(5) New Mexico vs. (12) Long Beach St: West Region
New Mexico 27-6, 10-4 MWC (Regular-season and Conference Tourney Champions)
Long Beach State 25-8, 15-1 Big West (Regular-season and Conference Tourney Champions)
Time: 4:10 p.m. Thursday
Location: Rose Garden in Portland, Ore.
Winner will face: (4) Louisville or (13) Davidson, Saturday
New Mexico No. 21 AP; No. 22 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
Long Beach State No. 35 AP; No. 34 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
New Mexico 29
Long Beach State 35
Line: New Mexico -4 (O/U 134)
Player to Watch
New Mexico: F Drew Gordon, 6-9 Sr. (13.4 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 53.7% FG); G Tony Snell, 6-7 So. (12 ppg, 4.1 apg, 3.3 rpg); G Kendall Williams, 6-3 So. (12 ppg, 4.1 apg, 1.3 spg). Snell played below expectations this season, but he had an outstanding MWC Tournament. He had 15 points, six rebounds and six assists in a semifinal win over UNLV, then went 5-for-7 with 14 points in the championship game win over San Diego State.
Long Beach State: G Casper Ware, 5-10 Sr. (17.4 ppg, 3.3 apg, 1.4 spg); G Larry Anderson, 6-5 Sr. (14 ppg, 5 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.9 spg); F T.J. Robinson, 6-8 Sr. (12 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 53% FG). Ware – the 2-time Big West Player of the Year – scored 33 points, had six assists and three rebounds during Long Beach’s 77-64 Big Sky championship game win over UC-Santa Barbara Saturday. Ware scored 77 points during the three games of the league tourney.
Why Each Team is Dangerous
New Mexico: No team is as hot as any team in the country. The Lobos have won five straight and went 12-2 since Jan. 25, including a pair of wins over San Diego State and UNLV each. UNM can score in the open court or in the half-court and displayed the most efficient offense in the MWC and one of the best in the country. Gordon, Williams and Snell are all effective scorers and all can facilitate. Solid depth will also help the Lobos if they get into a long tourney run.
Long Beach State: Ware, Anderson and Robinson are almost as good as any trio in the nation and they’re making their first NCAA Appearance. The 49ers have seven players who are capable of putting the ball in the basket and LBSU shot 46.9 percent from the field this season. The Niners get to the foul line often and they play strong, opportune defense. The 49ers played the nation’s best non-conference schedule, so they won’t be afraid of anyone.
Why Each Team is Vulnerable
New Mexico: There’s not a lot New Mexico doesn’t do well – or at least nominally well. The one problem has been consistency. A home loss to New Mexico State, a neutral-court loss to 8-22 Santa Clara and big road losses at Colorado State and TCU are concerns. In those losses, the Lobo defense was poor and foul trouble caused them problems.
Long Beach State: The 49ers really rely on their senior trio of Ware, Anderson and Robinson. Anderson missed the Big West Tournament with a sprained knee. If the conference Defensive Player of the Year is unable to go Thursday, LBSU has almost no chance to win this game. Shot selection can be a concern with Long Beach, particularly with Ware. Long Beach is average on the boards and allowed opponents to hit one-third of their 3-point shots.
The Bottom Line: It’s a shame these teams have to play each other in the first round. Both teams are capable of deep tournament runs. But you have to love the way New Mexico is playing. They’ve shown toughness that it lacked early in the season.
The Pick: New Mexico 79, Long Beach State 72
Greg Against the Spread This Season: 198-148-6 (Through Sunday, March 11)