lobo uniform. He entered the portal shortly after the school dismissed Paul Weir as head coach. After two workouts and a brief meeting with new coach Richard Pitino, Matos severed ties with UNM and hit the open market as what can best be described as an unrestricted free agent.
Per a recent Instagram story, Matos will announce Tuesday where he’s going. He posted last week that he set that day as the deadline to say where he’ll be next season.
Don’t expect UNM to wait long to replace him. With so many names still floating around in the portal, Pitino said he’ll hit the market as hard as he can to find 3-point shooters and quality big men who can step in and make an immediate impact this season.