AP photograph courtesy of George Frey
The Lobos are underdogs in The Pit, just where they like to be. Though New Mexico is favored in this game, it will be considered an upset to beat the #12/10 BYU team, who has not lost a conference game yet. But on the other hand, UNM is 3-0 against ranked teams this season.
The Lobos began the season astonishingly, winning their first 12 games and getting to #12 in the rankings. But, as Kentucky proved last night, sometimes it isn’t easy being on top. The Lobos had since fallen out of the rankings, regained their underdog mentality and now have won four straight.
BYU edged San Diego State last week (partially because Chris Miles got in the post, went on his LDS mission, and came back to the post without a travelling violation) to stay perfect in conference play. BYU also took care of business at home against UNLV, both of which are games New Mexico lost.
Jimmer Fredette has been the MWC Player of the Year all season long, highlighted by his 49 point performance at Arizona. Fredette is a fantastic three-point shooter, but as the Cougar’s leading scorer, may find a tough defense against Alford’s team. In 13 home games this year, the only times that a team’s leading scorer had more than their average points were Cal’s Jerome Randle and UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis. In fact, Leading scorers average more than 4 points fewer than their average in Albuquerque this year. I think Steve Alford would be happy keeping Fredette to less than 16 points.
Keying on Fredette would allow for other shooters to open up, which the Cougars have a surplus of. Jackson Emery, Jonathan Tavernari and freshman Tyler Haws are all capable of shooting lights out, which is part of the reason that BYU’s 41.6% from downtown is good for 6th best in the nation. Although Kendall Wallace proved that threes can come in bundles in the Pit, New Mexico has only allowed 29.2% 3-pt shooting at home this year.
As the Aztecs proved on Saturday, BYU’s weakness is their inside game. The Cougars don’t have a single player averaging 5 rebounds a game, while the Lobos have three. Here are the comparisons between two most prominent inside players for each team:
Brown & Hardeman, UNM: 40 mpg, 11.7 ppg, 9.3 rpg
Miles & Hartsock, BYU: 39.6 mpg, 12.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg
This excludes BYU freshman Brandon Davies, who averages 6 points and three rebounds in 13 minutes per game. Interestingly enough, Tavernari, Emery and Haws all average between 4-5 rebounds per game, which is more than Miles’ 3.7 per game. This means that BYU has good rebounders all around. On the other hand, New Mexico has Hobson and Martinez, both of whom average more rebounds than any Cougar, and neither of which are post players.
This game makes for many interesting matchups. If Alford decides to take advantage of the inside with Brown and Hardeman, the defense will struggle to guard BYU’s shooters. Or will Alford decide to go all defense and play small ball with McDonald, Garth, Gary and Fenton?
Even if New Mexico wins they will be a game behind BYU in Conference play, but would still have a chance to catch them with both teams still making a trip to Las Vegas. What a win would do for the Lobos is bolster their RPI and help their seeding cause in the NCAA Tournament, the selection committee looks highly upon those who went 4-0 against ranked teams.