Mountain West Basketball: New Mexico vs. Fresno State–Preview, Odds, Prediction
Lobos try to remain unbeaten when they travel to Fresno State
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What: New Mexico Lobos (14-0, 2-0) @ Fresno State Bulldogs (5-8, 1-1)
When: Tuesday, January 3rd – 9:00 MT, 8:00 PT
Where: Save Mart Center; Fresno, CA
How To Watch: CBS Sports Network
Odds: New Mexico -4.5 Over/Under 134.5
Good teams find ways to win games, and that’s exactly what New Mexico did on Saturday against a tough, desperate Wyoming team. Despite starting slow, dealing with foul trouble to some of their key players (both teams suffered in this regard to be fair), and being on the road in a difficult place to play, the Lobos gutted out a 76-75 win to remain unbeaten, and more importantly move to 2-0 in the Mountain West Conference. They will now head west to California, taking on Fresno State in a Tuesday night MWC matchup. The Bulldogs split their first two conference outings, also defeating Wyoming, at the Save Mart Center in the league opener on Wednesday, before fading late at Utah State on Saturday afternoon.
For the Lobos, they played two games as a newly ranked squad, and won them both, albeit in completely different ways, with a home demolition of Colorado State preceding the nail biter versus Wyoming. They fed off the energy of the home crowd in The Pit and shot the ball just about as well as you can shoot it against the Rams, making 15-25 three-pointers, an amazing 60% rate. UNM played from the front and never let CSU have a hope of getting back in it. Against the Cowboys however, they had to come from behind, and then trade blows back-and-forth down the stretch. There were multiple heroes, as the last eight points were scored by four different Lobos, but the player of the game may have been Josiah Allick. With starting center Morris Udeze relegated to the bench for much of the afternoon in foul trouble, Allick tallied a monster double-double with 15 points and 15 rebounds, while logging a game high 39 minutes. The dynamic backcourt of Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn Jr. combined for 36 points, and KJ Jenkins continued to shoot the ball well, hitting 4 of 5 from deep.
Fresno State had a disappointing non-conference performance, plagued mainly by poor offensive execution. To try and change it up, in the two games following an extended break (the two league games), the Bulldogs have pushed the pace a bit more. Their end game point totals have not reflected this for a couple of reasons. First the opponents have been better defensively; but of more pressing concern are the prolonged droughts the Bulldogs find themselves in the middle of each game, sometimes twice. Against Wyoming, FSU thoroughly dominated the first 25 minutes, and then went dry, scoring two points over a 12 minute stretch, allowing the Cowboys to claw back and have a chance to steal the win late. The Bulldogs were not as lucky in Logan on New Year’s Eve. Leading 22-20 with 10 minutes to go in the first half, they would score four points the rest of the way, and went to the break trailing 33-26. After a great start to half number two, they held a 46-44 lead with 10 to go. The next 6 and a half minutes though, yielded a total of two Fresno State points, and the game got away from them, never to return.
The lack of a consistent go-to scorer and really poor shooting numbers are the main culprits. Jemarl Baker Jr. has shown flashes of what made him a 5-star Kentucky recruit out of high school, but has not done it enough. His shooting percentages are down near bleak range – 40% from the field and 30% from deep, numbers at least 6-8% points lower than what coaches look for from their ‘shooter’. On the plus side, he does have a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, while the team as a whole has a negative one. Anthony Holland has proven to be the most effective shooter, hitting 39% of his three-point attempts. However, for someone who has started all 13 games for the Bulldogs, and averages 30 minutes per night, his 54 shots from 3-point land seems to be a pretty low total. For a team that struggles to find offense, maybe they can get Holland some more looks. Isaih Moore has been solid inside, averaging 11 points and 8 boards a game.
New Mexico has had no such problems generating offense, as they sport three players averaging 17 ppg, a full five points more than any individual on the Fresno State roster. But while the Bulldogs are far from an offensive juggernaut, they are stout defensively. And with the possible exception of St. Mary’s, this will be the most stern test the Lobos have faced on that end of the floor. FSU head coach Justin Hutson has always stressed defense first – they protect the rim, and force tough shots. As poor as the Bulldogs shoot from the field (42%), they hold their opponents to a lower percentage (41%).
The matchup based strengths and weaknesses of these teams leans towards New Mexico here. The Lobos don’t have any categories they rank poorly in, but the areas they are ‘only’ mediocre in, such as offensive rebounding, and defending the 3-point line, can’t really be taken advantage of by the Bulldogs, as they are a below average rebounding team on both ends of the floor, and we’ve already touched on their shooting woes. On the other side of the ledger, Fresno State’s best metrics are their defensive efficiency marks, which may keep them hanging around for a majority of the night. The best two units in this game will be the Lobos offense and the Bulldogs defense. It will be a great battle on that side of the floor between the unselfish team-first basketball and individual talent of UNM and the fundamentally sound, disciplined half-court man-to-man of FSU.
The difference may very well be the Lobos defense. Because of the star power on offense, the d does not get a lot of recognition, but they are holding opponents to below 40% on the season. As noted earlier, the Bulldogs are prone to long scoring droughts. One of those on Tuesday is likely to spell doom. One new variable has been added to the mix. Monday night, Rutgers upset Purdue, knocking them from the ranks of the unbeaten. That leaves New Mexico as the last team standing, out of 363, quite the impressive feat. It’s possible that fact has the Lobos tighten up a bit as they take the floor. Either way, coming off the high of the finish in Laramie, it may be difficult for UNM to come out guns blazing. But while it’s tough to get road wins, New Mexico just has too much firepower, and they should move to 3-0 in the Mountain West.
Prediction: New Mexico 69 Fresno State 57