New Mexico vs. New Mexico State moved
A budding New Mexico Lobos squad hosts rival New Mexico State in the first episode of the season.
Saturday’s basketball game between New Mexico and New Mexico State University has been postponed after police reported a shooting on the New Mexico campus early Saturday morning.
ORIGINAL STORY BELOW:
WHO: New Mexico (3-0, 0-0 in MWC) vs. New Mexico State (1-1, 0-0 in WAC)
IF: Saturday, November 18 at 5:00 p.m. MT
WHERE: University Arena AKA “The Pit”, Albuquerque, NM
CURRENT: Mountain West Network
Line: KenPom, The Lobos are favored with 5 points
SERIAL RECORDING: New Mexico leads the all-time 124-102 series
For college basketball fans in the always highly anticipated land of enchantment Rio Grande rivalry is a circled date on the calendar annually. Both programs always make it interesting, no matter which ranking and no matter which head coach.
A sweep in the series is coveted and difficult to achieve. Not too difficult for former head coach Chris Jans, who is now in Mississippi State after last season’s NCAA tournament with the Aggies. Jans went 5-3 against the Lobos during his time at Las Cruces. Including two sweeps and four straight wins in his first two seasons. Greg Heiar, first-year Aggies head coach, is looking to put his stamp on the state’s greatest rivalry.
New Mexico returns home after a successful road trip to Dallas, TX. Securing a quality 83-64 win over SMU at the Moody Coliseum. This statement win puts the Lobos 3-0 into the season. And they head into their weekend rivalry match with confidence and winning momentum.
Head coach Richard Pitino’s sophomore side really takes cues from the Mountain West Sleeper tag they were given in preseason coverage. A win on Saturday could help cement that label and set the team in great shape for next week and as the hosts of the Lobo Classic.
Their peers, the New Mexico State Aggies, are in some remodeling mode this season. Although it’s difficult to call a “rebuild” a roster that includes two former SEC starting supervisors and a junior college first team All-American. Still, it’s tough losing three-time WAC Coach of the Year Chris Jans and nearly the entire roster of last season’s historic squad. And the transition pains are already showing.
The Aggies are 1-1 in two games so far. With a 49-point win over D-II opponents New Mexico Highlands in the season opener. And then a more revealing 67-64 loss on the road to I-25 rivals UTEP at Don Haskins Arena last Saturday.
With such a announced recruitment class and ties to the same coaching tree that coach Jans came from. Expectations for Coach Heiar haven’t changed at Las Cruces. That means there’s a lot of pressure to win. And winning against your two rivals is a must. Already falling 0-1 in this category, Saturday could either boost morale enormously within the program or become a nuclear bomb.
The last time these two programs met on hardwood was December 6th of last year. The Aggies secured a 76-74 rematch win in the pit. This after the Lobos traveled south and broke the 100-point seal in their 101-94 win at the Pan Am Center. Most of the New Mexico State roster is eliminated from this series, and some key Lobos have yet to play in this rivalry. But coach Pitino is 1-1 against their southern neighbors. While his star backcourt, Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn Jr., average 48.5 PPG combined against the Aggies.
But a nearly sold out University Arena, AKA The pit and two hungry squads gotta watch tv on saturday night. With more at stake than meets the eye.
Players to watch:
G Jaelen House–New Mexico
The Lobos ground general and spark plug helped propel New Mexico into the national spotlight after their 21-point away win on Tuesday. The 6-0 senior guard averaged team bests in points (20.7 PPG), assists (6.3 APG) and steals (3.3 SPG) in three competitions. For those who haven’t seen it yet. House is a lightning-fast, gritty, do-it-all ground general for the Lobos.
With the ability to drive through traffic, shoot the open three and head downhill at will. He is also a very capable distributor and full-back. But he will face some very difficult defenders on Saturday. Either in Xavier Pinson, DaJuan Gordon or Deshawndre Washington. All long, fast and strong. Well, it’s good that House has help to draw attention away from him just long enough. Just look at the highlights of his performance at SMU, most of his damage was done in the second half.
G Desshawndre Washington–State of New Mexico
House’s counterpart, you ask? The 6-7 Aggie Floor General and the Swiss Army Knife Deshawndre Washington. The Juco transfer apparently turned down high-level offers to follow his head coach to Las Cruces from Northwest Florida state this offseason. The Chicago, IL native ran a Monster recruitment course that gave fans and media confidence in the post-Aggie program transition between coaching staffs.
Washington, like House, has an effective backcourt partner in former LSU starter Xavier Pinson. Averaging 4.5 APG across two games, many of these looks are making their way to Washington. With his frame, his athleticism and his skills. The point forward can do a little bit of everything off the ground. Average of 17.5 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 6.0 APG and 1.5 SPG in two games. While he hit a triple-double in the Aggies’ season opener and a double-double at UTEP.
key to the game
For New Mexico: A balanced attack, generate turnover and stay out of nasty trouble
When the Lobos faced SMU in Dallas recently, it seemed like everything was going right for Coach Pitino’s team. To secure the first win of this rivalry series, New Mexico must give fans an encore at home on Saturday afternoon.
They need to generate turnovers and find a way to maximize those opportunities like they did in Dallas (20 points down from 15 forced turnovers). The Aggies themselves seem to be struggling with ball handling problems at the moment. With 20 turnovers on just 8 assists in her failure in El Paso. The Lobos must also minimize defensive fouls, as they did against SMU (only 16 Lobo fouls). To keep their best players on the pitch. Since New Mexico’s starters make up nearly 83.8% of the team’s overall point average right now.
Finally, they need a balanced offensive attack against the Aggies. By balanced I don’t mean contributions from multiple players. I mean find a way to get buckets at all speeds. The Lobos have a fast pace of play near the top-30 (according to KenPom) across the country. The Aggies aren’t far behind (138′) and have very capable players who could thrive in the open court.
New Mexico needs to find a way to balance its offensive pace. If they’re forced into a relay race, or worse, a hacking contest to see who can take the most free throws to win, they’re in trouble.
For the state of New Mexico: Protect the paint, attack the rim and limit sales.
The Aggies may have had more time to rest ahead of Saturday’s showdown. But the momentum is almost entirely on Lobos’ side. The visiting team must find a way to protect the paintwork, attack the rim and play with stable ball control.
As mentioned above, the Lobos play fast. And part of that fast play is having their guards drive to the rim, take middle jumpers, and get the ball to their bigs. The Lobos take 70.1% of their shots inside the arc and make an even higher rate of those shots compared to three pointers (79.9%). Coach Heiar’s side won’t be able to be the Lobos in their own game, but slowing things down and protecting the paint could force the Lobos to attempt three point shots. An area where they lack, making just 6.0 three-point field goals per game while shooting 32.7% from long range.
Attacking the rim can also be the key to an upset on the road. And it could hurt to attack the rim and get their starting greats in nasty trouble. New Mexico doesn’t have the deepest frontcourt depth to come off the bench. Removing their double-digit scoring starting spot could really hurt their scoring efficiency and force House and Jamal Mashburn Jr. to hit harder. Finally, take good care of the ball. The Lobos thrived on forcing turnovers in the final game and it could have been the Aggies kryptonite as well. If they’re protecting the ball, New Mexico State should even have the field.
Forecast: New Mexico 78, State of New Mexico 73
The KenPom line in this case is a five-point home win from Lobo. Given New Mexico’s form and home field advantage, I think it’s going to be close, but a Lobo win nonetheless.
Larry Muniz is a college basketball writer for Mountain West Wire and WAC Hoops Digest. Also co-hosted the college basketball podcast Hoops Talk W/Jay & Larry. He is also a USWBA member.