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

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

Mountain West Basketball

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


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

Lobos, Aztecs meet in Saturday night MWC showdown & @MWCwire

What: New Mexico Lobos (15-2, 2-2) @ San Diego State Aztecs (13-3, 4-0)
When: Saturday, January 14th – 7:00 MT, 6:00 PT
Where: Viejas Arena; San Diego, CA
How To Watch: CBS Sports Network
Odds: San Diego State -7.5 Over/Under 147.5

Uh oh. That was probably the general consensus of teams (and fans of teams) around the Mountain West Conference if they tuned in to San Diego State’s Tuesday night game against Nevada. In a showdown of the last two conference unbeatens, the Aztecs looked as good as they have all year, save maybe the Ohio State win in Maui. A few losses, and a couple of other underwhelming performances, left some wondering if the preseason conference favorite was vulnerable. They answered any questions emphatically with a resounding thumping of a very good Wolf Pack squad. And now they’ll get a chance to play host to one of the nation’s most surprising teams, Richard Pitino’s New Mexico Lobos.

Anytime SDSU plays that way, it will take a humongous effort to defeat them, regardless of the opponent, especially at Viejas Arena. They were energized, physical and super active defensively, and ready for the challenge of a worthy contender coming to their building. UNM is certainly a worthy opponent, but they will hope the Aztecs are slightly less engaged on Saturday night.

The Lobos saw their early season mojo drift away a bit with a pair of uneven outings last week, first at Fresno State, and then at home against UNLV, in the first sellout at the Pit in 8 years. With the mid-week off, and a spot for a makeup game on the schedule, Pitino found the perfect match. A red-hot Oral Roberts team, winners of 10 in a row, and possessing quality numbers in the NET, came to the Pit for a Monday night duel. Mid-major or not, ORU can play, and they have an electric guard, in Max Abmas. Fresh from the let-down of Saturday’s loss to the Rebels, it wouldn’t have been a big surprise if New Mexico was less than sharp and struggled to win, or even dropped the game outright. But they absolutely showed up with their swagger, and coasted to a much-needed win.

While the game served its purpose in getting the Lobos back on course, it did not offer a proper stylistic preparation. Oral Roberts is explosive offensively, but won’t be confused for a defensive juggernaut anytime soon. Against San Diego State, UNM can expect every pass to be contested and every dribble challenged. If and when they get near the rim, Nathan Mensah, the reigning Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year will be waiting for them. If it seems like Mensah has been around forever, it’s because he almost has – he’s been on campus since the fall of 2018 and has started games in five different seasons. He knows the defensive system almost as well as Aztec boss Brian Dutcher, and plays his role exceptionally well. He is really the anchor of the D and does it without fouling. He teams with TCU transfer Jaedon LeDee to form a lethal one-two punch in the paint. LeDee has been incredibly efficient around the rim offensively, he just doesn’t get a lot of touches.

There will be great matchups on the perimeter, starting with the point guards. Jaelen House has cooled off just a tad in conference play after his scorching start, but he is still sporting averages of 17 pts, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists per night, while shooting 44% from deep and 83% from the free throw line. He’ll have his work cut out for him squaring off with lightning quick Darrion Trammell. Because of the length of Wyoming and Nevada’s guards, Trammell has taken a back seat the last couple of games. Expect him to be super charged for the head-to-head challenge with House. The other half of New Mexico’s star studded backcourt is Jamal Mashburn Jr. The Lobos leading scorer at 18 ppg will have waves of physical lengthy defenders thrown at him for 35+ minutes. For all the strengths of the SDSU defense, he may be the type of player that can break it down, the rare breed in today’s basketball world that is smooth enough to go by his initial defender, and finish in the mid-range. Mash does like occasionally challenging bigs at the rim, but that does not seem like a high-percentage play on Saturday night.

San Diego State has been better than anticipated offensively for much of the year, and definitely in the early portion of conference play. Matt Bradley is ‘only’ averaging 13 a game, but in the 4 MWC outings, he is pumping in 21 per game, quite the bump. He is one of several Aztecs connecting from deep at a high clip in the recent surge, along with Lamont Butler and steady veteran Adam Seiko. They will test a New Mexico defensive unit that looks good on the stat sheet, but has been a bit leaky since the competition has stiffened up. That end of the floor let UNM down in their two losses, allowing Fresno State to shoot a season high from the field (50%), and then surrendering 84 points to UNLV. They will need to dig in and come up with their best defensive performance of the season in order to pull off the upset. Simply trying to outscore the Aztecs is not the best recipe for a Lobos win.

One thing to watch for is the turnover battle. UNM has been great at protecting the ball, but they were a little careless against UNLV, and it cost them. San Diego State forces a high number of turnovers, and even more so at home. Will the experienced backcourt of House, Mashburn, and KJ Jenkins value their possessions, or will the noise inside the Viejas Arena rattle the visitors and run the turnover total up. This will be a huge key to the game. Also, a major source of offense for the Lobos in the early going was the foul line. But they have shot far fewer free throws during conference play, and it’s unlikely to get much better away from home.

New Mexico played loose against Oral Roberts, and that makes sense. The pressure of being the last unbeaten was gone, as was the anticipation for a sellout at the Pit. You never want to lose back-to-back games, but that may have enabled this Lobo team to refocus, and more importantly have fun playing the game. Will that be enough against the conference’s best team? The UNM bigs (Josiah Allick/Morris Udeze) won’t be able to dominate like they have in many other games because of the matching size and athleticism of San Diego State’s frontline. Between that and Trammell hounding House, the Lobos will likely struggle to approach their season average of 83 ppg. The hunch here is that we see a great effort from New Mexico, and this one goes to the wire, with the Aztecs pulling out a thriller.

Prediction: San Diego State 72 New Mexico 69



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