Thursday, January 17, 2013

New Mexico Escapes Boise State In OT

#19 New Mexico 79, Boise State 74, OT
This was a really fun game, though I'm guessing that both teams will rue their poor offensive execution in the final two minutes. Both teams had a chance to win in the final 30 seconds, and both ended up with terrible contested jumpers as the clock was running down on them. I never get the obsession players have of running the clock down to 5 or 6 seconds before starting a play. Unless you're Lebron James, you're better off starting 4-5 seconds earlier and getting a better shot.

It's always a mistake to draw too many conclusions from a game like this. Both teams were pretty even in all facets of the game. Neither team had a clear advantage of the floor. Where the game matters is in the standings. In the second half, as it looked like Boise State might win the game, you had to start thinking that they were pushing their way into the NCAA Tournament. And since there's no scenario where a 9 team Mountain West can earn 6 NCAA Tournament bids, Boise State pushing their way in would have pushed another team out (Wyoming?). But... it was not to be. Boise State could still work their way into the Tournament, but they have work to do to get back on track.

Boise State is now 13-3 overall and 1-1 in Mountain West play, with wins over Creighton and Wyoming along with a bad loss to Utah. If they get to 9-7 in conference play then they'll be on the bubble, though I think they probably need to get to 10-6 to have a good chance at an at-large. Their next game will be Saturday at Air Force.

New Mexico is 16-2 overall and 3-0 in Mountain West play, with wins over UNLV, Cincinnati, UConn and now Boise State, along with a bad loss to South Dakota State. It's a very impressive resume, though the computers are a little less impressed. The reason for that is a 5-1 record in games decided by five points or less or in overtime. So they're probably going to fade a little bit as their luck evens out, but if nothing else they do look on their way to a healthy NCAA Tournament seed.

UNLV 82, #15 San Diego State 75
San Diego State has been the better team of these two this season, and was at home, but they really seemed to struggle with UNLV's length. Khem Birch and Anthony Marshall, in particular, seemed to have their way in and around the paint. UNLV won the rebounding battle (a 36.7 OR% vs a 23.1 OR% for SDSU) and shot better inside the arc (a 56.9 2P% vs a 47.9 2P% for SDSU). Those were the two differences here. The development of Birch, by the way, has been huge for UNLV. He was a really highly rated Pittsburgh recruit (Jamie Dixon's best ever recruit by some measures), and he just comes close to fulfilling his athletic potential then he's going to be a really good player in a couple of years.

San Diego State played very well in non-conference play (they didn't pile up a lot of big wins, but they impressively blasted away a bunch of decent mid-majors), but they've been underwhelming so far in conference play. They are only +0.02 PPP so far in Mountain West play, which is only fourth best. Rebounding has been a problem that continues to pop up. They have the size and length to be better, so we'll see if this is something that Steve Fisher can fix. The Aztecs have a key game coming up on Saturday at Wyoming.

This is UNLV's first best victory of the season - their only other true quality win came against Iowa State. But they are 15-3 overall and don't have a real bad loss, and their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is 28th. They should be able to lock up an at-large bid if they get to 10-6 in Mountain West play.

Fresno State 49,Wyoming 36
I wanted to stick with the Mountain West theme for this post... but this wasn't quite the quality performance of the prior two games. The Wyoming offense continues to struggle without the suspended Luke Martinez. After only 0.98 PPP against Nevada they scored a putrid 0.66 PPP here, shooting 29.0 eFG%. It was their worst scoring efficiency since a 48-38 loss to New Mexico last season, and their worst shooting performance since a 63-47 loss to Washington State on November 30th, 2005.

Right now, opposing teams know that Leonard Washington is the only Wyoming player who can really hurt them offensively. So focus the defense on him and force everybody else to shoot, and it's going to be trouble for the Cowboys. Wyoming has now lost two of three after the 13-0 start to the season. It will be very interesting to see how they handle a home game against San Diego State on Saturday. If they get blown off the court there then I'll have to think seriously about dropping them back to the NIT. Considering the fight he got into, Luke Martinez could be suspended for the rest of the season, so at this point they can't count on getting him back.

Fresno State, Nevada and Air Force are the three teams bringing up the rear of the Mountain West. None of them are bad teams. But the top of the conference is so good that they're inevitably going to lose a lot of games.This is a good win for Fresno State, though, and it pushes them to 1-2 in conference play with a Saturday home game against Nevada upcoming. After that they'll play at Boise State on Wednesday, so I doubt they'll pull themselves over .500 in the standings. But this won't be the last upset that they pull this season over the top six Mountain West teams.

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