ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When San Diego State beat Colorado State in Fort Collins last Wednesday, Rams coach Larry Eustachy made it clear he thought Aztecs senior point guard Xavier Thames was the best player in the Mountain West Conference.
After University of New Mexico power forward Cameron Bairstow went off for 29 points, 14 rebounds and drew 14 fouls in Saturday’s Lobo win over the Rams, Eustachy was asked if he had a second opinion on the matter.
“I’m going to back track and say it’s a draw,” Eustachy told the Journal. “He’s every bit as good at his position as Thames is right now at his, and every bit as valuable. They’re that good and they’re both next level guys.”
Thames on Monday was named the Mountain West Player of the Week after leading his Aztecs to two road wins – at CSU and at then-No. 16 Kansas. The Aztecs snapped the Jayhawks’ 68-game non-conference win streak in historic Allen Fieldhouse. Thames is averaging 16.2 points per game, 2.5 assists and is shooting 47.5 percent from 3-point range. He is also helping lead what has clearly been the league’s No. 1 defense this season.
Bairstow, meanwhile, has drawn rave reviews from opposing coaches all season while averaging 20.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
Both were selected by various media outlets as the midseason MWC Player of the Year. The end of season honor only takes league games into consideration, so statistics to this point are rather meaningless in that regard.
POLL WATCH: SDSU jumped from No. 21 to No. 13 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll thanks to last week’s two wins. It remained the only Mountain West team to receive a vote in the poll.
TIME CHANGE: The Jan. 25 UNM at Colorado State game, has been changed from a 9 p.m. start to 2 p.m. because ESPN decided to make the game an ESPN3.com (online only) broadcast instead of televising the game on ESPNU.
This is the second time the ESPN family of networks has opted to move a Lobos game to their online platform (the other is Wednesday night’s game at Wyoming). The network also has the option to broadcast the Feb. 5 Wyoming game in the Pit either online or on ESPNU. Two other February games – March 2 at Nevada and March 5 at home vs. Air Force – are also ESPN3.com games.
ESPN3.com can not be viewed by people who have Century Link as their internet service provider.
IMPROBABLE START: After the first week of league play, two of the teams many thought would finish among the bottom three in the MWC standings – Air Force and Nevada – are sitting alone atop the standings at 2-0.
Air Force finished non-conference play with the worst RPI in the league and Nevada was ranked ninth in the 11-team league.
Nevada won on the road against San Jose State and at home against Wyoming.
Air Force, meanwhile, notched what may end up being two of the larger upsets of the season when it beat league newcomer Utah State at home last Wednesday. It then went on the road to beat UNLV.
AIR FORCE: Falcons coach Dave Pilipovich has quietly done one of the best coaching jobs in the Mountain West in the past season and a half.
After taking over the Falcons program midway through league play in the 2011-12 season, Pilipovich has compiled a 12-13 record in the Mountain West.
For those who understand the challenges facing the Air Force Academy, the fact that he has nearly a .500 record over his first 25 league games is impressive. It is even more so considering last year was the best season the MWC has ever had.
THE NEW MEXICO CONNECTION: Roswell High graduate Marek Olesinski averaged 16.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and hit four 3-pointers helping Air Force to their 2-0 MWC start.
On the season, he is third in scoring on the team at 13.0 points per game, shooting 46.9 percent from the field and is getting to the free throw line a team-high 4.1 times per game.
HE SAID IT: San Diego State guard Winston Shepard, a former target of UNM out of Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, Nev., said last week before the Aztecs played at Kansas that he’s learned being a high-rated prep recruit doesn’t mean much at the college level.
“At the end of the day, all the hoopla from the recruiting world, it all gets settled on the court,” Shepard said.
SAN JOSE STATE: The Spartans, UNM’s Saturday opponent, made 15 3-pointers in a 19-point loss at Utah State on Saturday night.
The team’s 142 3-pointers (10.1 per game) easily leads the league (Boise State is second at 8.0 per game). San Jose State has made 172 2-point field goals.
When the Lobos play there this weekend for the first time since the Spartans joined the MWC this season, Neal isn’t looking forward to one aspect of the trip.
“We’re staying at the (same) hotel we stayed at when we got beat in the NCAA Tournament (in 2010), so it’s not a very good deja vu for me,” Neal said.