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

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

Mountain West Basketball

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


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

Spartans, Lobos to meet in The Pit & @MWCwire

What: San Jose State Spartans (12-6, 3-2) @ New Mexico Lobos (16-2, 3-2)
When: Tuesday, January 17th – 7:00 MT, 6:00 PT
Where: The Pit; Albuquerque, NM
How To Watch: FS1
Odds: New Mexico -10 Over/Under 143.5

What a difference a week can make. Seven days after dropping their second consecutive game, New Mexico accomplished one of the more difficult tasks in all of college basketball – going to the Viejas Arena and knocking off San Diego State. They will now need to come back down to earth quickly as they play host to a vastly improved and rested San Jose State team.

The back-to-back losses to a pair of mid-pack MWC teams (Fresno State, UNLV) gave critics the ammo to question the legitimacy of UNM as a contender. Anyone who had watched the Lobos play prior to the game against the Aztecs though, knew they had the pieces to be a championship team. Basketball is not an undefeated sport, everybody loses games, and the extra attention showered upon New Mexico for being the last remaining unbeaten in the country made their two loss week seem like the sky was falling. But, it did give coach Richard Pitino the opportunity to refocus his team, and that was on full display Saturday night. You usually learn more from your losses than from your wins, provided you are a coachable group, and the Lobos can add that trait to the numerous others they possess.

For San Jose State, they answered the bell last Tuesday in a solid home win over Fresno State. That came on the heels of a sobering defeat to Nevada, in which they surrendered a 25-0 run and managed only 40 points. Past Spartan teams would have had trouble responding after that, but this is a new-age SJSU, with program builder Tim Miles at the helm. The Spartans have a total of one winning season in this current millennium, but are headed for another one at their current pace. With two months left in the regular season, they already have more wins than in any season since 2016-17, and are clearly capable of many more.

The fortunes have changed dramatically from last year’s 8-23 campaign for a few reasons. One, the defensive numbers have improved tremendously, both on the perimeter and in the paint. Too often a season ago, opposing guards got whatever they wanted in terms of open looks, or creating for teammates, and there was very little size inside to deter anyone from penetrating and finishing. This season the commitment to compete better defensively is evident, as their metrics grade out very highly in defensive efficiency, especially at the rim. Which brings us to another major reason these Spartans are 12-6 – continuity and health. They are one of the few remaining teams in the country to use the same starting 5 in every single game, 18 for 18. Last season, big man Ibrahima Diallo was lost for the year right as conference play was beginning and the wheels absolutely fell off. Diallo might not provide a ton of offense, but his length and rim protection are undeniable. He’s averaging over 2 blocks a game, with many more shots altered. Keeping the core rotation guys healthy will be vital to the continued progression of SJSU.

Any discussion of core players for the Spartans must begin with Omari Moore, who has been dazzling, really all season long, but most certainly in conference play. In the win at Colorado State and the near miss at Boise State, Moore combined for 51 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists, and frankly looked like the best player on the floor both nights. After being held in check (along with the rest of his team) in the blowout at the hands of the Wolf Pack, he bounced back in the victory over Fresno State with 15/5/8. As a 6’6 point guard, he will pose a matchup problem for the shorter backcourt of the Lobos.

Turning to New Mexico, two outstanding efforts followed the bumpy week prior. Such is college basketball, where if you don’t bring your ‘A’ game, you’re going to be in a dogfight no matter who the opponent is. Luckily for UNM, they have veteran leadership and a quality coaching staff, things necessary to navigate the ebbs and flows of a long season. Something positive to take from the last two wins; the Oral Roberts one was buoyed by the offense, and the victory over SDSU came more on the shoulders of the defense. The offense contributed for sure, but the team defense was impressive. Pitino opted to throw multiple defenders at Matt Bradley, and it worked, with the Aztec star scuffling to a 5-16 night from the floor. One of his primary defenders was Josiah Allick, who bothered Bradley with his athleticism and extra length. Though Allick fouled out without scoring a point, his impact on the game was immeasurable. A shrewd move by Pitino that worked out fabulously. He may do the same thing on Tuesday night, possibly using Allick to guard Moore. The rest of the Lobos were just as stout defensively, and the improved play on that end of the floor is what will raise the ceiling for this team, because the offense is so versatile and difficult to slow down.

When you possess three players scoring 16 or 17 a night, even the best defenses are going to have problems matching up somewhere on the floor. Morris Udeze for example, might be held in check a bit Tuesday night by the size of Diallo, but the Spartans will struggle to contain Jaelen House on the perimeter. Other nights it might be the opposite. And that doesn’t even take into account mid-range Mash, Jamal Mashburn Jr. Very few teams across the country will be able to lock this offense down on all fronts (Houston, Rutgers, Tennessee and that might be it). Getting consistent minutes from some of the supporting players such as Javonte Johnson and KJ Jenkins would be welcomed also. Miles has used a 1-3-1 half-court zone effectively quite often this year, so don’t be surprised to see him employ that to throw the Lobos off balance. That defense often yields open looks from the outside with good ball movement, so House and Jenkins will try to shoot Miles right out of that zone when he goes to it.

If you’re looking for statistical edges for one team or another, there isn’t a lot to be found. One spot of bother for San Jose State could be the turnover battle. They force very few, with their sound but less aggressive defensive style, while on the other side they can be a bit careless at times with the ball, especially Moore. Both teams do a very good job on the glass, with the Spartans bordering on elite. There are unlikely to be many second chance points for either squad as a result. The other area New Mexico will have an advantage is the free throw line, as the Spartans don’t attempt many foul shots at all, and the Lobos have been excellent at drawing contact and getting to the line.

There are too many things in favor of New Mexico here, and we haven’t even mentioned the game is being played at The Pit. It may not reach sellout status like the game vs. UNLV, but following the massive win over San Diego State, expect the place to be loud. SJSU will have the fresher legs as they haven’t played since last Tuesday, but that only accounts for so much. This won’t be a runaway, the Spartans have already performed very well in tough environments (Colorado State, Boise State), and Miles will try to control the tempo and slow the game down. Still, after the last two weeks filled with up and down results, Pitino will ensure this one has the attention of his players. It says here, the Lobos back up their statement win against the Aztecs with a solid home win.

Prediction: New Mexico 79 San Jose State 71



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