In more ways than one.
Though the majority of MW teams are bolstered by waves of wings and girded by guard play, one offers an additional dimension. And the New Mexico Lobos won't be reluctant to use it to their advantage.
Heading into Wednesday night's contest at Boise State, the No. 19/21 Lobos not only possess accomplished perimeter players in the likes of Kendall Williams, Tony Snell, Hugh Greenwood, Chad Adams and Demetrius Walker, they also offer something others don't --- a pair of big men who pose a threat both inside and out.
Off to a 2-0 start in league play for just the second time in program history, New Mexico (15-2) has shown signs of profiting handsomely from the pairing of 7-foot, 250-pound sophomore center Alex Kirk and 6-9, 250-pound junior forward Cameron Bairstow. In Saturday's 72-45 win over Fresno State, Kirk and Bairstow combined for 35 points and 19 rebounds, with Kirk posting his fourth double-double of the season (19 points, career-high 14 rebounds) and Bairstow tying a career high with 16 points.
Kirk, who earned co-MW Player of the Week honors after also scoring a season-high 23 points in the Lobos' 65-60 win over UNLV in last week's league opener, has amassed 70 points and 38 rebounds (17.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg) over the course of his last four games.
Meanwhile, Bairstow, who started in place of Adams after the latter hyperextended his right knee against UNLV, scored 15 of his 16 points against Fresno State in just 16 minutes of the first half, connecting on 6-of-6 attempts from the field while making all three of his free-throw attempts.
"They're one of the (few) teams in this league that can go big and use it to their advantage," said UNLV coach Dave Rice. "The thing that makes them even more dangerous is that they can go big and yet Alex Kirk can step out and make three-point shots. He can play off of Bairstow in the post. So they become a tremendous mismatch for certain schemes just because of the versatility of Kirk. He can score in the post, but he can also score from the perimeter. What makes that so difficult is that it's hard to spend as much of your defensive effort as you need to because Williams and Snell are so dangerous from the perimeter."
What has made Kirk's performance all the more impressive is that he missed the entire 2011-12 season after undergoing back surgery for a herniated disc two years ago. Averaging 12.5 points and 7.9 rebounds, Kirk has already more than tripled the number of career games in which he's scored in double figures. After recording four such games as a freshman, he has scored in double figures in 13 of 17 games this season.
"(Alex) has obviously been tremendous," said Lobos coach Steve Alford. "You see him on tape and then you see him in person and he just continues to get better and better. Both he and Cam give us legitimate threats in that 4-5 position. Their development has been essential and it's a big part of the reason why we're 15-2."
And an even bigger part of the reason why New Mexico has the wherewithal to force MW opponents to pick their poison. Only one other team in the league --- Colorado State --- arguably offers a starting player (6-10, 260-pound center Colton Iverson) with the size to square off against Kirk, the league's lone 7-footer.
Yet Kirk and Bairstow provide far more than simply serving as pillars in the paint. Both also provide a threat on the perimeter, with Kirk having connected on four three-pointers in the Lobos' last three games. Bairstow's field-goal percentage of 44.9 ranks second-best on the squad.
"There are differences between them, but there are also a lot of similarities," Alford said. "They're both big and strong and they're both more athletic than what you might think. Cam has really good strength, Alex has really good length. Defensively, they complement each other very well. Cam can definitely go out on the floor and guard against teams that want to run four-guard lineups. Both of them have a very good post game and both of them can step out to the three-point line. They play well together and they play well when they're rotating as our centers."
Pick your poison. In a league almost exclusively populated by perimeter players, it's plainly double trouble.
"It can be an advantage, but it can also be an advantage for the team that's smaller and quicker and plays four guards," said Alford, whose team also has the ability to match up against any opponent in the league opting to play four guards. "That's the chess match; that's what makes this game so fun. You play your game, whether you go big-big up front or you play four guards. It's always fun to see which one of those styles is going to win out."