The first meeting (at The Pit) looked to be headed in the direction of the home team at the outset as New Mexico scored the first ten points of the game. But Steve Fisher's Aztecs didn't wilt in front of the hostile crowd, outscoring the Lobos by 15 points the rest of the way in a 75-70 victory. The key for the Lobos will be the play of guard Kendall Williams (12.2 ppg, 4.3 apg) and forward Drew Gordon (11.9 ppg, 10.5 rpg), two players expected to rank among the best in the Mountain West before the season began.
Both got off to slow starts to the season but have been two key reasons why the Lobos haven't lost to any other teams in league play. Gordon can be a handful in the paint, which should concern SDSU after the ease with which UNLV's Brice Massamba was able to establish position at times on Saturday afternoon. Tim Shelton is one of the better defenders in the Mountain West but neither he nor Garrett Green or DeShawn Stephens has the build to keep a player like Gordon off the glass without help.
The situation on the perimeter is a different story however, as San Diego State has one of the best backcourts on the west coast. Chase Tapley (16.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg) is the leading scorer for the Aztecs and their four main guards all average at least 9.5 points per game. Jamaal Franklin (16.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg) is their leading rebounder, and his ability to get to the rim offensively makes Franklin a tough matchup for anyone. Xavier Thames (10.2 ppg, 4.7 apg) leads the team in assists and makes sound decisions when running the show while veteran James Rahon (9.5 ppg) has been an important glue guy who can also knock down open shots when needed.
UNM counters on the perimeter with a deep corps in addition to Williams, led by leading scorer Tony Snell. Snell (12.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg), who was a high school teammate of former SDSU great Kawhi Leonard, is a very good shooter who knocks down 49% of his shots from the field and 42.7% from three. In addition to those two there's the point guard tandem consisting of freshman Hugh Greenwood and sophomore Jamal Fenton, who combine to average 5.3 assists per game. The key for Fenton will be his decision-making, which can be an issue at times despite the fact that he averages just 1.3 turnovers per game.
Where will this game be won? Possibly on the glass as the Lobos manage to corral 37.3% of their missed shots on the season. That all leads back to Gordon, who's currently averaging 2.9 offensive rebounds per game. If he can control the boards on both ends and the young guard (Fenton and Greenwood) don't struggle with either SDSU's capable defenders or "The Show", New Mexico has a shot at leaving Montezuma Mesa with a much-needed win and sole possession of first place. San Diego State is 15-1 at home for a reason however, so accomplishing those tasks is far easier said than done.
The Top 25 features two other contests in which the unranked team could use a resume-building victory, beginning with Northwestern visiting #20 Indiana. Bill Carmody's Wildcats fell at Purdue on Sunday night so a win in Bloomington would definitely help them out from an NCAA tournament standpoint. Drew Crawford and John Shurna rank among the best scoring tandems in the country but the play of Reggie Hearn could prove critical down the stretch. The biggest question for Northwestern is whether or not they have an answer for Cody Zeller inside. Combining a hot Zeller with the Hoosiers' capable perimeter shooters would spell doom for many teams much less Northwestern.
Also in the Big Ten, Purdue visits Illinois in a game the Illini desperately need at this point. Bruce Weber's team has been struggling mightily of late, and part of the reason could be the health of point guard Sam Maniscalco. Without the Bradley transfer Illinois really doesn't have another credible option to get the offense going, and in turn key figures such as Brandon Paul and Meyers Leonard haven't been as good as they can be. Matt Painter's club is looking to build on their win over Northwestern, and with Kelsey Barlow and D.J. Byrd coming off of good performances maybe the Boilermakers can go on a run down the stretch.
Miami, a team that many did not think would be able to work their way into a "bubble" situation, is right there with a shot at their second win over a Top 10 team as they host #7 North Carolina. This game should be played at a pace more comfortable for the Tar Heels than Saturday's win over Virginia was, and for the Hurricanes that means veteran guards Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott need to make sound decisions alongside freshman Shane Larkin. But the battle in the paint will prove to be worth the cost of admission alone, as Miami's Reggie Johnson and Kenny Kadji have the ability to make things difficult on John Henson and Tyler Zeller.
