Mountain West Tournament 2013: Teams That Will Push New Mexico for Title
The Mountain West Conference Tournament won't carry as much marquee value as larger conference tournaments, but still has plenty of teams that could challenge top-seeded New Mexico for the championship.
The Lobos went 26-5 on the season and 13-3 in conference play, but do not score a lot of points and aren't the best shooting team in the nation, ranking 156th and 220th in those respective areas.
This sets the stage for other teams in the Mountain West to come out of nowhere and go on a long tournament run en route to a conference championship and a spot in the Big Dance. Unfortunately, that likely means going toe-to-toe with the Lobos at some point and being the last team standing when the dust settles.
Should this small handful of squads get hot at the right time, New Mexico could be in a lot of trouble.
San Diego State
The Aztecs are not a large program compared to other schools fans may be familiar with, but they're quickly establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with. Former Michigan coach Steve Fisher has gone 258-157 since taking over the helm in 1999, and enters this year's MWC Tournament as a No. 4 seed.
On the season, the team went 9-7 in conference play and 21-9 overall.
San Diego State is headlined by junior Jamaal Franklin, who leads the team with 17 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. Seeing as how he is just 6'5", 205 pounds, that's quite impressive.
More importantly, the Aztecs had a signature win against New Mexico on Jan. 26. Both teams are similar in their attack and performance, but San Diego State could prove feisty enough to gain the upper hand in terms of momentum should the two face each other in semifinals.
Should the troops be rallied at the right time, the Lobos could definitely be in danger of a stunning early exit.
The Runnin' Rebels improved in their second year under head coach Dave Rice, going 23-8 and 10-6 in conference play. The only way they can face New Mexico is in the championship game, but they could definitely have a strong advantage if they get that far.
Not only is UNLV the ninth-best passing team in the nation, but it is also fifth in rebounding. New Mexico ranks just 61st and 140th in those respective areas, so they would immediately have quite the battle on their hands.
Oh, and did I mention that the Lobos lost to this team on Feb. 9?
New Mexico could also have a problem slowing down freshman sensation Anthony Bennett, who leads the team with 15.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game and has solid size at 6'8", 240 pounds. This young man works the paint with authority and has even shown an ability to hit three-pointers, making 37 of his attempts from long range.
Throw in fine interior defense from sophomore Khem Birch, and this is a team that the Lobos should definitely be studying diligently even if their match isn't fully guaranteed yet.
The Rams have not beaten New Mexico this season and can only face them in the conference championship game, but still have an advantage over the Lobos.
As the fourth-best rebounding team in the nation, Colorado State could easily defeat New Mexico by constantly taking the game to the paint and winning battles there. Senior big man Colton Iverson has great size at 6'10", 261 pounds and is leading the team with 14.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, and his work in the key could definitely prove difficult for the Lobos to match.
Moreover, coaching veteran Larry Eustachy's men rank 45th in the nation in scoring. On numbers alone outside of win-loss record, they are a better team than New Mexico in both scoring and rebounding.
Don't let their lack of signature wins fool you. The Rams definitely have what it takes to make some noise in the conference tournament, and perhaps beyond.
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