In a league where successes are short-lived and shortcomings come with the territory, there is another slate of high-impact games ahead this week, where No. 15/17 New Mexico, unbeaten in league play, could ever so steadily begin to distance itself from its pursuers. While the Lobos are the only team in the league holding down a spot in both the Associated Press and USA Today/Coaches polls this week (San Diego State remains ranked in the Coaches' poll), sitting upon one's laurels in the MW this season is akin to seeking shelter in a straw hut in a firestorm. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
Game of the week: Colorado State at New Mexico, Wednesday. The Lobos (16-2, 3-0), who are 9-1 at home this season, own a mark of 41-5 against CSU in games played at The Pit. The teams split the series last year, with UNM winning, 85-52, in Albuquerque and CSU prevailing, 71-63, in Fort Collins. The senior-laden Rams, who were a study in true grit in Saturday's home win over UNLV and are receiving votes in both polls, must now prove their mettle on the road. CSU (15-3, 2-1), which was 1-6 in league games away from Moby Arena last season, has never posted a winning road record in MW play.
Individual matchup to watch: The return of center Alex Kirk has bolstered the Lobos immensely. The 7-foot Kirk, who missed last season after undergoing back surgery in the summer of 2011, has already more than tripled the number of double-figure scoring games in his career. After posting four such games as a freshman, he has scored in double figures 14 times in 18 games this season. Considering the teams are relatively evenly matched on the perimeter --- the Lobos are shooting 32.7 percent beyond the arc in league play, while CSU is at 31.5 --- the matchup of Kirk and Ram 6-10, 260-pound center Colton Iverson should prove interesting. In MW games, Kirk is averaging 17.3 points and 10.0 rebounds, while Iverson enters the game with averages of 13.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per MW contest.
Must win: With New Mexico coming to town on Saturday, San Diego State, which is coming off consecutive losses to UNLV and Wyoming, can ill afford a third straight setback at Nevada on Wednesday. Yet this will be no small challenge for the Aztecs, who have sorely missed the presence of point guard Xavier Thames (back strain). Despite its 1-2 start in league play, Nevada offers one of the most potent backcourts in the MW in Deonte Burton, who ranks No. 1 in scoring in league games (22.0), and Malik Story. SDSU also must find a way to address its rebounding woes. In league play, the Aztecs rank seventh in rebounding margin at minus -5.0. Nevada, meanwhile, enters the contest with a margin of +4.0 on the glass. SDSU has lost three straight only once since 2008.
Big week: Wyoming, which has proven to be an absolute thorn defensively (see San Diego State's nine first-half points on Saturday), will be tested when it faces UNLV in Las Vegas on Thursday before playing again just two days later at home against Air Force. The Falcons, who scored 91 points in Saturday's win against Boise State, were one of just three teams to beat Wyoming in Laramie last season. The Cowboys, who rank No. 5 in the nation in scoring defense (53.8 ppg), are yielding a league-low 51.2 points in MW games.
Stat of note: Colorado State's average of 42.6 rebounds per game ranks No. 3 in the nation. The Rams enter the week leading the NCAA in rebounding margin with an average of +13.8 boards per game. CSU has not been outrebounded in a game this season.