The New Mexico Lobos will face a familiar foe in the opening round of the Mountain West Conference Tournament as they face off against the Nevada Wolf Pack. The Lobos swept Nevada beating them both times this season after four game losing streaks. New Mexico won the first meeting in Albuquerque 88-76 and the Return game in Reno 71-66.
One of the X factor in both games was the Lobos Obij Aget who is averaging 13 points and 12.5 rebounds per game against the Pack. It's consistency that the Lobos had hoped they would get from the big man all year and it's something Nevada head coach Eric Musselman told the Reno Journal-Gazette.
"We have to do a better job on their inside people," Musselman said. "(Guards Cullen) Neal and (Elijah) Brown have been a focal point for every team that plays them but for some reason they've done a very good job on the interior, especially Aget. He's been the one guy we haven't real had an answer for. We need to do a better job on the defensive backboards and defending the interior area against them."
If the Lobos want to beat Nevada and advance to the semifinals of the MWC tournament they must find a constancy they have been searching for all season.
Elijah Brown and Tim Williams have been the consistent driving force for the Lobos but in last Saturdays game in Reno, Cullen Neal had his best game in over two months.
Neal looked loose and he played in control and added 16 points and 6 assist; this was the Neal that Lobo fans had hoped to see all season as he made three of five three pointers.
The Lobos who have had little help on the offensive side for Brown and Williams looked like a more complete team for 35 minutes on Saturday players like Sam Logwood and Xavier Adams contributed.
Head Coach Craig Neal cut his rotation to eight players but was still able to have four players reach double digits. If the Lobos are going to win they must have balance Elijah Brown is a great player but the team is not effective when they sit and watch Brown take over a game. In the loss to Fresno State Brown had 41 points but the Lobos still lost by 10 points.
On the defensive side, the Lobos cannot assume that the cold shooting Wolf Pack will just sit outside and jack up three pointers against the zone.
Fresno State's Marvel Harris showed other teams in the conference that the Lobos cannot stop a slashing point guard and while Marqueze Coleman is questionable with an ankle injury D.J Fenner and Tyron Criswell are more than capable of breaking down the Lobos zone.
Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year Cameron Oliver is a beast inside the Lobo big men must avoid foul trouble when guarding him as a lack of depth is a true weakness for the Lobos.
This game will come down to intensity and hustle New Mexico must come into the game ready to play and with stand Nevada's initial run.
The Wolf Pack will be ready to play and they want to avenge their two loses to the Lobos and will come out with a lot of energy, New Mexico must match that.
If they can come out and get up on them early and put the Pac away, allowing them to stay into the game will only give them confidence which is bad for the Lobos. Nevada has a lot of talent and can easily beat the Lobos but look for New Mexico to walk out with a four point win.