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Mid-Major Power Rankings: New Mexico Basketball Is Cooking Going Into Feb.

Mid-Major Power Rankings: New Mexico Basketball Is Cooking Going Into Feb.

New Mexico's five-game winning streak has seen a strong offense combine with an improved defense to elevate UNM to No. 1 in the Mid-Major Power Rankings.

Jan 29, 2024 by Kyle Kensing
Mid-Major Power Rankings: New Mexico Basketball Is Cooking Going Into Feb.

Since an 83-73 loss at UNLV on Jan. 9, New Mexico basketball has been one of the nation's hottest teams with five straight wins. Two came against top 20-ranked opponents, and after an 89-55 deconstruction of Nevada on Jan. 28, three were against contenders for NCAA Tournament bids. 

So what's been different for the Lobos in the five games since their last loss, all of which New Mexico has won by double-digit-point margins? 

"Effort," said guard Jaelen House following the rout of Nevada. "We're putting way more effort onto the defensive side, and you see how the games are going." 

New Mexico has been one of the most impressive and exciting offensive teams in college basketball since the outset of the 2023-24 campaign, including a stretch early on in which the Lobos scored 82 points or more 7-of-8 games amid an 11-game winning streak. 

And they've remained red-hot on offense during their current winning streak, averaging 91.2 points per game in this stretch. But the Lobos are also holding opponents to 70.4 points per game in the last five, forced an average of 15.6 turnovers per contest, and limited every team they've faced to 1.09 points per possession or fewer. 

House, an established scoring dynamo, has also been a catalyst defensively. With six steals against Nevada, he heads into the new week sixth nationally averaging 2.9 swipes per contest. 

"It starts with Jaelen House, his energy, his aggressiveness," New Mexico coach Richard Pitino said of the Lobos defense. "When you're playing that type of style...that really speeds team up." 

New Mexico jumped to No. 19 in the Associated Press Top 25, released on Jan. 29, and takes over No. 1 of the FloHoops.com Mid-Major Power Rankings. The Lobos set the pace for a Mountain West Conference that, despite in-fighting resulting in plenty of pitfalls for contenders, still features three of the Power Rankings' top four. 

With UNM boasting wins over the other two in that trio, Utah State and San Diego State, the Lobos have clearly earned No. 1. Their rise to that spot was facilitated in part, however, by a result on the other side of the country. 

Dayton's lengthy winning streak came to an end on Jan. 27 against Richmond, 69-64. The Spiders held Dayton All-America candidate DaRon Holmes II to nine points on just 2-of-12 shooting from the floor, while Jordan King led five Richmond scorers in double-figures with 17 points. 

The win was Richmond's 10th straight, and maintains UR's perfect record in Atlantic 10 Conference play. 

"They're really a tough-minded group," Spiders coach Chris Mooney said in his postgame interview with ESPN Richmond radio. "They're all incredibly coachable...It represents a certain confidence that you have." 

A key to the Spiders' success thus far has been its diligence on offense. Richmond leads the nation with the lowest percentage of possessions resulting in turnovers at 12.5. Coupled with tenacious defense that ranks top 40 both in opponent 3-point percentage — 29.8 — and allowed shooting inside the arc at 45.9, the Spiders have a style designed to snare teams in a web and wear them down. 

Richmond now boasts five wins over opponents with KenPom.com overall rankings of No. 105 or better, a quintet that includes current American Athletic Conference-leading Charlotte and a romp over UNLV at November's Sunshine Slam. 

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As February arrives this week, the conference-championship chases around the country promise to intensify. A number of significant matchups make up the schedule from Jan. 30 into the first weekend of February, including Richmond putting its place atop the A-10 on the line with a pair of road dates at Fordham and VCU. 

First-place in the Mid-American Conference is at stake on Friday when Akron hosts Toledo. The following day is another first-place showdown between a pair of teams appearing in this week's Power Rankings, as Indiana State looks to avenge its sole Missouri Valley Conference setback against Drake. 

After the MVC showdown, Saint Mary's and Gonzaga renew one of the top rivalries in mid-major basketball. Both teams have come on since rocky starts and a win Saturday will go a long way toward either making the NCAA Tournament field. 

Drexel, which remains atop the Coastal Athletic Association despite suffering its first league loss in a physical bout with Towson, takes on Monmouth in a gem on the calendar. Xander Rice's continued tear has a Monmouth team that finished at the bottom of the CAA a season ago playing spirited basketball, as the Hawks are one of the most improved teams in the nation. 

