Mountain West hoops resume Tuesday night with a matchup between two teams that expect to return to the NCAA Tournament after unsuccessful trips last season. The New Mexico Lobos host the Boise State Broncos in a game between two very different teams that play two very different styles. New Mexico opens a 5.5-point favorite over Boise State at The Pit.
Boise State is an interesting side this season. Returning everyone from a team that was selected as an at-large bid to play in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament, the Broncos came into this season with expectations and struggled to win any close games against top-notch opponents. Boise lost close games against St. Mary’s, Iowa State, San Diego State and Wyoming but it is back after two straight conference wins against Nevada and Utah State. The Broncos don’t have a ton of size but they can shoot the rock. Australian Anthony Drmic leads the team with over 18 points a game and nearly 5 rebounds. Jeff Elorriaga is arguably the best shooter in the country – hitting three’s about 48 percent of the time this season in an awfully large sample size (5.6 attempts per game). Derrick Marks will find himself in a familiar role, needing to neutralize the opponents best big. While New Mexico has great size, Alex Kirk is primarily a perimeter player which means that Marks should exclusively concern himself with Cameron Bairstow.
Quieting Bairstow won’t be easy. New Mexico’s Australian product is breaking out like no one could have projected in his senior season. Bairstow is averaging double-figure scoring for the first time in his career. And it’s not just double-figures. Bairstow is putting up over 20 a game for the Lobos, who have shifted their offense to center around the forward. He may struggle to find space against Marks who is an incredibly high-energy and spirited player that is certainly up for the challenge of shutting down one of the contenders for MWC Player of the Year. The key will be Kirk and whether or not he asserts dominance inside. If he does, New Mexico should win this game in front of the home crowd. If he can’t, the Lobos will struggle to score with the sharp-shooting Broncos. I’m not betting on Kirk doing much dirty work in the painted area.
Free Pick: Boise State +5.5