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San Diego State
It's funny how the schedule set up to have the two best teams in the Mountain West Conference face off twice in their last five games. San Diego State is No. 6 in the AP Poll, but that doesn't mean a whole lot for this game. New Mexico can be just as good and is only one game behind the Aztecs in the standings.
A win here for SDSU would likely give them the regular season MWC title, but it's easier said than done. The Aztecs have had some tricky road games this year and that showed up last week in their second loss of the season at Wyoming. In the last three games they have played on the road, it has gone down to the wire.
If the Lobos wanted to get a win against a ranked team this year, this is their best chance. They are coming off a huge 12-point win at UNLV on Wednesday and look primed for this game.
The main thing people hear when talking about San Diego State is its ability to play defense. While they lost their two best players from a year ago, they have become one of the best defensive squads in the nation despite an inconsistent offense. The Aztecs are currently third in the nation, allowing just 57 points per game.
That's where New Mexico comes in though. This is not an easy team to stop as they have three guys that can go for 20 points on any given night. Cameron Bairstow (20.2 PPG) is the most consistent of the bunch and his post-game hasn't really been stopped all year. SDSU has a few players they can defend him with, but if they come with double teams, that will open up lanes for fellow big man Alex Kirk (14.3 PPG). Then of course there's Kendall Williams (17.6 PPG) who may not be that consistent, but can fill it up. The length of SDSU may give him a problem though. Point guard Hugh Greenwood can't be forgotten because he runs things for this offense and will be vital in this game as he turns it over less than once per game.
The Aztecs don't have as many weapons on their team, but they haven't needed that many. Xavier Thames (17.2 PPG) can do it all, but he's in a bit of a funk. Defenses are starting to focus a bit more on him and it's showing in his numbers as Thames is 5-of-35 from the field in the last three games. A similar outing in this one will likely mean a loss for the Aztecs.
Outside of Thames, SDSU has multiple lanky big guys that can rebound and defend. Winston Shepard (12.5 PPG) is the next best scorer and Josh Davis (9.0 PPG, 10.7 RPG) is the best rebounder. If those guys can get Bairstow and Kirk into foul trouble, that would do wonders for the Aztecs in this game. Kirk has size on all of them so it's not going to be the easiest thing to do though.
The Aztecs will focus on shutting down Williams first and then try to contain the big guys down low. However, that defense may not matter against the Lobos if Thames isn't hitting his shots.
Predicted Score - New Mexico 70 San Diego State 63
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