 

Games to Watch Jan. 30-Feb. 4 

Tuesday, Jan. 30

San Diego State at Colorado State, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT

Wednesday, Jan. 31

George Mason at Saint Joseph's, 7 p.m./4 p.m. 

Indiana State at Belmont, 7:30 p.m./4:30 p.m. 

UAB at North Texas, 9 p.m./6 p.m. 

Boise State at New Mexico, 9 p.m./10:30/7:30 p.m.

Santa Clara at Saint Mary's, 11 p.m./8 p.m.

Thursday, Feb. 1

Tulane at SMU, 7 p.m./4 p.m.

UNC Wilmington at Charleston, 7 p.m/4 p.m. 

Seattle at Grand Canyon, 9 p.m./6 p.m.

Sam Houston at Western Kentucky, 9 p.m./6 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 2

St. Bonaventure at Dayton, 7 p.m./4 p.m.

Princeton at Yale, 7 p.m./4 p.m.

Toledo at Akron, 9 p.m./6 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 3 

George Mason at UMass, 12 noon/9 a.m. 

Utah State at San Diego State, 3 p.m./12:30 p.m. 

Richmond at VCU, 4 p.m./1 p.m. 

South Florida at North Texas, 6 p.m./3 p.m. 

Drake at Indiana State, 6 p.m./3 p.m. 

UC San Diego at Long Beach State, 7 p.m./4 p.m.

Eastern Washington at Montana, 9 p.m./6 p.m.

Saint Mary's at Gonzaga, 10:30 p.m./7:30 p.m. 

Sunday, Feb. 4 

Davidson at Loyola Chicago, 1 p.m./10 a.m. 

UAB at SMU, 6 p.m./3 p.m.

Jan. 29 Top 15

1. New Mexico

New Mexico isn't just winning of late, but dominating. The blowout of Nevada improved the Lobos' average margin of victory over the last 


2. Utah State

Utah State recovered nicely from having its winning streak snapped with last week's loss at New Mexico, routing Fresno State before outlasting Boise State in a 90-84, overtime thriller on the road last Saturday. 

Boise State had been as much of a trap for visitors as New Mexico's Pit ahead of the Aggies' visit, so the Utah State win carries particular weight. USU faces another stiff road challenge in the coming week, however, visiting San Diego State this coming Saturday. 

3. Dayton 

Dayton's loss to Richmond knocks the Flyers from atop the Power Rankings and the A-10. Still, Anthony Grant's team has plenty of reason to feel confident about its prospects going forward coming out of the defeat. 

The Spiders were undefeated at home and still needed a Herculean performance against DaRon Holmes II to scratch out a five-point victory. Dayton plays its next two at home and four of its next six overall at UD Arena, which should provide momentum going into February's push for the postseason. 

4. San Diego State

No team in the country faces a more potentially pivotal week than San Diego State. The Aztecs, successfully bouncing back form a loss at Boise State with an 81-65 rout of Wyoming, travel to Colorado State on Tuesday then host Utah State on Saturday. 

A sweep should propel last year's national runner-up back into the AP Top 25, and keep the Aztecs within striking distance of New Mexico for the Mountain West lead. Two losses would put San Diego State in deep waters to open the month. 

A huge positive for San Diego State ahead of its big week is that Lamont Butler, hero of last season's national semifinal win over FAU,  is playing great on both ends of the floor. His 23-point effort against Wyoming marked a season-high, he ripped off three steals making it five straight games in which he has at least one takeaway, and he's dished multiple assists in the last four contests. 

5. FAU

Since a 70-68 loss to Charlotte, the surprise pace-setter for the American, FAU has ripped off six straight. The most recent, a 66-63 defeat of North Texas, was a major one for the Owls. 

FAU needed to rally in the second half, and did so scoring 40 points after intermission against one of the country's most grinding defenses. Johnell Davis continues to build an impressive case for All-American consideration with his 6-of-9 3-point shooting and 28 points in the victory. 

6. Indiana State 

Wearing a pair of Robbie Avila-inspired glasses at the postgame press conference, Indiana State coach Josh Schertz referred to Missouri Valley Conference foe Bradley as "like Freddy Kreuger. You can't kill 'em, they just keep coming." 

Bradley kept coming at Indiana State in a marquee matchup on Saturday, but Indiana State held the Braves off in a 95-86 overtime win. The Sycamores' victory, coupled with a Drake loss earlier in the week, gives Indiana State the lead in the conference ahead of the two squaring off in a rematch this coming weekend. 

Indiana State's potent offense has now put up 88 points or more in four of its last five games, all Sycamores wins. With five scorers averaging in double-figures, including Avila who has put up at least 18 in four straight contests, there may not be a more balanced team in the game. 

