New Mexico: Keys to Becoming 2018 Mountain West Tournament Champions
New Mexico is one win away from the NCAA Tournament
New Mexico reached the Mountain West title game after handling Utah State on Friday
Third-seeded New Mexico has reached the Mountain West Tournament championship game after a convincing victory over seventh-seeded Utah State Friday night at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
In doing so, first-year head coach Paul Weir leads his Lobos to the program’s first Mountain West title game since 2014, the year of UNM’s most recent NCAA Tournament appearance. Opposite of San Diego State’s Brian Dutcher, Saturday’s matchup is the first time two first-year head coaches have met in the league’s championship.
Despite entering the year with relatively modest expectations having been ranked ninth in preseason poll, New Mexico is just 40 minutes away from the NCAA Tournament.
Here are the keys to New Mexico cutting down the nets Saturday afternoon.
1. Start fast and don’t let up
New Mexico’s “run and stun” style is one of the main reasons the Lobos have shocked the conference this year, and it could also propel UNM to the NCAA Tournament on Saturday. The Lobos wore down Utah State as the game progressed in Friday’s semifinal, coming back from down eight to force the Aggies to take bad shots, turn the ball over, and go without a made field goal in nearly eight minutes. If the Lobos start fast, San Diego State could have a tough time climbing out of a hole against New Mexico’s ferocious style of play.
2. Keep SDSU off the offensive glass
San Diego State crushed Nevada in the first Mountain West semifinal on Friday thanks to a strong effort on the offensive boards. The Aztecs opened the game red-hot from the floor, and when SDSU actually missed, Jalen McDaniels, Malik Pope, or Kameron Rooks were in perfect position to grab the loose ball. The Lobos grab just 68.9% of possible defensive rebounds, which is 278th nationally. New Mexico can’t allow any easy second-chance buckets to the lengthy Aztecs.
3. Maintain composure
Nevada was rattled throughout the entirety of its devastating loss to San Diego State on Friday, and much of it was due to SDSU’s aggressiveness and swagger. The Aztecs are playing their best basketball in years, maintaining all sorts of momentum of confidence along the way. If New Mexico does come out flat, SDSU fans will be loud and UNM will have to come up with crowd-silencing baskets. The Lobos can’t fall flat as Nevada did, or else New Mexico’s dream season will come to halt.
4. Get Anthony Mathis more involved on the perimeter
New Mexico’s best shooter, Anthony Mathis, has been quiet in the Mountain West Tournament thus far, totaling just eight points in 47 minutes, going 1-8 from three-point range and 2-11 overall from the field. The Lobos will be able to get by without Mathis’ production, but when he’s on, New Mexico’s offense is more fluid and it forces opposing defenses to pay even more attention to the perimeter. A three-pointer or two by Mathis in the early going would allow UNM’s offense to flow more freely.
5. Find easy baskets
Though New Mexico ranks in the top 10 nationally in three-point attempt rate, getting easy baskets around the rim or at the free throw line could be significant to UNM’s title chances. New Mexico doesn’t figure to have many opportunities around the rim, so if the Lobos can attack and draw fouls, UNM will have plenty of opportunities to score at the free throw line while the clock is stopped. New Mexico has made 77.1% of its free throw attempts against D-I teams this year, good for 19th in the nation. If Joe Furstinger and Sam Logwood are effective around the rim, it will force SDSU’s defense to pay even more attention to the Lobos’ frontcourt, despite New Mexico’s perimeter prowess.