The Boise St. Broncos made the first big splash of 2013 Mountain West Conference play when opened conference play with a thrilling 63-61 win over the previously unbeaten and No. 25 Wyoming Cowboys in Laramie.
Jeff Elorriaga three-pointer from the corner with time expiring reminded MWC followers that the Broncos were going to have their say against the MWC's top teams and could even stake their claim to being in the league's top three.
Their chance to make such a statement comes Wednesday night when the 13-2 Broncs host the nationally-ranked New Mexico Lobos come to Taco Bell Arena in a game that will be regionally televised by Root Sports.
The 15-2 Lobos, ranked 19th in this week's Associated Press poll and 21st in the ESPN USA Today Coaches poll, are coming off their own signature win, a 65-60 slugfest at home in The Pit over the UNLV Runnin' Rebels.
UNM used big games from big men Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow to defeat both UNLV and its Saturday opponent, the Fresno St. Bulldogs. The Lobos beat Fresno without starting guard Kendall Williams, who was benched for a game by head coach Steve Alford.
Wednesday's story line seems to be the Boise offense versus the New Mexico defense.
The Broncos are led by leading scorers Derrick Marks, who is averaging 16.3 points per game, and Anthony
Drmic, who is averaging 15.6 per game. Marks didn't even make the trip to Laramie to play UW due to a one game suspension along with three other players.
Marks' ball handling and drive capabilities will be key against UNM, as will Drmic and the other Bronco bombers - Jeff Elloriaga, Igor Igor Hadziomerovic and Mikey Thompson. That quartet's three point shooting is best in the MWC with a three-pointer efficiency of 42.3%. Boise St. also leads in:
If the Broncos expect to take down their third ranked team of the season, they'll need to avoid a performance similar to their two losees this season - against the Michigan St. Spartans and Utah Utes, both of whom kept the Broncos from shooting many three pointers (fewer than 15 in both cases, though Boise St. managed to shoot well as usual).
The Lobos have been vulnerable to teams that shoot well from outside the arc - the Indiana State Sycamores rallied with three pointers to nearly beat UNM in overtime earlier in the season and the South Dakota St. Jackrabbits made plenty of treys in their upset win in The Pit. So a superb defensive effort by New Mexico is paramount in their keys to win at Boise.
The Lobos advantage comes in the post with 7-foot Alex Kirk and 6-9 Cameron Bairstow. UNM was thought to be a four-guard team coming into the season but Kirk has come back stronger than anticipated after sitting out last year due to a back injury. And Bairstow has developed into a strong complimentary player to Kirk, as well as a capable back up with New Mexico does go to a four guard set.
Looks for UNM to try to get Kirk and Bairstow established early on against the Broncos and to also try to get their fast break going as Boise St. has shown neither an affinity for a running style offense nor the ability to cope consistently with an offense that does that to them.
The game is not a make or break for either team this early in the season. But a road win would certainly make the Lobos confident. And it would give them an early advantage with a road win that would help them keep pace with Boise St. and the San Diego St. Aztecs - teams that have MWC road wins (which will be hard to come by this season).
The Vegas lines had the game opening with the Broncos a three point favorite but has since moved to 2.5 in favor of Boise St. It could end up being closer than that.