In the broadest of terms, Air Force may rely on the same template that led to an upset of Utah State when it visits New Mexico on Saturday.
Like Utah State, the Lobos are led by a star on the perimeter. Guard JaQuan Lyle, a 6-foot-5 guard, is averaging 17.2 points per game — a similar line to Utah State’s 6-foot-5 guard Sam Merrill, at 17.3 ppg. Merrill was held to 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting by a Falcons’ defensive effort led by Sid Tomes.
Like Utah State, New Mexico enters with a dominant big man in less than ideal circumstances.
For the Aggies, that was 7-footer Neemias Queta, whose recovery from a knee injury has limited his time on courtand, against the Falcons, inconsistent play — nine points, three rebounds and a Flagrant 1 foul.
New Mexico’s 6-foot-10 post player Carlton Bragg’s situation is different. He recently returned from a suspension after an attempted rape allegation.
Bragg scored two points with seven rebounds in 22 minutes in a victory over Fresno State on Tuesday in his first action since Dec. 17. This season, he is averaging 12.7 points, 10.6 rebounds and has a team-high 20 blocked shots.
Dominant Mountain West big men have, on occasion, brought out the best in Air Force’s Ryan Swan.
Last year, Swan scored 21 points against Nevada, which featured forward Cody Martin, a second-round NBA draft pick this past summer. He also had 15 points and 15 rebounds against San Diego State’s Jalen McDaniels, also a second-round pick.
On Tuesday, Swan went for 31 points and 11 rebounds against Queta, who is seen as a potential pro.
Swan doesn’t see his performances as a sign basketball will be in his future after the academy, but it certainly makes it an intriguing possibility.
“I’d love to continue playing basketball,” he said. “I’d love to continue playing this sport as long as I can. I mean, it’s given me so much already. But I didn’t come here to put all my eggs in that basket. I mean, it’d be cool, and whatever happens after this season happens, but I came here to be part of something bigger than myself.”
New Mexico (14-3, 3-1 Mountain West) fell to San Jose State last week before beating Fresno State in Bragg’s return. The Lobos are 79th in the NCAA’s NET power rankings — on the same level as Utah State (No. 81), which fell to Air Force (8-8, 2-2) at Clune Arena 79-60 on Tuesday.
This 4 p.m. game is at New Mexico, where the Falcons have lost 10 in a row. So not all comparisons are the same.