Game Preview: Marquette vs. New Mexico

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Marquette travels to Vegas for its most important game of the year so far.

Four Factors (offense)

eFG% TO% OR% FTRate
Marquette 108.5 (73) 49.2 (180) 17.6 (129) 38.9 (26) 43.3 (126)
New Mexico 110.5 (49) 47.9 (224) 17.5 (120) 37.2 (47) 52.7 (28)

Before the season, this game raised a lot of eyebrows in the Marquette community. The team is going to Vegas right before Christmas to play New Mexico? Why?

Fast forward to right now, and this is the biggest game of Marquette's season so far. The Golden Eagles need this game to secure their only quality non-conference victory left on the table.

They failed against Ohio State, Wisconsin, San Diego State and Arizona State. As a result, the 7-4 Golden Eagles have an RPI of 94. That simply will not help a team, entering conference play with a ton to prove, come tournament time. New Mexico, sitting at 7-3 with an RPI of 45, presents a must win neutral site game for Marquette. Frankly, the West Coast location pushes the game closer to a true road game.

Stat Breakdown

Statistically, the teams match up pretty evenly. Neither team lights it up from the field, with effective field goal percentages below 50 percent and right around national average. Both teams crash the offensive glass effectively, although Marquette does a better job with defensive rebounding. They also play solid field goal percentage defense, with both ranking in the top 40 nationally.

New Mexico has done a better job of getting to the free throw line than Marquette, and that could play a role in how the game goes down. However, that statistic could be misleading, since Marquette has seen mostly zone defense this season because of its poor three-point shooting. New Mexico's defensive turnover percentage is its only four factors red flag. The Lobos turn their opponents over just 15.2 percent of the time, which ranks 326th nationally.

UNM shoots just 29.3 percent from long distance, which is nearly a whole percentage point worse than Marquette's notoriously abysmal clip. The Lobos accompany their impressive free throw rate with a solid percentage from the charity stripe (75.5), which ranks them 29th in the country.

Players to watch

Three scorers of over 15 points per game headline New Mexico's offensive attack. Ken Pom tabs 6-foot-9 senior forward Cameron Bairstow as UNM's go-to guy, and rightfully so. He's averaging 20.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. His free throw rate of 66.9 percent coupled with a 78.8 free throw percentage makes him a deadly foul-drawing force.

Senior guard Kendall Williams and junior center Alex Kirk join Bairstow in the Lobos' "big three." Williams, who boasts an effective field goal percentage of 59.8, averages 19.4 points and 5.1 assists per contest. Kirk leads the team in rebounding (9.8 per game) and blocked shots (2.8 per game), while also scoring 16.5 points per game. Metrically, Kirk takes 30 percent of the team's shots and blocks 8.9 of the opponents attempts while he's on the floor.

Guards Cullen Neal and Cleveland Thomas will round out the three-guard starting lineup. Junior guard Hugh Greenwood, who has started nine games this season for the Lobos, will miss the game with a wrist injury.

Marquette's Big Question

How does Marquette slow down Cameron Bairstow?

Who does Buzz Williams put on New Mexico's dominant power forward? Most likely Jamil Wilson. Wilson has showed the ability to guard small and big throughout his career, and he'll likely tail Bairstow. But that could also put Marquette's most versatile offensive weapon in foul trouble. Marquette may need Juan Anderson to spell Wilson frequently and use the quick hands he's been showing lately (11 steals in two games) to both the Lobos' big man.

Unfortunately, Marquette can't simply pay attention to Bairstow defensively, since Williams will hassle the guards and any sort of rotating help from Chris Otule or Davante Gardner could free up Alex Kirk. Marquette may try to play zone with Wilson, Otule and Gardner on the floor all at once to deter New Mexico from attacking the paint.

Game Outlook

This game will be ugly, low-scoring and slow. Whichever team can effectively integrate outside shooting and points in the paint will win this game. Look for Kendall Williams to be the difference in this one, as the Lobos overpower Marquette's backcourt and take a close one, 62-57.

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