Rushed Reactions: New Mexico 63, UNLV 56Posted by AMurawa on March 16th, 2013
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s Mountain West Championship game between New Mexico and UNLV in Las Vegas.
Three Key Takeaways.
- America: Meet Tony Snell. Those of us that have been watching the Mountain West religiously for the past three years are quite familiar with the unique combination of talent that Snell possesses: a 6’7” wing with even better length, terrific defensive ability, the ability to run off screens at an elite level, and can knock down open looks at a great rate — not to mention the jump-out-of-the-gym hops and a decent handle as well. This afternoon, he put all of that on display for a national audience. The question about him has always been whether he is too nice to be a great competitor, but that was not in doubt today: 21 points, 8-of-11 shooting, five threes and a great blow-by in the closing moments as well.
- Live By The Three, Die By The Three. The Rebels shot the ball 59 times on Saturday afternoon; 31 of those (a full 52.5%) came from deep. In the second half it was even worse with 17 of their 29 attempts (58.6%) coming from beyond the arc and another healthy chunk perimeter jumpers just inside it. For awhile, that worked out, as Bryce Dejean-Jones had a couple stretches where he caught fire and the Rebels were right in the game. But when that faucet got turned off, the Rebels faded. There are definitely good shooters on this team, with Dejean-Jones and Katin Reinhardt the best among them, but both of those guys have a tendency to take too many shots and, more disturbingly, to take bad shots. Then there’s Anthony Bennett, a physical specimen with a fantastic inside/out game who too often forgets about the inside half of that equation. For the Rebs to make noise in the NCAA Tournament, they need to find better balance offensively.
- New Mexico’s NCAA Tournament Viability. I’ve been among the doubters of the Lobos of late, in part because I haven’t entirely trusted their ability to get consistent offensive production from their guards. Today, to understate things, that was not a concern. We’ve talked about Snell, but Kendall Williams was tremendous as well, handing out seven assists, running the team well, and scoring 12 points. Then there’s Hugh Greenwood who had three early three-pointers and then never scored again. But, Greenwood did so many other things well, grabbing seven boards, handing out five assists and limiting Anthony Marshall’s production. Despite the 29 wins to this point, it has been something of an up-and-down year offensively to this point, but heading into the NCAA Tournament, this team is playing its best ball.
Star of the Game. Tony Snell. Five minutes into the game, you would have figured Anthony Bennett was going to be the guy. He had his team’s first 11 points in often spectacular ways, but his star faded quickly. Snell, however, played his best after the break, logging all 20 minutes, making five of seven shots (including three threes) and coming up with the big offensive play whenever his team needed a bucket.
Sights and Sounds. Volume. The Thomas & Mack was packed to the rafters with an attendance of 18,500 – a record for a MW championship game. And while attendance was pretty evenly split, there was little doubt that the New Mexico fans in attendance were significantly louder. Regardless, it was a fantastic atmosphere from well before the game until well after. Even 15 minutes before the game, the crowd was electric and an equal amount of time after the game ended, the Lobos fans were still celebrating out on the court.
Quotable: Steve Alford, on the New Mexico fans: “I say it every year: we have the best fans, not just because they come out in volume, but then they have volume when they’re here. They travel well. Whether we’re at home or we come to this tournament. You introduced UNLV, this is their home, you introduced UNM tonight, I’d have to give a serious nod to the UNM fans. That’s pretty impressive. When you look around the country, I don’t care if you’re talking about the Big 12 or the Pac‑12 down the street, the SEC, these fans will rival any fans in the country.”
All-Tournament Team. The official MW All-Tournament team was Tony Snell (MVP), Cameron Bairstow, Anthony Bennett, Colton Iverson and Katin Reinhardt. My ballot dropped Reinhardt and his 33.3% eFG (which only starts to show how offensively inefficient he was) and inserted Chase Tapley, but the real fun item on this list is the well-deserved inclusion of Bairstow. If you had said a year ago at this tournament that Bairstow would be an all-tournament guy this season, you would have been laughed out of your seat. But Bairstow scored, was effective on the glass and was a terrific defender all week long.
What’s Next? The NCAA Tournament for both of these teams. New Mexico is looking at a two seed at a minimum and they certainly have enough of a resume to have an argument that they deserve a one-seed. Either way, they are playing well enough that this is a team that could be in for a deep run, maybe even into April. As for UNLV, they’re going to be a favorite in their first game as a seed somewhere in the #5-#6 range, and they’ve got enough talent that they could certainly be a Sweet Sixteen team if the match-up works in their favor.