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Medcalf's Musings: Changing perceptions

I knew Patrick would send an email Saturday.

The New Mexico fan has sent a memo to my inbox after every major Lobos victory this season.

At 4:53 p.m. Central time, it arrived. It read: “UNM 22-4 8-2 10-2 away. 4 more wins from Myron's ‘No Way’ e-mail!!”

In late January, Patrick predicted that the Lobos would win the rest of their regular-season games and end the year with 26 victories. My response then: “No way.”

I couldn’t fathom the possibility that the Lobos would finish the season without another blemish because they still had to play UNLV and San Diego State, the Mountain West’s overlords (at the time) who’d both defeated the Lobos in their first matchups.

I couldn’t dismiss those defeats or UNM’s shaky start to its nonconference season. In my mind, New Mexico would take the third slot in the MWC, a respectable position but not the No. 1 post Patrick envisioned.

On Saturday, however, the Lobos crushed the Runnin’ Rebels by 20 points, three days after beating the Aztecs by double digits on the road.

Now Steve Alford’s team is on top of the league by two games. UNLV and San Diego State will leave the weekend facing more questions about their March Madness potential, considering their recent challenges on the road (six straight losses on the road combined).

It happens in the weeks leading up to Selection Sunday. The things we thought we knew -- in some cases, only weeks and days ago -- we find out that we really didn’t know at all. For better and for worse. Perceptions can change off one win, one loss, one shot, one play.

Michigan is still a legitimate contender for the Big Ten title after Saturday’s home win over the Buckeyes. The smallish Wolverines stood up to Thad Matta’s squad, which suddenly looks far more beatable with three weeks remaining until Selection Sunday than it did during a recent six-game winning streak.

The West Coast Conference was all set to shake those perennial criticisms that its best teams can’t make major runs in March. A few weeks ago, Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga seemed prepared to spoil that notion. But the Gaels have lost three of their past four and the Bulldogs suffered a 66-65 road loss to San Francisco on Saturday.

And now the conversation has switched from “How much damage could the Bulldogs and Gaels do in March?” to “Will Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s slide out of the at-large pool if they continue to stumble down the stretch?” It can happen that fast.

Kansas State played desperate basketball in Waco on Saturday (57-56 victory at Baylor). The Bears, however, disappeared before another home sellout.

Scott Drew was criticized for failing to call a timeout prior to Baylor’s last possession. He could use a timeout on this entire season after another major letdown. Baylor might send multiple players to the NBA in this summer’s pro draft. But its talent hasn’t jelled in a 5-5 stretch after that record-setting 17-0 start.

According to ESPN.com’s rankings, Illinois had the 11th-ranked recruiting class in 2011. The Illini have a 7-footer inside who will earn his first NBA paycheck in a few months.

But in a matter of days, Bruce Weber could be looking for a job after one of the most embarrassing losses (80-57 at Nebraska) in his school’s recent history.

Louisville and Notre Dame needed overtime to put away two bottom-tier Big East opponents (DePaul and Villanova, respectively). Perhaps it was just a bad day. But if it happens again …

And I guess Arnett Moultrie plus Dee Bost plus 69.7 points per game against the SEC equals … a three-game losing skid for Mississippi State against the bottom of the SEC (Georgia, LSU, Auburn)? Huh? Yep, the Bulldogs have a top-50 RPI, but they haven’t looked like an NCAA tourney team in nearly a month. Their full of body of work took a major hit over the weekend.

And did Memphis really lose to UTEP at home? Did Southern Miss really lose at Houston? Are we so sure that Conference USA will still receive two bids?

For that matter, does any team in America want a slot in the field of 68? So many shattered perceptions Saturday.

Others, however, were altered for positive reasons.

After disappearing late in his team’s recent losses, Doug McDermott gave Creighton 36 points and 11 rebounds in a home win over Long Beach State. Wichita State crushed Davidson. And suddenly the Missouri Valley looks potent again.

Marquette, like Missouri, doesn’t have much size. But after winning its 11th game in its past 12 outings Saturday (won 79-64 at UConn), the Golden Eagles continue to prove that it’s possible to win at this level without it.

And then there’s New Mexico, a team with nonconference losses to Santa Clara and New Mexico State. A team that lost at UNLV by 17 points on Jan. 21. A team that owns first place in the Mountain West just a month later.

In college basketball, our perceptions can change that rapidly as the fight for NCAA tourney slots, conference crowns and high seeds in league tourneys reaches its apex. So it’s best to keep an open mind this time of year.

Some teams we’d pegged one way or another in recent months will disappoint and baffle us in the coming weeks. A squad that many have overlooked (a la VCU last year) will surprise us.

I’m sure Patrick is already preparing that next email.