College Basketball Handicapping: New Mexico at BYU Preview
by Matt Severance - 2/26/2010
There’s a much-anticipated college basketball game on Saturday between two highly ranked teams that are a combined 52-6 and are battling for the regular-season conference title and a likely high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Did I mention it’s also being played in one of the hardest places for any opponent to win in the country?
Villanova at Syracuse?
Negative, I am talking about No. 12 New Mexico at No. 11 BYU on Saturday afternoon, with the Mountain West Conference title and quite possibly a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament at stake. The Cougars have opened as eight-point favorites on BookMaker in the season’s first game between schools with at least 26 wins. It’s also the biggest game in MWC history based on team rankings.
New Mexico and BYU have to be two of the most perennially underrated teams in the country the past few seasons. The Cougars, for example, have their best record ever through 29 games and have won at least 25 games four seasons in a row. They look poised to definitely improve upon last season’s one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament.
The Lobos, led by former Iowa coach Steve Alford, haven’t been to the Big Dance since the 2004-05 season. Their chances of making it last year were crushed when the Lobos were upset by Wyoming in the MWC quarterfinals, but New Mexico is a lock this year no matter what happens in the conference tournament.
As for Saturday’s game, the Lobos are on a 12-game winning streak (all MWC games), which includes a 76-72 win over BYU at The Pit back on Jan. 27. New Mexico's Dairese Gray scored a career-high 25 points, including nine in the final 90 seconds, to end BYU’s 15-game winning streak. That game was only the second time in the history of this series in which both teams were ranked. It also improved the Lobos to 4-0 against ranked teams, and they made it 5-0 with a win over UNLV a few weeks ago; those five wins against Top 25 teams are a school record for a season. The Lobos also have covered in all five – try and find me another NCAA team that’s unbeaten ATS against ranked teams (minimum five games) this season. You won’t.
And while New Mexico always has been very good at home in The Pit, UNM is on a school-record six-game road winning streak in conference and has won a school-record nine away games overall this season (9-2, 5-4-1 ATS).
BYU is 15-0 at home (7-5 ATS) and has won 21 in a row in Provo – the altitude is certainly an advantage for the home team. And the Cougars have had the Lobos’ number in recent years, having won seven of the past nine despite that earlier loss.
The best player on the floor Saturday and probably in the conference is BYU senior Jimmer Fredette, who leads the conference in scoring at 21.7 points per game and also leads the team in assists at 5.0 per game. This guy rained a school-record 49 points on Arizona earlier this year in handing the Wildcats their worst loss ever at the McKale Center. Fredette had 27 on 8-for-21 shooting in the first matchup with New Mexico.
The Lobos’ star is guard Darrington Hobson, who leads the team in scoring (15.2 ppg), rebounding (8.8 rebounds per game) and assists (4.6 assists per game). He was held to just five points on 1-for-11 shooting in the first meeting but grabbed 14 rebounds. Hobson has had double-digit boards in five of the past six games for UNM; no Lobo has ever led the team in scoring, rebounding and assists in a season.
This truly should be an entertaining game, but look for BYU to cover fairly easily. Home-court advantage is huge for the Cougars in this series, as New Mexico has lost nine consecutive games in Provo (0-7 ATS in the past seven).
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