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Friday, December 31, 2010

Utah State is good, but not great

We get into this every year and I can't take it anymore.
I've read that Utah State will go unbeaten in the WAC, that they will coast to a WAC title. I don't see it.

I normally don't agree with everything Gary Parish writes, but here is a section from a blog entry where he writes about polls, both media and coaches.

Coaches poll: As you can probably tell by the above Poll Attack, I hate voters who highlight teams simply for building records against weak opponents. It rewards a conservative approach, and I'm against that. So shame on the coaches who put Cincinnati (24 points), Oklahoma State (11 points) and Utah State (four points) on their ballots. I've already told you about Cincinnati (no good wins) and Oklahoma State (no good wins and one bad loss). Now let me tell you about Utah State, the WAC school that's 11-2 with no good wins. Granted, the Aggies' losses (to BYU and Georgetown) are better than OSU's losses (or Baylor's losses, for that matter). But there's not even a decent win on their resume. Thus, Utah State shouldn't be getting votes even though Utah State probably deserves votes as much as Cincinnati deserves votes, and more than Oklahoma State deserves votes. The point is that none of them deserve votes. Stacking wins against bad teams is nothing more than stacking wins against bad teams. It's fine for a school that projected to be strong in the preseason because you can still believe in what you thought you knew. But a gaudy record against a weak schedule should never make you start believing in somebody, which is why I won't start believing in Cincinnati, Cleveland State, Utah State or Oklahoma State until at least one of them records one win against a quality opponent. It would be nice if coaches who vote in the coaches poll did the same.



We know that Utah State hasn't beaten anybody. They've only played two quality opponents. That's fine. It's what they always do and it works for them. But this Utah State team is no different than last year's team to me, which I picked second.

They could very well win the WAC tournament and get a postseason bid, but  I don't think they will coast through teams, namely NMSU, as some have predicted.

I've even seen one place where San Jose State was picked to finish ahead  of NMSU. When has San Jose State ever won a big game? George Nessman entered the season (his sixth) 51-103 and 22-58 in WAC play. Quick question. What other media or fan market in the WAC could a coach post such a record and still have a job this long. It's true that Nessman has a good point guard and one of the top 2 players in the league in guard Adrian Oliver. But I've seen this movie before and I gave up on San Jose State. Two years ago, San Jose State had Tim Pierce, Oliver, Justin Graham and two solid WAC post players in Webster and Oakes and finished seventh and lost in the quarters.

If there is a team who can jump into the conversation, I think it's Boise State, which is why tonight's game looms large.

Basketball is about matchups and I still don't think Utah State matches up well with NMSU when Troy Gillenwater and Hamidu Rahman are healthy. Let's take a look. I will even say hypothetically that Wendell McKines DOES not play this year. And I still like NMSU's chances.

Center
Hamidu Rahman vs. Nate Bendall — Bendall didn't make a peep in the first two games against the Aggies but he outscored Hamidu Rahman 16-6 in the WAC tournament game. Here is  my question when it comes to Bendall vs. the Aggies. Who is he going to guard? Meanwhile, I think NMSU has four guys in Rahman, Gillenwater, Nephawe and even Tyrone Watson at him.

Advantage Bendall on the offensive end because he is skilled, but a small advantage.

Power forward
Troy Gillenwater vs. Tai Wesley — I think this is a push. Two of the best three players in the WAC. Wesley is a great leader for his team. I don't know if they will be matched up on each other.

Push

Small forward
Tyrone Watson vs. Tyler Newbold — Newbold has the offensive edge here, although his numbers have gone down with the departure of such players as Jaycee Carroll and Gary Wilkinson throughout his career. But he is a senior. I don't think Bendall can guard Watson off the dribble or keep him off the boards.

Push

Shooting guard
Christian Kabongo vs. Pooh Williams — Kabongo reminds me of Williams a couple years ago. Not much of a perimeter shooting threat but athletic and a good defender. Williams is shooting the three at 40 percent and scoring 10 per game while Kabongo gets his points in transition and the free throw line.

Push

Point guard
Hernst Laroche vs. Brockeith Payne — Have yet to see Payne play, but he is certainly a different type of point guard than Jared Quayle was. Laroche got his shot whenever he wanted against some good point guards so far at Arizona, St. Marys and UNM. Payne doesn't have a lot of pressure on him, which is good.

Advantage Laroche based on experience in the WAC

Bench —
Utah State has Brian Green and NMSU has Gordo Castillo, two guys who can hit the open 3 on the offensive end. Both teams have some size coming off the bench.

