Mountain West Basketball: New Mexico vs. San Francisco--Preview, Odds, Prediction

Mountain West Basketball: New Mexico vs. San Francisco--Preview, Odds, Prediction

Mountain West Basketball

Mountain West Basketball: New Mexico vs. San Francisco--Preview, Odds, Prediction


Mountain West Basketball: New Mexico vs. San Francisco–Preview, Odds, Prediction

Lobos, Dons set for showdown in Vegas & @MWCwire

Game 10: New Mexico Lobos (9-0) vs. San Francisco Dons (8-2)
When: Monday, December 12th – 8:30 PT
Where: Michelob Ultra Arena; Las Vegas, NV
How To Watch: Livestream on Sports Network LLC
Odds: New Mexico -3.5 Over/Under 157

Another of the Mountain West Conference’s unbeatens will head to the Mandalay Bay on the Vegas strip to face a WCC opponent. Saturday night it was Utah State taking care of business against Loyola Marymount, and now it’s New Mexico’s turn; they will face San Francisco, as the Dons tour of the MWC continues. It will be the second game of the Jack Jones Hoopfest doubleheader, with Creighton and Arizona State meeting in the opener.

We are down to seven unbeatens in Division I, and three of them reside in the Mountain West, a fairly impressive feat for the conference. As one of those three, New Mexico will be severely challenged twice this week – first against the Dons, and then again on Sunday when they host Iona. For those unfamiliar, the Gaels are coached by Hall of Famer Rick Pitino, father of Lobos boss Richard. But that’s a storyline for later in the week, as a stiff test awaits on Monday night.

USF stands 8-2 and is coming off an NCAA tournament berth in 2022. Coach Todd Golden bolted for Florida, so top aide Chris Gerlufsen has taken over, and kept much of the same system in place. The Dons have already played two conference mates of UNM (winning at Fresno State, and dropping a home decision to Utah St), and will return to Vegas on Saturday to face the undefeated Rebels in a true road game at the Thomas & Mack Center.

San Francisco makes their money with defense and rebounding, a formula that seems to have remained in place throughout the transition from Golden to Gerlufsen. To emphasize that, they possess the #1 rated defensive rebounding unit in the entire country. Their philosophy on the defensive end is to prevent catch and shoot looks from deep, forcing you to the rim or to fire off the dribble. There are a couple of things to note on this. First, barely a week ago, USF took on the nation’s most efficient 3-point shooting team when they played Utah State. They did exactly what they wanted to do, which was to choke off the three-point line, and as a result forced the scorching hot Aggies into 5-19 from deep. The problem was, USU exploited other weak spots in the Dons defense and still won going away. Also, the 3-pointer is not a huge part of this Lobos offense. In their three closest wins to start the season, they have made 5, 5, and 6 shots from behind the line in those games. Pitino will be happy to have the arc crowded, and driving lanes opened up for his slashers.

From an individual perspective, USF is fairly balanced. Tyrell Roberts, a Washington State transfer, leads the pack at 14 per game, with 5th year senior Khalil Shabazz a tick behind him. The two both work the pick-and-roll game, where Shabazz is fearless attacking the rim, and will get to the foul-line, while Roberts is more dangerous from deep. Shabazz will also fill the stat sheet, chipping in 6 boards, 4 assists, and 2.5 steals per game. The Dons are not super efficient shooting the ball, but amazingly nearly half of their field goal attempts are 3’s. Whereas Gerlufsen crowds the 3-point line, Pitino wants to deny penetration much more, and as a result the Dons will likely be firing away Lionel Richie style – All Night Long.

The USF frontcourt is still sorting itself out. There are multiple bodies, but Gerlufsen seems to be struggling to settle on a rotation. Zane Meeks has been the most consistent, scoring in double-figures six times in the last seven games. He earned his first start last game out and is likely to remain in the lineup moving forward. Josh Kunen is a role player, and not a high-volume shooter, but he may play a factor in this one, as he hits 45% of his attempts from deep. One other player to watch is Volodymyr Markovetskyy. First off, from this point forward, he will be referred to as V-Mark; as for how he impacts the game, his box scores look very odd. He has had two monster games, and eight games where he was virtually non-existent. In efforts against UC Merced and Merrimack, the 7’2” Ukrainian played 35 minutes, scored 39 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. In the Dons other 8 games, he has played a total of 44 minutes, scored a combined 11 points, and snagged 12 boards. Granted, the competition in his two standout games is far from elite, but V-Mark is certainly someone to keep an eye on tonight.

For the Lobos, they have ridden the same starting five all nine times out, and eight players are getting the lion’s share of minutes. The scoring is of course provided by the three-headed monster of Morris Udeze (19.1), Jamal Mashburn Jr. (16.6), and Jaelen House (16.4). Udeze has been remarkably efficient, shooting 64% from the floor, 73% from the free-throw line, and not bothering to attempt a single three-pointer. That’s very high-IQ basketball from the Wichita State transfer, something that has become synonymous with those wearing Lobos uniforms. True freshman Donovan Dent has had flashes of brilliance as a creator and scorer, primarily in the huge win at St. Mary’s, but he has had enough poise to know his strengths, only taking three 3-pointers all season.

Mashburn and House are both capable of hitting from deep, shooting 41 and 50 percent respectively, but it is not the main weapon in their arsenals. Mashburn is lethal with his pull-up mid-range jumper, or getting all the way to the rim. House has been outstanding in pick-and-rolls, attacking the basket, and in transition. The backcourt duo will be difficult for the Dons to contain tonight. One last note on the unselfish, team-first basketball UNM has showcased thus far. They rank 12th in the country with a 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio. When you are protecting the basketball and taking good shots, you are going to put yourself in a great position to win basketball games quite often. Also needing a mention is Josiah Allick, a frontcourt stalwart who averages 10 and 8 and makes winning play after winning play.

This shapes up as an entertaining game. Both teams play at a super high pace, and have multiple guys that can fill it up. Each puts a premium on the glass, and as such, there are not likely to be a large number of offensive rebounds to be had. The Lobos are averaging 85 ppg, though the only comparable defense to USF on the schedule is St. Mary’s, and they held UNM to 69. Pitino will try to follow the blueprint that Utah State effectively used to defeat the Dons a week ago. On the other side of the ball, Lobos fans should be prepared to watch San Francisco launch three after three. The law of averages tells you that should play out in New Mexico’s favor, though it will no doubt be frustrating as several find the bottom of the net. From an intangible perspective, the Lobos will need to avoid the distraction and possible look-ahead to Sunday’s anticipated matchup with Iona and Pitino Sr. The feeling is they will do just that, and it says here the Lobos keep pace with their conference-mates and remain unbeaten.

Prediction: New Mexico 79 San Francisco 69



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