A lot of people are automatically throwing New Mexico into the next round of their brackets against Kansas, but what about this Game? Stanford is a legitimate threat that can deal with UNM’s size which is all you need. The Lobos may be under-seeded, but they are only -3 point favorites against the Cardinal.
There’s no doubt UNM had a great season with 27 wins, but playing in the Mountain West hasn’t given them much credibility. OUt of conference, they lost to UMass, Kansas and NMSU, while also beating Cincinnati and Marquette. And with two wins against SDSU, many consider the Lobos as the best team in the MWC.
Stanford was in the mix-bag that is the Pac-12 and was one of five teams with a 10-8 Conference record. The Cardinal played great at times winning at UConn, Oregon and against UCLA, but then losses to Oregon State and Washington fill their Schedule. No one on their Schedule is really all that similar to UNM, although Arizona may be the closest and the Cardinal struggled in two Games against them.
The Lobos probably have the best post presence in the nation. Cameron Bairstow is one of the most improved players out there and averages 20.3 PPG and 7.4 RPG. He’s incredibly physical and a handful to deal with as he also has a solid mid-range jumper. The bigger Alex Kirk (13.6 PPG, 8.7 RPG) isn’t as good, but having to go against both of these guys is tough. Stanford has decent size in Dwight Powell (14.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG) and Stefan Nastic (7.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG) to name a couple, but this is going to be a tall task.
On the edges, Chasson Randle for Stanford is the best player. He is the Cardinal’s best shooter and scores 18.7 points per Game. He’ll draw either Kendall Williams (16.4 PPG, 4.9 APG) or Hugh Greenwood which isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Williams can be a nuisance on the defensive end and is just as good of shooter as Randle. Greenwood does the little things for UNM, but the most important player may be Deshawn Delaney at small forward. He’s dealing with a hip injury at the moment, but played great in the MWC Tourney and needs to be that same player.
It’ll be interesting to see how often Nastic plays against Kirk, because Nastic isn’t a guy that gets 30 minutes each night, while Kirk is. When Nastic is out of the Game, they will have trouble guarding both Kirk and Bairstow, but also on the other end, Bairstow may be asked to guard someone like Anthony Brown or Josh Huestis which could be a problem for the Lobos.
It’s likely UNM will feed Bairstow early in the Game and try to get someone like Dwight Powell into foul trouble. Bairstow has attempted a ridiculous 291 free throws this year and makes 74% of them. If they succeed in that, the Lobos will be on their way to a win. But if they don’t and Stanford can contain Bairstow somewhat, this will be an extremely close Game.