Push

Please don't turn this post into another Menzies bashing. It's obvious that Utah State is well coached and Morrill gives them an  advantage every time they take the court. Utah State is a more disciplined team but I like NMSU for the same reason as I did last year.

Athletes folks.

It's why Utah State was run off the court in Spokane against Texas A&M and it's why NMSU hung with Michigan State. 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Trending ...

Trending upward:

Hernst Laroche — I think Laroche's 11 points per game is right where the Aggies need him to be. He was 6-of-8 in a 20 point loss to St. Mary's. More importantly for a point guard, he was 5 of 9 for 12 points with six assists, no turnovers and two steals on Wednesday. That's the type of stat line the Aggies need from him if they remain healthy.

Tyrone Watson — Watson knows what he is, which makes him an effective player and fun to watch if you like the little things. While he doesn't yet have a consistent jump shot, Watson is good at getting to the foul line and absorbing contact. Watson had 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting. But he was 4-of-5 from the foul line, where he is a 52 percent shooter on the season. He didn't have any assists on Wednesday, but he is a good passer, with 41 assists against 24 turnovers.

On the brink: Bandja Sy. We will see if Wednesday's performance was a step in the right direction.

Trending downward:

Christian Kabongo — Kabongo his a 3 on Wednesday after going 0-for-14 in the previous five games. He was just 1 of 5 on Wednesday and is shooting 15 percent from long range on the year. Once that comes, I think he will be a good player at NMSU, plus he plays good defense, but he's struggling offensively right now, shooting 26 of 65 (40 percent) from the field in the last six games.

Team rebounding. We will see if this will change as Gillenwater and Rahman work back into shape.







Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Gillenwater, Rahman return to help Aggies win WAC opener

In his post game interview with Jack Nixon, NMSU coach Marvin Menzies said he wasn't sure the Aggies could have won their 74-69 victory over Idaho without Troy Gillenwater or Hamidu Rahman.

They couldn't have. They wouldn't have.

Both Rahman and Gillenwater acknowledged the good job done by role players like Chili Nephawe, Bandja Sy and Renaldo Dixon, but the Aggies will travel as far as Gillenwater's foot and Rahman's calf will take them now that we are in WAC play.

Gillenwater scored 22 points on his 22nd birthday to give the Aggies their fourth straight WAC opener win under Menzies and the school's sixth straight.

"The plan was to play and just to see how it felt and it felt good so coach rolled with me," Gillenwater said. "I really want to thank (trainer) Dom. He really got me back healthy."

Gillenwater said the injury wasn't an ankle at all, as I was originally told. It was a bone bruise on the same foot that he had a hairline fracture this summer, which prevented him from playing in Canada.

Both players were limited in practice. Rahman went for the first time on Sunday and Gillenwater had a full practice on Monday.

Gillenwater might have a jump on Rahman from a conditioning standpoint as the big fella was limited to 16 minutes, but he said he felt better in the second half.

"The first two minutes I was in, I was kind of winded the first five trips up and down, but in the second half, I started getting more into it and got my wind," Rahman said.

Wendell McKines is on the trip, although I doubt he will play on Friday. I can't help but think that Wendell traveling and getting on the floor in a limited capacity points to a likely return at some point this season.

Going into WAC

Here is a column that I wrote for Wednesday and some WAC capsules.

We've talked about how bad the WAC is thus far but I didn't realize how bad until I was going through the RPI for each team.

The capsules includes RPI and strength-of-schedule rankings from RealTimeRPI.com as of Dec. 26. A bad loss was any loss to a team outside of the top 150 RPI and the best win was the team’s highest RPI win thus far.


Utah State (11-2, 56 RPI, 218 SOS)
Best win: Long Beach St. (108 RPI); Bad loss: None
Key player: Tai Wesley, senior forward — 13.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg
Note: The Aggies’ only losses were at BYU (No. 3 RPI) by six and at Georgetown (No. 2 RPI). Head coach Stew Morrill has plugged in junior college transfer point guard Brockeith Payne into a lineup with four seniors returning from last year’s NCAA Tournament team.

Hawaii (9-3, 193 RPI, 303 SOS)
Best win: Utah (169 RPI); Bad loss: Cal Poly (198 RPI)
Key player: Bill Amis, senior center — 15.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg
Note: First-year coach Gib Arnold’s team is coming off a 68-57 win over Mississippi State. The Rainbow Warriors are third in the WAC in rebounding margin, outrebounding teams by 6.2 per game.