In the Atlantic 10, Temple hits the road to take on St. Bonaventure and the Owls better be careful in Olean. The Bonnies have a first-round draft pick in the middle in senior center Andrew Nicholson, but truth be told this trip would be even more treacherous if Micheal Eric weren't back in the rotation for the Owls. The key for Bona will be how they match up with Temple's perimeter stars, with Khalif Wyatt and Ramone Moore rolling and Juan Fernandez also more than capable of making things happen.
USC looks for some revenge in the second meeting with city rival UCLA but that's going to be tough given the many injuries the Trojans have had to deal with this season. But in Maurice Jones, USC has a tough, skilled guard who should be on one of the All Pac-12 teams at the end of the season. Without the Saginaw, Michigan native who knows how many games Kevin O'Neil's team would have found a way to win. And back in the Mountain West both Wyoming and Colorado State have games they can't afford to lose if they're to have any shot of going dancing. The Pokes host Air Force, who just fired they coach last week, while CSU heads north to take on Boise State.
Top 25 Games
9:00 PM Oklahoma State at (3) Missouri (ESPN3)
8:00 PM (7) North Carolina at Miami (FL) (ESPN)
8:00 PM (14) Murray State at Southeast Missouri State (ESPN3)
10:15 PM New Mexico at (15) San Diego State (CBS CN)
10:30 PM Loyola Marymount at (16) Saint Mary's
6:30 PM Northwestern at (20) Indiana (BTN)
7:00 PM Rutgers at (25) Notre Dame (ESPNU)
NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM DePaul at Connecticut (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Maine at Hartford (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Villanova at South Florida (ESPN3)
7:00 PM South Dakota at IUPUI
7:00 PM New Hampshire at Boston University
7:00 PM Bowling Green at Ohio
7:00 PM Saint Joseph's at Rhode Island
7:00 PM Canisius at Niagara
7:00 PM Holy Cross at Lafayette
7:00 PM Vermont at Albany
7:00 PM Miami (OH) at Akron
7:00 PM Chattanooga at Appalachian State
7:00 PM Toledo at Ball State
7:00 PM UMBC at Binghamton
7:00 PM Army at Colgate
7:00 PM Samford at Davidson
7:00 PM Charlotte at Dayton (FCS)
7:00 PM Fordham at Duquesne
7:00 PM Maryland-Eastern Shore at Hampton
7:00 PM Washington Adventist at Longwood
7:00 PM Loyola (MD) at Marist
7:00 PM Charleston at UNC Greensboro
7:00 PM Southern Utah at Oakland
7:00 PM Iona at Rider (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Georgia at South Carolina (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Elon at Wofford
7:00 PM Detroit at Wright State
7:00 PM Oral Roberts at IPFW
7:30 PM Navy at American
7:30 PM Georgia Tech at Wake Forest (ESPN3)
7:30 PM St. Peter's at Fairfield
7:30 PM Delaware State at Norfolk State
8:00 PM Drake at Bradley (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Richmond at Saint Louis
8:00 PM Temple at St. Bonaventure
8:00 PM Texas A&M-CC at Texas State
8:00 PM Morehead State at Austin Peay
8:00 PM SIU-Edwardsville at Eastern Illinois
8:00 PM Southeastern Louisiana at Lamar
8:00 PM UTSA at McNeese State
8:00 PM Western Michigan at Northern Illinois
8:00 PM Central Arkansas at Sam Houston State
8:00 PM UAB at SMU
8:00 PM North Dakota State at South Dakota State
8:00 PM Tulsa at Southern Miss
8:00 PM Texas-Arlington at Stephen F. Austin
8:00 PM Arkansas at Tennessee (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Eastern Kentucky at Tennessee Tech
8:00 PM Memphis at Tulane
8:00 PM UMKC at Western Illinois
8:00 PM Air Force at Wyoming (The Mtn.)
8:05 PM Northern Iowa at Evansville
8:05 PM Missouri State at Wichita State (ESPN3)
8:30 PM Purdue at Illinois (BTN)
9:00 PM Weber State at Montana State
9:00 PM Providence at Cincinnati (ESPNU)
9:05 PM Northern Colorado at Eastern Washington
10:00 PM Cal State Fullerton at UC Riverside
10:00 PM Colorado State at Boise State (The Mtn.)
10:00 PM UC Santa Barbara at UC Irvine
10:00 PM Cal Poly at Cal State Northridge
10:05 PM Sacramento State at Portland State
10:30 PM USC at UCLA (FSN PT)