Mountain West Basketball: New Mexico vs. Nevada–Preview, Prediction, Odds
Lobos, Wolf Pack meet in early week showdown in Reno
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What: New Mexico Lobos (18-2, 5-2) @ Nevada Wolf Pack (15-5, 5-2)
When: Monday, January 23th – 7:00 MT, 6:00 PT
Where: Lawlor Events Center; Reno, NV
How to Watch: CBS Sports Network
Odds: Nevada -2 Over/Under 147
The television partners of the Mountain West Conference had their crystal ball out at the end of the summer when the league schedule was released. That’s when they decide to move games around for TV purposes, even though it’s 4-6 months in advance. Someone had an inkling that New Mexico would be must see television this season, despite finishing 9th out of 11 teams in 2022, and they were right (though to be fair, just about the entire conference has provided entertaining basketball to this point). And so the Lobos will continue their stretch of standalone games Monday night with a trip to Reno to take on Nevada.
First it was the rollicking affair in The Pit on Friday night, when UNM took down Boise State. It will roll on against the Wolf Pack, and then finish with two more outings – a home contest versus Air Force on Friday, and then a trip to Logan to take on Utah State the following Wednesday. That’s four consecutive game nights when the Lobos are the only matchup on the slate in the conference. To some it may be just an oddity, but it’s extremely rare for that to happen, regardless of the conference. Give a raise to that TV executive, because New Mexico games have been fun to watch.
None more so than the back-and-forth thriller with the Broncos a few short days ago. Two of the best in the west had all eyes in college basketball on them late Friday night, and boy did they deliver. The two traded blows all night long, and 40 minutes was not enough, when a miscommunication on an inbounds play in the waning seconds left Tyson Degenghart wide open to bury a 3 and tie the score. Often the team making that type of play has the momentum and will have the edge in OT, but the Lobos were mentally tough, and had the last answer – a beautifully executed out of bounds play, with freshman Donovan Dent finding Morris Udeze for a layup with 2 seconds left. The game was worthy of a March contest in terms of intensity, execution, talent, and of course atmosphere.
Now UNM has a super quick turnaround to face a really good opponent. Nevada is coming off their own duel with Boise State, one that did not go nearly as well as New Mexico’s did. The Broncos D was smothering, they shot the ball well, and led from start to finish in handing the Wolf Pack their second league loss in three games. The road has proven tough for all teams in the conference to handle though, and now they return to the Lawlor Events Center, where they are unbeaten this season.
From a stylistic point of view, these teams have many things in common, but one stark difference is the pace at which they play. Metrics websites have the Lobos playing at one of the 20 fastest tempos in the country, while Nevada sits somewhere in the mid-200’s (out of 363 teams). Watching them play, you can understand what the numbers are telling you. UNM is looking to push the ball in transition on makes or misses, while the Wolf Pack are much more willing to walk it up, get into a set and let their scorers get into prime scoring positions. This is not an advantage/disadvantage comparison, each works for the respective team, it’s just pointing out the different ways they approach their offense.
As for similarities, both teams are outstanding at taking care of the basketball, while neither specializes in forcing turnovers. One major trait they share is drawing fouls and getting to the charity stripe. Though the numbers have dropped off a bit for each team since MWC play has begun, they are heavily reliant on made free throws. Nevada gets a remarkable 23% of their points at the line, with New Mexico a shade behind at 21%. That’s because unlike many teams in today’s college hoops, these two do not just bomb away from deep, preferring instead to post up their bigs, attack the basket, or take mid-range jump shots. That’s not to say there aren’t guys who can knock the 3-ball down, because there are plenty; Jaelen House, Jamal Mashburn Jr., and KJ Jenkins all shoot 40% or higher for New Mexico, while the Wolf Pack’s Jarod Lucas and Nick Davidson need to be tightly guarded on the perimeter. Of that quintet, only Lucas shoots a majority of his shots from behind the arc, so those players all bring multiple skills to the court.
There is one area the home team may be able to exploit. While the numbers say both squads are very good at rebounding the basketball, that part of the game almost cost the Lobos a win on Friday night. Boise State corralled 12 offensive rebounds and scored 19 second chance points, including several big baskets down the stretch. None of that can be laid at the feet of Josiah Allick, who was a monster on the glass, with 18 total boards, but he will need some help Monday night. Nevada is not known for their offensive rebounding, but the Broncos weren’t either, so that’s something to keep an eye on.
Defensively, it will be interesting to see what UNM boss Richard Pitino does with his matchups, as House will be giving up several inches to Lucas if that’s the route he chooses to go. He will also have to deal with Kenan Blackshear, the Pack’s second leading scorer, and a very skilled offensive player. They do match up well with Davidson and post standout Will Baker. Between Allick, Udeze, and even Sebastian Forsling, who provided some key minutes off the bench in the Friday win, Pitino has multiple bodies inside. From a Nevada perspective, head coach Steve Alford has a designated stopper in Tre Coleman. The 6’7” junior averages less than 6 points and 4 rebounds per game, but his contributions extend far beyond the box score. He will enjoy the task of trying to slow down Mashburn, and with a four inch height advantage he’ll be able to contest Mash’s mid-range jumper better than most.
Intangible wise, this does not set up well for New Mexico. Playing on the road in conference has been no picnic for anyone to begin with (though the Lobos did win at San Diego State). That aside, they are coming off a massive win in a game that took a lot out of them emotionally, and ended close to midnight local time Friday night. It’s hard to imagine Saturday was a very productive day of practice on the court for UNM. That leaves one day of game planning for a very good opponent, and travel on top of that. Now, Pitino has gotten his guys to answer the bell in a couple of tough spots already this month, so it’s quite possible they are just completely bought in and mentally tough enough to show up ready to go. But that doesn’t account for the physical toll the game had on them – Mashburn played 43 minutes, Allick 42, House 36, and max effort was required for every single one of those minutes. Nevada, on the other hand, has been lying in the weeds, watching New Mexico receive the praise (well-deserved praise I might add), and waiting for the opportunity to get the bad taste out of their mouths from their effort in Boise. Alford, former head man at UNM for 6 years, will relish the opportunity to slow down this Lobos train. Here’s where we cue the broken record; it may look different when these two meet in The Pit in two weeks time, but until these matchups between top contenders stop going to the home team, there’s no need to deviate in the calls. Also, the overall spot for New Mexico is so difficult here. If they can back up Friday’s mammoth effort with another one against a good team, look out. But for now, it has to be the Wolf Pack, in a tight one.
Prediction: Nevada 71 New Mexico 67