San Jose State (8-3, 158 RPI, 318 SOS)
Best win: Oregon (178 RPI); Bad loss: California-Bakersfield (234 RPI)
Key player: Adrian Oliver, senior guard — 25.8 ppg, 46 percent field goals, 38 percent 3-point field goals
Note: The Spartans are five games over .500 for the first time since 2000-01. The last time a SJSU team was six games over .500 was 1997. Perhaps the Spartans have learned how to win consistently?

Louisiana Tech (9-5, 151 RPI, 291 SOS)
Best win: Houston (216 RPI); Bad loss: Northwestern St. (191 RPI)
Key player: Olu Ashaolu, junior forward — 15.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg
Note: The Bulldogs are third in the league in scoring at 71.3 points per game. Their 94 made 3-pointers made top the WAC and their 36-percent shooting from downtown is fourth.

Boise State (7-5, 232 RPI, 332)
Best win: Northern Illinois (256 RPI); Bad loss: Drake (263 RPI)
Key player: Robert Arnold, senior forward — 16.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg
Note: Boise State matched its best start at 6-0. The Broncos have lost five of six entering conference play, but did drop close games to Long Beach State, UNLV, Drake, Utah and Portland during that stretch.

Idaho (6-5, 239 RPI, 296 SOS)
Best win: Oregon (178 RPI); Bad loss: Seattle (294 RPI)
Key player: Brandon Wiley, senior forward — 8.3 ppg, 60 percent field goal percentage
Note: Idaho lost nearly everyone from last year’s club, but the Vandals are coming off a win over Oregon. Don Verlin is 2-0 in WAC openers with both contests being on the road.

New Mexico State (6-8, 212 RPI, 77 SOS)
Best win: Pacific (126 RPI); Bad loss: None
Key player: Troy Gillenwater, junior forward — 18.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg
Note: Injuries have plagued the Aggies, although Gillenwater and center Hamidu Rahman are expected to return to the lineup during conference play while senior forward Wendell McKines’ status is unknown after breaking his foot in October.

Fresno State (4-6, 192 RPI, 84 SOS)
Best win: North Dakota State (128 RPI); Bad loss: Utah (169)
Key player: Greg Smith, sophomore center — 9.7 ppg, 6 rpg
Note: Unlike past Bulldogs teams, Fresno State has struggled offensively. The Bulldogs are eighth in the league with 65.1 points per game.

Nevada (3-10, 276 RPI, 117 SOS)
Best win: Montana (140 RPI); Bad loss: Pepperdine (267 RPI)
Key player: Dario Hunt, junior forward — 12.4 ppg, 9.8 rpg
Note: Second-year coach David Carter is still trying to find the right lineup. Nevada used three different lineups through the first 10 games while Duke transfer Olek Czyz has appeared in four games due to transfer eligibility.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Just to clarify

Regarding Wendell McKines, he hasn't been cleared to fully practice. My understanding is that he isn't even allowed to dunk. That's how careful they are being about re-injuring the foot. He is allowed to jog up and down, shoot and do some no-contact stuff. But his doctors have not cleared him to practice.

Just wanted to clarify from my post lastnight.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

It was only a matter of time

The Aggies should feel confident entering WAC play, given that you keep trotting out a lineup of what was supposed to be role players this year, and they still beat Pacific (A team that would be a top 4 WAC team this year) and played with a Top 30 team for nearly 30 minutes.

It was bound to catch up with them.

I think once Christian Kabongo develops a jumper (4-of-11) he will be a very nice player and Hernst Laroche proved he could get his shot and into the lane whenever he wanted (6-of-8 shooting) Outside of those two, the Aggies don't have offense right now, especially if Gordo Castillo isn't getting the open looks he's been knocking down the past two weeks.

Marvin Menzies was honest after the game, admitting the Aggies aren't ready to play with team like Saint Mary's right now. Perhaps in March they will be.

Here is a couple paragraphs from my story about what the Aggies need in order to compete at that level.


After two days off for the holiday, Menzies hopes some of the missing pieces start to return to the puzzle for conference play, which begins Dec. 29 at Idaho.
“I’m optimistic that Hamidu, Wendell and possibly Troy will at least be able to get on the floor before we go,” Menzies said. “Who will actually play will be determined as soon as they get 100 percent.”

Scouting St. Mary's

It's a good thing the Aggies have improved man-to-man because I don't think they can zone St. Mary's for stretches tonight.

Mickey McConnell is a 49 percent shooter from 3. Rob Jones shoots it at 38 percent and Matt Dellavedova is only a 31 percent shooter. Those three, and 6-7 forward Clint Steindl (39 percent) have accounted for 226 of the team's 262 attempts from long range.

