It looks as if the schedule-makers in the Mountain West wanted to spark some serious national conversation about the conference from the beginning of league play because the first full week of play will feature all three expected contenders facing each other. Wednesday's slate features #16 San Diego State (15-2, 1-0), fresh off of their two-point win over UNLV, visiting The Pit to take on a New Mexico (15-2, 1-0) squad that's quietly won thirteen in a row. The Lobos, preseason favorites to win the Mountain West, feature one of the best power forwards in senior Drew Gordon (12.4 ppg, 10.5 rpg) while guards Tony Snell (13.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg) and Kendall Williams (11.7 ppg, 4.4 apg, 3.6 rpg) have also played well during their current run.
Before scoring eight points in the Lobos' win at Wyoming on Saturday, Gordon reached double figures in eight straight games to rebound from an inconsistent start to the season. A key for SDSU will be to keep him off the offensive glass, something they've done a good job of this season as opponents rebound just 26.9% of their missed shots. If anything offensive rebounding will be a critical factor in the outcome as New Mexico grabs 36.4% of their misses and SDSU is a solid offensive rebounding team as well (33.4% OR percentage). The Aztecs don't have the marquee bodies in the frontcourt that they had last season but Steve Fisher's guys still attack the boards, and one of their best offensive rebounders is also an important scorer on the perimeter.
Jamaal Franklin (15.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg) grabs 1.6 offensive rebounds per game, a number that's third on the team to Deshawn Stephens (2.1) and Garrett Green (2.0). Franklin knocked down the game-winner on Saturday and scored 24 points while also grabbing ten rebounds, with the boards marking the third time in the last four games in which he's finished with ten caroms. If anything the Aztecs have plenty of depth on the perimeter as Chase Tapley (16.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg), Xavier Thames (11.0 ppg, 5.4 apg) and James Rahon (10.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg) all have the ability to hurt teams offensively. Rahon scored 22 points in the win over UNLV and seemed to have an answer for just about every UNLV charge.
Williams is one of the guards that Steve Alford will rely upon tonight, and he should be a solid bet to perform well coming off of back-to-back double-figure scoring performances for the first time since the final two games of the 76 Classic in late November. The one issue for Williams has been the drop in his percentages from last season, as his three-point percentage is down about ten points and the field goal percentage down six. But in the last three games Williams has made seven of eleven from distance, and the hope for UNM fans is that he'll continue on that path.
As for Snell (13.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg) he's been New Mexico's most consistent performer this season, increasing his scoring by nine points from last season and his percentages have made a signficant jump as well. Hugh Greenwood has missed the last two games with a sprained ankle, which has meant more time for Williams at the points and more minutes for Jamal Fenton (7.4 ppg, 2.6 apg) off the bench. Williams turned the ball over five times on Saturday but as a team the Lobos finished with 15 turnovers (they average 14 per game), so there wasn't a huge shift in that regard.
In addition to the rebounding three-point shooting is an area to keep an eye on with the Lobos scoring 30% of their points from beyond the arc. As a team New Mexico shoots 40.2% from deep, and while SDSU isn't a bad shooting team (35.2% 3PT) they rely more on getting to the basket. The Pit is one of the toughest environments in college basketball for a road team, and the Aztecs needed some big plays from D.J. Gay to win last year's meeting. He's no longer on Montezuma Mesa, meaning that a Franklin, Rahon or Tapley (Thames too) would likely have to be the guy. But as we've seen thus far, they're more than capable of doing so.
The Missouri Valley has a pair of marquee matchups on the slate with Creighton visiting Missouri State and Northern Iowa hosting Wichita State. Kyle Weems and the Bears handed Creighton its only league loss in Omaha earlier this month, and a sweep of the season series would go a long way in terms of bolstering a resume that's taken some hits as they've lost three of their last four.
As for UNI they sit at 3-4 in MVC play and their inconsistent offensive production is a big reason why. Do the Panthers have an answer for Garrett Stutz inside? He's raised his scoring nearly five points from last season and is grabbing nearly four more rebounds per game as well. WSU is 5-0 in road games this season and Stutz is averaging 16.4 points and 9.0 rebounds in those contests.
There's also a battle of Big Five teams as La Salle visits Temple and the perimeter matchups should be fun to watch. Dr. John Giannini's team has played both more consistently and unselfishly this season than last and guards Tyreek Duren and Ramon Galloway are two reasons why. Temple will counter with Ramone Moore, Khalif Wyatt and Juan Fernandez, but a player like Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson could factor into the outcome as the Explorers aren't the biggest team inside.
Also in the Atlantic 10 Saint Joseph's visits Xavier and UMass visits Duquesne in what should be two entertaining matchups. Cincinnati visits Connecticut in need of another resume-building win; keep in mind they've got that home loss to Presbyterian to account for and with the Huskies unlikely to have Ryan Boatright again the Bearcats will have an even better chance of winning. And keep an eye on two games involving Conference USA teams, with Memphis visiting UCF and Marshall stepping outside of the league to play West Virginia. Marquee games? Probably not, but there's more than enough to keep your attention tonight.
Top 25 Games
7:00 PM (10) Murray State at Morehead State (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Cincinnati at (11) Connecticut
7:00 PM (13) Indiana at Nebraska (BTN)
9:00 PM (15) Mississippi State at Ole Miss (ESPN3)
10:00 PM (16) San Diego State at New Mexico (CBS SN)
8:05 PM (18) Creighton at Missouri State
10:30 PM TCU at (20) UNLV(The Mtn.)
NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM Richmond at George Washington
7:00 PM St. John's at USF (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Georgia State at Northeastern
7:00 PM Old Dominion at Towson
7:00 PM Bowling Green at Miami (OH)
7:00 PM Kent State at Ohio (ESPN3)
7:00 PM La Salle at Temple
7:00 PM Seton Hall at Villanova (ESPNU)
7:00 PM Colgate at Army
7:00 PM James Madison at UNC Wilmington
7:00 PM Akron at Buffalo
7:00 PM Ball State at Central Michigan
7:00 PM Massachusetts at Duquesne
7:00 PM Western Michigan at Eastern Michigan
7:00 PM Rhode Island at Fordham
7:00 PM Delaware at George Mason (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Drexel at Hofstra
7:00 PM Bucknell at Lehigh
7:00 PM Clemson at Miami (FL) (ESPN3)
7:00 PM American at Navy
7:00 PM Northern Illinois at Toledo
7:00 PM Saint Joseph's at Xavier
7:30 PM Marshall at West Virginia (ESPN3)
7:30 PM Kennesaw State at Charlotte
8:00 PM Tennessee at Georgia (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Tulane at Tulsa
8:00 PM UAB at Rice
8:00 PM Texas-Arlington at Texas A&M-CC
8:00 PM Wyoming at Air Force (The Mtn.)
8:00 PM Nicholls State at Central Arkansas
8:00 PM Memphis at UCF
8:00 PM Indiana State at Illinois State (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Southeastern Louisiana at McNeese State
8:00 PM Wichita State at Northern Iowa (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Texas State at Sam Houston State
8:00 PM Houston at SMU
8:00 PM Northwestern State at UTSA
8:05 PM Drake at Southern Illinois
8:05 PM Bradley at Evansville
9:00 PM Oklahoma State at Iowa State
9:00 PM Northwestern at Wisconsin (BTN)
9:00 PM Texas at Kansas State
9:00 PM East Carolina at UTEP
10:00 PM Cal State San Marcos at Fresno State
10:05 PM UC Riverside at Cal State Fullerton