#4 San Diego State vs. New Mexico: Keys For A Lobos Win
New Mexico is not (as) shorthanded in this one.
A look at how the Lobos can top the hottest team in the nation.
WHO: San Diego State Aztecs (24-0, 13-0 MW) at New Mexico Lobos (17-8, 6-6 MW)
WHEN: Tuesday, February 10, 2020 — 8:00 PM PT / 9:00 PM MT
WHERE: Viejas Arena — San Diego, CA
SERIES RECORD: New Mexico leads 48-41
ODDS: San Diego State -18.5
After handily beating the team currently ranked last in the conference standings (Wyoming), the New Mexico Lobos (17-8, 6-6 MW) head once more on the road to take on the San Diego State Aztecs (24-0, 13-0 MW).
It’s no secret that the Lobos have struggled on the road this season and the struggles on the road have only been amplified by personnel issues.
But even at home, New Mexico couldn’t keep pace with an Aztecs team that is undoubtedly the hottest in the nation with its unblemished 24-0 record. The Lobos lost that game by an 85-57 margin, and were missing 80% of their starting lineup at the time.
But for now at least, two of those starters are back and were productive in New Mexico’s outing against Wyoming. Vance Jackson finished with 20 points, (back from a knee injury) going 6-8 from deep to accompany his 3 rebounds and 3 assists, while JaQuan Lyle played a quieter, albeit still-impactful role, finishing with 5 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists.
There were some good things that the team did against Wyoming that, if they can carry on to the game against the Aztecs, will go a long way in improving the chances of the already-unlikely outcome of an upset.
Here are a few:
1) Move the ball but take care of the ball.
One-on-one play has often stagnated the Lobo offense, and led to turnovers throughout the season. Not too many players can dribble through two or three defenders and score consistently over 40 minutes. The solution?
Move the ball. Make the defense work harder.
But it can’t be passing just for sake of passing. Finding the open man when the inevitable double team comes makes it difficult for the defense to rotate efficiently for an entire game.
New Mexico has done this well on occasion with good results. In conference wins, they are averaging a 56% assist-to-field-goal ratio and a 1.61 assist-to-turnover ratio. In losses, both numbers drop to 47.3% and 1.21 respectively. In their loss against San Diego State on January 29, the Lobos had a 40.9% assist-to-field-goal ratio and a 0.9 assist-to-turnover ratio.
2) Limit three pointers.
Sometimes it looks like a replay.
New Mexico has employed an unusual strategy at times this year, trying to make opponents beat them from three. It’s one thing if a player who is shooting a very low percentage goes off (which has happened to New Mexico this year on at least a couple of occasions), but sometimes it looks as if they are willing to give wide open shots, even to 35% or better three point shooters.
This strategy works sometimes, but when a team is on, they’re on and you have to start closing out at some point.
The first time around against the Aztecs, the Lobos gave up 15 three pointers. KJ Feagin was the primary antagonist with six made threes, but six Aztecs hit at least one three in the contest. For New Mexico, it would be unquestionably beneficial to keep opponent’s threes at least under 10 going forward.
3) 40 minutes of defense. 40 minutes of rebounding.
When you are playing one of the best defensive teams in the nation, you have to be pretty special offensively to not play defense. Not to mention San Diego State is among the best offensive teams in the nation, making a lack of defense fatal for any team playing the Aztecs.
While the defense looked better against an outmatched Wyoming, it’s the lack of defense over the course of the season that has been New Mexico’s Achilles heel under Paul Weir’s tenure. To his credit, things were much better with all players available, but with two of their best defenders presumably out for good, every player on the roster will have to buy into the fundamental aspects of rebounding and defense to have a chance to win.
This was not an elite rebounding team before the loss of Carlton Bragg and JJ Caldwell (who at 6-1 was one of the better rebounders on the roster). They are certainly not an elite rebounding team now, but if Caldwell found a way to crash the boards, the rest of the team should be able to find a way too.
The good news for New Mexico is that much of what can propel them to victory can be controlled by the team itself. For this team, it is much less about trying to contain opponents and more so about trying to play fundamental basketball well without any one or two players trying to do too much. Sharing and taking care of the ball, rebounding and defense are all things that each player can commit to doing, and that will have to be the case if the Lobos want to keep things close with the Aztecs.