Mountain West Basketball: Boise State vs. New Mexico–Preview, Prediction, Odds
Broncos, Lobos meet in enormous MWC matchup in The Pit
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What: Boise State Broncos (15-4, 5-1) @ New Mexico Lobos (17-2, 4-2)
When: Friday, January 20th – 9:00 MT
Where: The Pit; Albuquerque, NM
How To Watch: FS1
Stream: FuboTV — get a free trial
Odds: New Mexico -2 Over/Under 144
For at least the 5th time in the first four weeks of conference play, the Mountain West has a massive showdown taking place. Earlier this week, it was Nevada traveling to Boise to take on the Broncos. Last weekend it was New Mexico visiting San Diego State. Now, in a rare Friday night league game, the winners of those two contests will meet in the famed Pit in Albuquerque, as red hot Boise State meets up with the Lobos.
Very few teams in the country are playing as well as Boise State since the holidays. After an opening night MWC loss at the buzzer in Reno against the Wolf Pack, the Broncos have ripped off 5 wins in a row, with 4 of them being by 15 points or more, including thumpings of potential NCAA tournament teams Utah State and Nevada. Both of those wins were at home, so this one will be a test, as winning road games in league play is never easy.
It will also be a test because New Mexico has as much talent as anyone in the MWC, and they have gotten back on course after a blip on the radar two weeks ago. The Lobos possess probably the single best conference win by anyone (vs. SDSU) because it came on the road. The other top showdowns between contenders have all gone to the home team. That gives a big edge to UNM Friday night.
Any discussion of this game has to start with the two star point guards, who are quite familiar with each other. Though BSU’s Marcus Shaver is a couple of years older, he and New Mexico star Jaelen House played on the same high school team in Phoenix for a year, winning a state championship, with each averaging more than 20 ppg. These two teams only met once a season ago, and while House outscored Shaver 21 to 18, the Broncos won where it mattered, on the scoreboard. House also had 7 turnovers in that one, which is something to watch out for. The fiery Lobo point guard plays with oodles of passion and emotion, but he can’t let this turn into a one-on-one matchup with Shaver.
Of course, these teams are much more than their point guards, and that’s reflected in their combined record of 32-6. Each squad sports an elite unit; for Boise State it is their rock solid defense, while the Lobos are explosive offensively. According to the metrics, the ‘worst’ of the four units on the floor Friday night will be the Boise State offense. To this, any of those last four opponents that were trucked by the Broncos must be laughing, and not in an amusing way. Watching parts of those games, it seems hard to believe that they ‘only’ shot the percentages they did – 52% for the game and 50% from 3 against Nevada, 47% from 3 in the 2nd half against Wyoming, 58% from deep against Utah State, and the most ridiculous of all, 71% in the 2nd half and 54% from 3 for the game against UNLV. It was honestly a surprise any time a shot was missed in some of those stretches. While that may not be sustainable, it would be in New Mexico’s best interests to bring the defensive intensity that they brought on Tuesday night.
Less than 72 hours after the upset victory at San Diego State, undeniably the program’s biggest win in many years, the Lobos played host to San Jose State. While the Spartans are much improved under Tim Miles, the game screamed ‘let-down’, with another huge matchup on the horizon in just a few days. At the very least it could have been expected for UNM to just attempt to out-talent SJSU, pile on the points, and win by doing what they do best – score the ball. Instead, New Mexico probably delivered their best defensive effort of the season, holding the Spartans to 34% shooting and 6-32 from three-point land. While there were a few open looks in there they just couldn’t connect on, the Lobos were absolutely locked in on that end of the floor from the tip, cutting off driving lanes, contesting perimeter looks, and smothering standout guard Omari Moore.
The result was a dominant win, but more than the result, it’s the way it was accomplished. In his coaches meetings, Richard Pitino must have been privately grinning watching the game back on tape. There is winning because you are more talented, and then there is winning because you’re committed to doing what is necessary to be an elite team. As a coach, you’ll take the former, but you prefer the latter. That commitment will have to be intact Friday night, as Boise State will put 5 starters on the floor that can score. We all know about Shaver, and reigning Mountain West Freshman of the Year Tyson Degenhart has been rock solid as well. But now, the Broncos are getting superstar level play from Max Rice, son of head coach Leon. Max went for 29 against Nevada, connecting on 10-14 from the floor and 6-7 from deep, and has scored in double figures in all 5 MWC games. He may be priority number one for Pitino defensively against this balanced BSU lineup.
It will be no picnic for Boise State guarding the versatile Lobos either. Morris Udeze has been a load inside, averaging 16 and 9 per game, and shooting a very efficient 60% from the field. KJ Jenkins has shot the ball much better since the calendar has switched to January, and provides a dangerous drive-and-kick option from the outside. We’ve already touched on the point guard matchup, and House is the engine that makes the offense for UNM run, but the consistency of Jamal Mashburn Jr. is what takes this team to another level. He is just so smooth and under control with the ball, and has great body control to stop and pull-up when he has the slightest bit of separation from his defender. The Broncos struggled a bit to contain SJSU’s Moore a few weeks back, and Mash could present similar problems. Overall though, this is one of the top defenses in the entire country, disciplined, together, and smart – winning traits.
Much the same way that it sounds like a broken record to keep saying there’s a big matchup in the Mountain West two times a week, it’s becoming commonplace to call the win for the home team. These teams are super even in many categories, are both well-coached and are playing great basketball. Neither team is especially deep, so that’s a wash. One area the Lobos have a statistical edge is in getting to the free throw line, and the fact is, you will usually get a couple extra whistles in your home arena. Both teams are outstanding at cleaning up their defensive glass, and at protecting the ball. The Broncos also cut off transition exceptionally well, which is usually a nice supplementary form of offense for UNM. The defensive philosophy of Pitino yields a lot of 3’s. Teams have not shot it well the last couple weeks against them, but the perimeter defense better be on point here, or the Lobos will be playing catch up all night. Still, the defensive effort of New Mexico under the circumstances of Tuesday night says a lot. If this was a best of seven NBA playoff series, it would likely go the full seven. Hopefully we see a third matchup in Vegas in March, and Boise State will surely be lying in wait for the return trip from UNM in late February. But for now, with plenty of back-and-forth over this call, it says here the Lobos strike first in this titanic matchup, riding the energy in The Pit to a thrilling, defensive-led victory.
Prediction: New Mexico 70 Boise State 67