Mountain West Basketball: Nevada vs. New Mexico--Preview, Odds, Prediction

Mountain West Basketball: Nevada vs. New Mexico--Preview, Odds, Prediction

Mountain West Basketball

Mountain West Basketball: Nevada vs. New Mexico--Preview, Odds, Prediction


Mountain West Basketball: Nevada vs. New Mexico–Preview, Odds, Prediction

Wolf Pack, Lobos meet in The Pit & @MWCwire

What: Nevada Wolf Pack (18-6, 8-3) @ New Mexico Lobos (19-4, 6-4)
When: Tuesday, February 7th – 8:30 MT, 7:30 PT
Where: The Pit; Albuquerque, NM
How To Watch: FS1
Odds: New Mexico -4.5 Over/Under 149

It’s time for Round 2. Tuesday night we’ll get a rematch of the January 23rd game played in Reno between Nevada and New Mexico, and we’re in for a treat if it’s anything like the first matchup. Well, until the very end that is. A fantastic double overtime game was marred by the conclusion, when the dreaded monitor came into play. Either team would have been a worthy winner, but you would have liked to have seen it decided on a made shot instead of a prolonged review. Such is college basketball these days though, when anything and everything is looked at by the officials. As for the first 49 and a half minutes, it was simply great basketball – the skill on display, the shot making, execution of the game plans, and more. It’s why the game required two overtimes to complete. If we’re lucky we’ll get a repeat performance in this one.

The vibe around the two teams at the moment though is a bit different. The Wolf Pack shook off a disappointing loss to rival UNLV to grab another signature win last week, knocking off league leader San Diego State. They avoided a letdown on the weekend, using a strong second half to put away pesky Air Force. That’s 3 wins in 4 games, two of them over ranked opponents. The Lobos meanwhile, are coming off their worst effort of the season, a double-figure defeat at Utah State, that aside from a five minute burst in the second half, was never competitive. Couple that with the loss in Reno, sandwiched around a home win of their own over Air Force, and that’s 1-2 in their last 3 outings, which has dropped them to 5th place in the MWC standings.

The last time UNM went into a bit of a rut, they bounced back with a four game tear that included victories over 3 likely NCAA tournament teams – Oral Roberts, San Diego State, and Boise State. So a quick turnaround is certainly not out of the question. Also, one of the biggest variables for Tuesday night’s game could come right from a real estate ad; location, location, location. That takes on a dual meaning for this game. For one, and we’ll expand on this in a minute, Nevada is a very different team on the road then they are at home. More importantly, for this specific game, the venue will be particularly hostile due to the circumstances. For those living under a rock, or boulder, the Wolf Pack are coached by Steve Alford, the former head man at New Mexico. While Alford had tremendous success in Albuquerque, his departure was a tad awkward, leaving some bitter feelings among the fan base. None of the players on the Lobos roster were around during his tenure, so that won’t provide any extra motivation. What will have an impact though, is the 14,000+ (15k maybe?) that will pack The Pit and make it a true home court advantage. If you listen close enough, you can hear the boos already.

Back to Nevada and their road troubles. They do have four road victories, including two in the conference (AF, SJSU), but they have failed their biggest tests, and were never really in the games at SDSU or Boise State. With a trip to Utah State and two other road contests to follow this visit to The Pit, any hopes of a league title hinge on their ability to bring the same energy, effort, and execution away from home that they do at Lawlor.

Of course, there are some schematic things at play too. That first meeting was quite a free-flowing offensive affair. Many of the individual numbers were impressive. For UNM, Jamal Mashburn Jr. went for 33, Morris Udeze had a double-double, and Jaelen House neared a triple-double, with 17/10/7. The Lobos shot 54% from the field, 44% from deep, and made 18-23 free throws. The lone blemish on the stat sheet, and a main contributor to the loss, was an uncharacteristic 19 turnovers. Nevada had three players hit the 20-point mark; Will Baker with a career-high 28, Jarod Lucas 22, and Kenan Blackshear 20. Some of this can be attributed to the sheer talent on the floor, as there was some high-quality shot making all night long.

There also might be a few adjustments defensively from both Alford, and his counterpart Richard Pitino. New Mexico’s team defense was not at its best in that one; not enough ball pressure (only 9 forced turnovers in 50 minutes), poor help defense (several straight line drives to the basket), and not enough resistance at the rim (Baker shooting 12-17 and a whopping 48 points in the paint). The Wolf Pack were not great either, surrendering 20 fast break points with House creating often in transition, and having to deal with foul trouble to multiple guards/wings.

Offensively, Nevada had 23 assists on their 36 made field goals, which is a nice rate. UNM did have 17 on their 34 makes, but in their two subsequent games, it’s been 11 of 28 vs. AF, and only 7 out of 29 vs. Utah State. What this means is you’re seeing a lot more 1 on 1 offensive basketball. Assists come from passing, movement, keeping the defense off-balance, and having to work hard guarding all five players on the floor. The Lobos have some remarkable individual talent, but it’s a lot easier for a team to play defense when it’s often just a player attempting to isolate his defender and play one-on-one. They would probably be well-suited getting back to the outstanding continuity type of offense we saw from them much of the first 20 games.

A couple of other things to note from the first meeting. There were a lot of fouls called, both ways, and it led to several important guys sitting for a few extra minutes. Obviously there’s no way to tell how each game will be officiated, but the hope is that’s not an issue here. Also, Nevada really hurt New Mexico on the offensive glass in the last 20 minutes, despite not normally putting an emphasis on that part of the game. Expect Pitino to have that as one of his keys to victory.

It would be surprising if this one is as up-and-down and offensively pleasing as the first matchup. The defense has not been sharp lately for the Lobos. They just had the weekend off following the disappointing trip to Logan, and you can bet that part of the game has been a major focus in practice. We may see versatile glue guy Josiah Allick defending Baker, or another wrinkle from Pitino. Nevada’s road troubles have been well-documented, but it’s really been the offense that has let them down on most of those trips, their defense has been fairly consistent. But until they prove they can get it done in a hostile environment (which this certainly will be), you have to side with the home team. That’s proven to be the winning formula in just about all important MWC showdowns this season, and there’s no reason to break rank at this point. New Mexico is the more desperate team, they want payback, they’re rested, and they should get back on track.

Prediction: New Mexico 75 Nevada 69




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