The New Mexico Lobos (14-4) face a tough road test against Colorado State (12-7) Saturday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. MT. The Lobos tied for second place in the MWC at 5-1. The Rams are tied for fourth place at 3-3. The Rams do not want to dip below .500 and the Lobos do not want to slip another game behind conference leader, San Diego State University, who is undefeated in league play.
Moby Arena is always a tough place to play; CSU has won gone 30-22 when playing at home against UNM. However, the Lobos are 3-0 on the road in conference play. That is rare. UNM never won it's first two road games in any season, let alone three, under Dave Bliss, Fran Fraschilla, Ritchie McKay, or Steve Alford. If New Mexico pulls out a win against CSU, it will be the first 4-0 road record since 1984 when the Lobos were playing in the WAC.
But let's remember that the Rams are still a 12-7 team and were an 8-seed in last year's NCAA tournament. The Rams, as their mascot signifies, are tough and determined. Not to mention, CSU needs a big win to boost their RPI rankings (currently 150th).
As it stands, the Rams only chance of making the NCAA tournament would be to win the MWC tournament in Las Vegas, a distant but not impossible feat. Otherwise, CSU just needs to slowly improve their resume, and a win over New Mexico (currently 41st in ESPN's RPI) would definitely help.
In these teams' last meeting in The Pit the Rams played a close game down the stretch before falling 80-73, with Daniel Bejarano going for 25 points and eight rebounds. Cameron Bairstow helped the Lobos with 29 points.
Bejarano is definitely going to challenge UNM. He is averaging 16.2 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. Good for 8th and 7th in the MWC, respectively. Teammate J.J. Avila is the third highest scorer in the MWC, with 18.9 points per game to go along with 7.4 boards and 3.5 assists. Jon Octeus is next in line with 11.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.
But New Mexico has a couple of MW top-ten players of their own. Bairstow is the 2nd highest scorer in the league (behind Nevada's Deonte Burton) with 20.3 points per game. Kendall Williams is 5th highest scorer and 1st in assists with 17.8 and 5.5, respectively (he is also first in steals with 1.8). Alex Kirk places 2nd in blocks (2.9) and 7th in rebounds 8.9. Kirk also adds 14 points per game.
The main story line for the Lobos is the resurgence of Hugh Greenwood, who appears 100% healed from a wrist injury that forced him to sit out for three games. In New Mexico's win over Boise State, Greenwood scored 20 points, including five three-pointers.
Fans (and probably UNM staff) hope that Greenwood can maintain a similar level of play so that it opens up the paint for Bairstow and Kirk. Things have worked okay for the Lobos, but aberrant play is always welcome in conference play as you face most teams twice. Forcing teams to reassess their defensive schemes against a team is a definite advantage.
Greenwood does a lot more for the Lobos than score though; he plays glue-man with incredible poise. He only has 14 turnovers in 15 games averaging 31.7 minutes a game whereas Williams has 40 turnovers in 35.7 minutes and Cullen Neal has 41 in 20.6 minutes. Greenwood is also the third best rebounder (5.1) and second in assists (3.0).
Let's see if Greenwood's hot hand stays hot and if the Lobos can go 4-0 on the road in conference play for the first time in 30 years. It does seem like the former needs to occur if the latter is to occur.