The Lobos (18-4) travel to Idaho to take on the Boise State Broncos (15-9) Wednesday night at 9:15 p.m. MT. Hopefully the Lobos are feeling refreshed and rejuvenated after a week-long break because this game kicks off a brutal stretch of conference play. After tomorrow's game against Boise State, the Lobos still have 7 games remaining, including an away game against UNLV and 2 games (one home and away) against #5 SDSU and Nevada.
New Mexico is currently 9-1 in the MWC, good for second place behind 10-0 SDSU. Boise State, 5-6 in conference play, is on a three-game losing streak including a two-point home-loss against SDSU just a week ago. The Broncos know they are better than their record suggests, and beating the Lobos would help prove it.
New Mexico, on the other hand, is on a six-game winning streak, the most recent coming in overtime against Wyoming. In that game New Mexico struggled to score. They cannot afford to struggle against Boise State who is the highest scoring offense in the MWC at 77.1 ppg. New Mexico is second highest with 76.5, so this game should be a high scoring affair (the Lobos posted 84 points against BSU earlier this season).
At the risk of sounding banal, both teams want and need this win. BSU and UNM were both early favorites to win the MWC and many assumed that BSU would reappear in the NCAA Tournament. Today, none of the above appears certain.
UNM is only a game behind SDSU, so a regular season title is not unascertainable, but a loss against a skidding BSU would make it much more so (especially with two games against SDSU still looming). The Lobos should make the tournament (depending on whose bracket you follow), but a win over BSU would certainly help push the Lobos firmly inside the bubble. BSU is only one of three MWC teams in the top-100 NCAA RPI (SDSU 15; UNM 24; BSU 67). Besides the two games against SDSU, it will probably be the last time the Lobos get a chance to genuinely pad their Tourney resume.
The same goes for BSU. BSU is probably out of the regular season title running, but a strong finish could be just enough to build a Tourney-worthy resume, and a win over the Lobos would be a nice way to start that strong finish. Not to mention, there is always the chance that the Broncos nab the MWC tournament to punch their Tourney ticket. Either way, BSU has a tough road ahead them, but this is a capable and experienced bunch.
Speaking of, the Broncos are led by 6-6 Anthony Drmic (17.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and 6-3 Derrick Marks (16.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.6 asp). Drmic and Marks are a fearsome duo that can present match up problems for a lot of teams. But it was 6-7 Nick Duncan and 6-9 Ryan Watkins that gave UNM trouble in the teams' last meeting. Duncan scored 16 points, including five three-pointers, and Watkins scored 15 points and pulled down a beastly 22 boards.
Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams pace the Lobos, scoring 20.2 and 17.4 points per game, respectively. Bairstow is also good for 7.1 rebounds per game while Williams averages 5.1 assists. Alex Kirk has thankfully returned for the Lobos after sitting out two games with a lower leg injury. Against Wyoming Kirk had a nice double-double, 15 points and 10 rebounds. Hugh Greenwood, who had a monster 20-point game against Boise State last meeting, contributes across the board with 6.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.
The big news for New Mexico is the status of starter Deshawn Delaney who is questionable for this game with a toe injury. Delaney was integral in UNM's earlier win over BSU, grabbing a team-high nine rebounds to help quell Watkins. The Lobos have been able to successfully cope with injuries thus far, so expect Cullen Neal or Cleveland Thomas to start in Delaney's place if he is unable to play.
It is going to take a solid and balanced effort from New Mexico to pull this one off. Taco Bell Arena is going to be hungry for a win and the Broncos need to right the ship. Alternatively, the Lobos know they cannot afford to slip up before SDSU. At this point it is basically a blinking competition between the two league leaders with SDSU holding the advantage. The Lobos are 5-0 on the road in conference play, let's see if they can push it to 6-0.