Jeremy thinks the late game, UNLV and BYU is going to be good, but I think the early game, SDSU and UNM is going to be fantastic. The Aztecs were one of only two conference opponents to beat the Lobos this year, a ten point victory at home in Viejas arena. The Lobos got their revenge later when they eeked out a 2 point overtime victory at the Pit after a furious comeback run led by DJ Gay.
The rubber match should be terrific as the Aztec big men give the Lobos their toughest match-up in the conference. New Mexico is riding a 15 game winning streak but the Aztecs will try to snap that and try to extend their own modest 3 game winning streak; however SDSU has won 7 of 10 over the Lobos. Both teams looked lethargic last night against lower seeded opponents, but New Mexico and SDSU ultimately prevailed over 1-15 Air Force and 7-9 Colorado State respectively.
The two keys for the Aztecs will be Kawhi Leonard having a big game and contain Darington Hobson. The Lobos are shorter than the Aztecs so they will struggle with the big men. Kawhi Leonard, the All MWC and Freshman of the Year, is the best big man on the Aztecs. He is a monster on the offensive glass and scores at will in the paint. He leads the Aztecs in both scoring and rebounding. Last night, the Colorado State Rams were able to take him out of the game which was a big reason why they were able to make the game so close. If the Lobos can do the same thing the Aztecs will have a tough time winning.
In their win over the Lobos, the Aztecs were able to contain Hobson to only 12 points and 9 rebounds; a good game but not the MVP type game that we are used to, which effectively allowed the Aztecs to stay in the game and win down the stretch. The second game was a lot closer and ended in an 2 point overtime win for the Lobos. Hobson had 29 points and 12 rebounds in that game.
The two keys for the Lobos will be to force DJ Gay to take poor shots and to force turnovers. DJ gay was a huge reason why the Aztecs nearly won the second game. He had 25 points including 6-9 from 3 range. DJ has a bad habit of taking poor early shots from 3 though, so if the Lobos can defend him well and force him to take back shots, they can not only take him out of the game but also take the big men out because they won't have a change to get it inside. If DJ gets open shots however, he will usually hit them and force the Lobos to play catch-up.
The Aztecs are prone to turning the ball over a lot. It is the only reason why they have 8 losses. There were plenty of games (Wyoming for example) where they had huge leads and led them slip away due to lazy and sloppy play. If they Lobos guard tough and try to force turnovers there is a good chance it will happen. Lots of turnovers for the Aztecs and they won't have a very good chance of winning at all. The Aztecs also aren't very good at free throws, in fact they are one of the worst in the nation. All New Mexico would have to do is keep it close and cause a few turnovers and they should be able to win fairly easily.
All together, this should be a great game! The winner will advance to the tournament championship against the winner of BYU and UNLV. The Lobos are already a lock to advance to the NCAA tournament, while the Aztecs have a great shot but would lock up a bid with a win tonight.