These two teams have a lot to play for. The Lobos and the Eagles were both ranked in the preseason (23rd and 17th, respectively) and both teams have been dealt humbling losses. Now, neither team is even receiving consideration from the AP voters (New Mexico still managed 3 votes in the latest Coaches Poll). So a loss by either team could result in the loss of an at-large bid come selection time if they fail to win their conferences.
Marquette is coming off two dominant wins over IUPUI and Ball State. In contrast, New Mexico enters the MGM Grand Garden Arena reeling from two unenthusiastic losses to Kansas and NMSU. A win by Marquette would reestablish the Eagles' footing. A Lobo win would right the suddenly wobbly ship. Either way, a win will be well-earned.
Davante Gardner currently tops the Eagle roster in points (14.4) and rebounds (6.7). Jamil Wilson is next, averaging 12.3 points and five rebounds per game. From here on it is difficult to say. Marquette currently has 10 player averaging double-digit minutes.
It seems head coach Buzz Williams has been pleased so far with the play of freshman Deonte Burton who scored in double digits in his past two games. Or it could be forward Juan Anderson who had 10 points, six steals, six rebounds and three assists against Ball State. Todd Mayo is another threat, averaging 9.2 points and 2.7 rebounds per game.
Whoever is on the floor for the Eagles, one thing is for sure: they will find a way to score. In the last two games Marquette is shooting with near pocket-watch precision, 59.3 percent from the floor and 50.0 percent from behind the 3-point line.
If the Eagles' scoring is unpredictable, it doesn't take Nostradamus to envision where New Mexico will get their scoring. Cameron Bairstow (20.7), Kendall Williams (19.4), and Alex Kirk (16.5) lead the Lobos in scoring. Bairstow and Kirk also combine for 16.6 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game.
The Lobos will be without their starting point guard and glue-man, Hugh Greenwood (wrist injury), so Cullen Neal (6.4 ppg) is expected to run the offense. Cleveland Thomas (4.4 ppg) will also start against Marquette.
In the end, this is a game that the Lobos need to win to maintain credibility. The same goes for Marquette. That's what makes this game so interesting and important. If the Lobos win, it will come from supporting players. Otherwise, the Eagles know where to focus their defense. The Lobos need to keep them guessing (and future competitors the same).
The Eagles and the Lobos probably expected to be in a better position than they are now. This game represents more than a record, it represents expectations; and neither team wants to temper those expectations. Even though the Lobos are without their orchestrator, I expect them to find a way to surprise the Eagles, be it Neal, Thomas, or Deshawn Delaney.
Look for the Eagles to tinker with rotations to keep the Lobos on their feet and look for the Lobos to come out strong and put points on the board. What it will come down to is who handles the pressure of the moment best. This is a litmus test for two teams that have a lot to prove and a lot more to lose. The best team will win and pad their at-large bids. Let's hope it's the Lobos.