7. Saint Mary's 

Borrowing Schertz's Freddy Kreuger analogy is a fitting way to describe Saint Mary's. The Gaels seemed buried not long ago, dropping 5-of-6 over an early-season stretch that included blowout defeats vs. San Diego State and Xavier. 

But since falling to 8-6 with a home loss to Missouri State just before Christmas, Saint Mary's has ripped off eight straight, and effectively combined the defensive intensity typical of a Randy Bennett-coached team with efficient offense. The Gaels have put up at least 70 points in their last five, including scoring 76 in a win over Pacific in which they held the Tigers to just 28 points. 

Saturday's trip to Gonzaga looms as a potentially pivotal game for Saint Mary's NCAA Tournament hopes, but the Gaels cannot overlook Wednesday's meeting with a tough Santa Clara bunch. 

8. Gonzaga

Since falling to 11-5 with its loss at Santa Clara, Gonzaga has come alive with four straight wins — the most impressive, a 77-72 defeat of a San Francisco team in the NCAA Tournament mix in its own right. 

Graham Ike's 22 points against the Dons led five Bulldogs scorers in double-figures, while Anton Watson scored 15 points. Gonzaga is at its best when the two big men are able to assert themselves on the interior at the same time. 

9. Richmond 

Quietly, Chris Mooney has one of the hottest teams in America. The Spiders' tough-nosed style of play made noise beating Dayton, however, and UR cannot be overlooked any longer. That's why Richmond jumped from outside the Power Rankings to the top 10 this week, and the Spiders can continue to climb if they continue to build on their winning streak. 

10. Colorado State

Colorado State boasts one of the strongest overall resumes this season, sporting wins over seven KenPom top 100 teams. That includes No. 15 Creighton, No. 24 Colorado and Mountain West-leading/FloHoops Mid-Major Power Rankings No. 1 New Mexico. Thus, the Rams remain prominently featured in this week's Power Rankings, but are on alert after a two-game losing skid. 

The 77-64 setback at Nevada on Wednesday reflects the strength of the Mountain West's upper-half, but falling in overtime at Wyoming on Saturday serves as a reminder that even the bottom of the conference can present potential traps.

11. Boise State

Boise State boasts a variety of impressive wins: San Francisco, Saint Mary's, North Texas, Colorado State, Nevada, San Diego State. But with all but Nevada coming in the state of Idaho, and all but Saint Mary's among those at ExtraMile Arena, the Broncos need to capitalize on some of the marquee road opportunities the Mountain West gauntlet affords them. 

Well, visiting New Mexico and The Pit on Wednesday fits the bill. 

12. Drake

Drake's double-overtime loss at Missouri State last Wednesday knocked the Bulldogs from atop the Missouri Valley, but they have an opportunity to get right back into first-place this week. Drake beat Indiana State in the first matchup on Jan. 10 behind Tucker DeVries playing perhaps his signature game of the season. 

DeVries went for 29 points, shot 6-of-10 from 3-point range, grabbed six rebounds and dished four assists. He'll need to wear the Superman cape again when the Bulldogs visit Terre Haute on Saturday. 

13.  Memphis 

From No. 1 in the Power Rankings just a few weeks ago, to clinging to a spot, Memphis has endured an undeniably rough slide of late. The Tigers' 97-88 setback on Sunday at UAB extended their losing skid to three games, and put them in a significant hole in pursuit of the American regular-season championship. 

That's the bad news. The good news for Memphis is that it plays three of the next four at home, with the one road game coming at struggling Temple. If the Tigers can pick up momentum and win four straight, a stretch with North Texas and SMU on the road before home dates against Charlotte and FAU could get Penny Hardaway's team right back into the conference title picture. 

14. Grand Canyon 

Every game seems to be a donnybrook for Grand Canyon of late, with each of its last three — including the Jan. 20 loss at Seattle — decided by seven points or fewer. However, in surviving closely contested defensive struggles on the road last week vs. Stephen F. Austin and UT Arlington, the Antelopes answered the bell impressively. 

Four of their next five are at GCU Arena, including this week's rematch with Seattle, and the Lopes are undefeated there this season.  

15. Appalachian State 

Speaking of teams that have been excellent at home, Appalachian State — already boasting a win at Holmes Convocation Center over Auburn — improved to 10-0 there with Saturday's 82-76 defeat of James Madison. 

Justin Abson's eight blocked shots and 11 rebounds helped set the tone for a win with huge implications toward the Mountaineers returning to the NCAA Tournament

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