I think that beating Drake over the weekend and going straight to Albuquerque the past two days were important factors for New Mexico State entering tonight's contest at rival New Mexico. Had the Aggies let that game slip away for their fifth straight loss entering a game against a team that has beaten NMSU four straight times and 11 of the past 12, they would likely not be competitive.
Tonight is the Aggies last chance at a quality win in the regular season. South Alabama is a good team, but not in the Lobos class.
Getting a victory would be nice, but it's supposed to be a sellout at the Pit, which is worth anywhere from 5-8 points. Moral victories don't count, but it would be good to see the Aggies within five in the last 5 minutes, just to see them get over the hump and be competitive in the second half after playing teams like Arizona and Gonzaga tough in the first half.
Fatigue, The Pit and the losing streak are all legitimate factors to me picking the Lobos 78-71
Finish in the paint: NMSU needs an offensive post presence to help offset UNM's duo of Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow. Chili Nephawe missed three gimme shots early in the Lobos 79-70 victory here in the first game. Nephawe and Sim Bhullar were both 2-8 from the field in the first game. Both players had double doubles against Drake but they have not been productive on the offensive end against quality big men with size. Bhullar was blocked three times in the first game against the Lobos. Hopefully his 22 point effort against Drake can get the big fella rolling a little bit on offense. Nephawe said he learned how to play against Cameron Bairstow in the first meeting. Aggies fans hope so because Bairstow is a handful. Bairstow can put the ball on the floor, hit the midrange jumper and get players in foul trouble. Ags need to make him play defense as well.
Hit open shots: Albuquerque Journal reporter wrote today that UNM guard Hugh Greenwood is "day to day" with a wrist injury on his shooting hand that he suffered against the Aggies. Both teams started in zone in the first game and the Lobos were the first team to hit open shots and Greenwood made two of those 3s. Greenwood is an experienced player, a great rebounder at his position and he takes care of the ball. If Cullen Neal picks up Greenwood's minutes/shots, Neal isn't strong in any of those categories and Deshawn Delaney, and Cleveland Thomas didn't look that comfortable shooting either. On the flip side, the Aggies have to make open shots. UNM didn't need to come out of their zone. Kevin Aronis and Matej Buovac each showed signs of life from long range against Drake and DK Eldridge has obviously had some big games shooting the ball although he's extremely streaky.
Pick your poison: Alex Kirk is not having a bad year, but it appears like teams have focused on him and allowed Cameron Bairstow to get rolling. I expect the Aggies to continue to pay most of their defensive attention on guard Kendall Williams and try to limit Bairstow as much as possible. I think NMSU needs to get the ball out of his hands by doubling when he gets the ball at the high post, especially if Nephawe is on him because Bairstow proved he can get by Nephawe. The ideal situation is to get one of those three in foul trouble, but that happened in the first game and the Aggies couldn't take advantage. Leaving Kirk one on one is a dangerous proposition as well. He can pull Bhullar away from the rim and is a great pick and pop player. he also drove around Bhullar a couple times off the dribble. But it's better to me than surrendering open looks for Williams and allowing Bairstow to get into the paint at will.