[mm-video type=playlist id=01fb7dafw2b08817yr player_id=none image=https://mwwire.com/wp-content/plugins/mm-video/images/playlist-icon.png]
New Mexico vs. Louisiana Tech: Preview
The Lobos return home to host a hot Louisiana Tech squad.
New Mexico begins a challenging three game homestand against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.
Updated as of 11/28/2023
WHO: New Mexico (5-1, 0-0 in the MWC) vs. Louisiana Tech (5-1, 0-0 in C-USA)
WHEN: Wednesday, November 29th, 7:00 PM MT
WHERE: University Arena aka “The Pit”, Albuquerque, NM
STREAM: Mountain West Network
Line: KenPom, The Lobos are favored by 8 Points
Feast Week has come and gone. And while some teams like the New Mexico Lobos emerged victorious from their multi-team events in places ranging from Maui to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Others returned home, simply gearing up for their next game.
Now, teams around the Mountain West have a little over a month to get ready for the new year and more importantly conference play. Richard Pitino’s squad returns to Albuquerque with three wins and a four game winning streak. The Lobos cleaned up last week in Henderson, with three victories by a margin of 20.3 PPG.
Ahead of them is a remaining non-conference slate with seven games remaining. Four against top-150 teams and several conference title favorites. There aren’t many resume boosters left on the Lobos’ schedule, but any of the remaining games can be classified as a resume dampener.
Luckily their backcourt duo of sophomore Donovan Dent (18.5 PPG) & Jamal Mashburn Jr. (18.2 PPG) are still scoring in droves. And they are joined by freshman sensation JT Toppin, who is averaging 14.2 PPG & 8.3 RPG and shooting an impressive 73.5% from the floor. The Lobos played some of their best basketball this season in Henderson. Which may not have been perfect, but there was definitely progress. And that’s the name of the game right now.
*As of Tuesday 11/28/2023, Jamal Mashburn Jr. is doubtful to play against Louisiana Tech with an injury.
Per Richard Pitino re: injured guards Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn Jr. ahead of Wednesday's game vs. Louisiana Tech:
• House is game-time decision, but is practicing
• Mashburn is doubtful for Wednesday
— Geoff Grammer (@GeoffGrammer) November 28, 2023
Next up on that aforementioned schedule are the Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech. A team led by second year head coach Talvin Hester. A team that is riding a five game winning streak of their own. They risk that streak Wednesday night in one of the toughest road environments in the nation.
Louisiana Tech Breakdown
As mentioned Head Coach Hester is in year two of his rebuild of the Louisiana Tech basketball program. He had assistant stops from the SWAC to the Big 12 under coaches such as Mark Adams & Kelvin Sampson. A near 20-year coaching journey that has led him to his first head coaching role in Ruston.
Turning Louisiana Tech into a Conference USA power, even in the conference’s new iteration, is a tall task. A task that may be hard to do when you only returned four players that saw more than ten minutes a game last season.
That Bulldogs squad finished 9th in maybe one of the more competitive Conference USA’s in recent memory. Though on the bright side, those four players all made double-digit starts last season and are a part of a solid foundation to keep building on going forward.
Now, pair that with what is turning out to be a very solid recruiting class filled with high major transfers, mid-major journeymen and impact Juco transfers, and you have a top-100 ranked (KenPom) team that is 5-1 to start the year.
The Bulldogs haven’t been tested much since their 8-point loss to what has become a red hot Colorado State team back in early November. But they have been taking care of business when they need to. Beating their division-I foes on average by 11.0 PPG & beating others by a far more impressive margin.
Their doing this with a well balanced attack. With three players averaging 12.3 PPG & few not far behind. Their three-headed attack comes from all areas of the floor.
Starting with the all-conference caliber Isaiah Crawford who can play nearly all positions on the floor. In the post you’ll find Texas Tech Transfer Daniel Batcho, who is nearly averaging a double-double since being ruled eligible. Lastly there is Juco transfer Jaylin Henderson, who is a three-level scorer in the backcourt.
This Bulldogs team is built similarly to the Lobos. Not a ton of size in their most impactful lineup. Also mainly being a threat inside the arc, they get to the free throw line plenty and they are tough defensively. They have the chance at a top-50 (KenPom) win as tournament metrics will soon be published. And in Conference USA, every win counts.
Players to Watch:
F JT Toppin–New Mexico
After garnering his second Mountain West Freshman of the Week award this season, opposing coaching staffs must be focused on the 6-9 freshman. The Dallas, TX native earned those honors after averaging 17.0 PPG & 8.3 RPG, while shooting 81% (21-26) from the floor at the Ball Dawgs Classic.
Against Toledo, he set career highs of 27 points and 11 rebounds. While also shooting lights out in the post. Making his first 11 field goal attempts before finishing 11-12 in the closing minutes of the game. He’ll need another solid night to contribute to a Lobo win.
F Isaiah Crawford–Louisiana Tech
Isaiah Crawford was one of the few returning pieces from Coach Hester’s first year in Ruston. A very important piece to the puzzle the second year coach and his staff have put together this season.
The 5th year senior leads his team in points (14.2 PPG) & steals (2.3) as a small ball four and stat sheet stuffer. The 6-6 forward makes his money inside the arc (6.2 2PA, 67.6%) and at the free throw line (5.2 FTA) the hard way. Plenty of the Bulldogs offense runs through Crawford, a strong night from him will cause plenty of trouble for New Mexico.
Keys to the Game
For New Mexico: Take care of the basketball, Take and make the 3 & Find points in the paint
At the moment the Lobos’ weak points are clear, poor three point shooting (31.3%) and no real offensive creativity aside from Dent. Coach Pitino’s squad isn’t taking a lot of three point shots and the ones they make are few and far between. This has moved their scorers inside the arc, averaging 49.7 2FG attempts a game at 52.3% on the year.
New Mexico must be conservative with their threes, take advantage of opportunities in the paint and make ball security a priority against Louisiana Tech.
*Now Richard Pitino needs to find a way to replace the lost production of Jamal Mashburn Jr. against the Bulldogs. With the recent news of his availability for Wednesday, paired with the game-time decision status of Jaelen House who hasn’t played since the teams season opener on November 6th, someone needs to step up.
Prediction: New Mexico 75, Louisiana Tech 70
If the Lobos bring the winning momentum they found on the road back home, Louisiana Tech should experience a loss in the Pit like others have this season (2-0).
Without the team’s second leading scorer their margin of victory shrinks a bit in my prediction. The team will need Tru Washington or Jemarl Baker Jr. to find the form they reached last week to make up for one of the best scorers in college basketball.
Larry Muniz covers college basketball as a writer for Mountain West Wire and WAC Hoops Digest. Also as a co-host of the college basketball podcast “Hoops Talk W/Jay & Larry”. He is also a USWBA Member.