The Gaels spread teams out and pick and roll for McConnell, Jones or Dellavedova. NMSU assistant coach Mick Durham counted 50 or 60 ball screens per game. At 6-6, Jones leads the team with 14.2 points per game after sitting out last year. Outside of Kenton Walker or whoever they have playing the five, all four players can shoot.

Defensively, the Gaels are a straight man to man team but don't pressure the ball like a UTEP or Arizona, but they play good team defense and don't get out of position.

The Aggies have done a good job defending some quality guards this year in Pacific and UNM, but I don't know of a tandem they've played that are this good. I think the Aggies match up well with St. Mary's from an athletic standpoint, but players like Bandja Sy and Chili Nephawe are certainly going to be tested and have to stay out of foul trouble.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wendell walk through

Marvin Menzies said Wendell McKines would go through the Aggies' walk through today. He said it wasn't a true practice, but McKines would be on the court for the first time since the first weekend of practice.

Menzies said if McKines can return to 100 percent, he would then make a decision regarding a redshirt season for the Aggies senior.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Good win for NMSU tonight

So if the Aggies beat Pacific, does that mean they technically didn't get swept by UTEP?

Probably not, but tonight's win over Pacific will hopefully give the Aggies some confidence moving forward.

I talked a lot of defense in post game and that will be the focus on the story in Monday's paper. I thought tonight was the best defensive  performance the Aggies played, perhaps since Menzies took over — for an extended period of time. Pacific shot the Aggies out of their zone maybe midway through the first half, and then from then on, it was pretty much straight man to man and Pacific had some decent guards. We have seen flashes of good man-to-man, there were stretches at home against UNM, but never as sustained as they were tonight. NMSU forced eight turnovers in the second half after just one in the first half. And once the game got up and down, Pacific was really playing into the Aggies' hands.

Just think if Pacific didn't extend some of those possessions in the first half with nine offensive rebounds. Instead of being down by five at the half, the Aggies could have been up by a significant amount.

Pacific is good, St. Marys guards are in a different world, but Saturday NMSU's guards impressed me on the defensive end.

Thoughts on tonight's game vs. Pacific

This game could be in the 60s. 
I don't know if that's a good or bad thing for the Aggies because A) that's where Pacific wants it to be, or B) because I don't know how the Aggies are going to score without Troy Gillenwater or Hamidu Rahman.


First a couple personnel notes from a conversation I had with Stockton Record reporter Jagdip Dhillon.


At 6-9, senior forward Sam Williard is the Tigers' best player, "by far". He's also their tallest player. Senior point guard Demetrece Young has been shooting the 3 well and he torched the Aggies for 27 last year. But outside of those two, the Tigers, much like the Aggies, struggle offensively.


"They (Pacific) shoot a lot of 3s and they don't make a lot of 3s," Dhillon said. 


There are a couple keys entering tonight that will make it hard for the Aggies. Pacific is a good defensive team and they are patient offensively. The Aggies aren't a patient offensive team.

"Pacific runs a lot of sets and have a lot of looks," Dhillon said.

It doesn't sound like the Aggies will force a lot of turnovers in their full court, because Young is a smart player and a senior and all of the Tigers players can pass and help beat the pressure. But perhaps the pressure will make them take some time off the shot clock.

But it's not all bad for the Aggies tonight.

I think they will stay in the game if:

They crash the boards: Williard is a capable player and it would have been fun to see him work against Gillenwater. While the Aggies don't have much offensive punch in the paint, the young guys do have size and the ability to rebound. They need to keep the Tigers off the glass and get some put backs on the offensive end.

Pacific remains cold: Young has been the only consistent 3-point shooter for Pacific, getting no help from forward Pat Eveland or guard Terrell Smith or Allen Huddleston. When Eveland is in the game, it sounds similar to how the Aggies use Gillenwater with pick and pop situation, except Eveland hasn't knocked it down like Troy was prior to injury.

Pacific on the road: UTEP was their best win on the road. They are 0-3 since with losses to UCLA, Missouri State and Texas A&M

Friday, December 17, 2010

Aggies get verbal from L.A. guard

L.A. guard Temjae Singleton committed verbally to NMSU. Here is my story. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gordo suited up

Gordo Castillo is in uniform tonight, although he's not listed as a starter.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wen update

I spoke with Coach Menzies because I've heard several people say Wendell McKines is leaning one way or another regarding a redshirt season. Menzies told me that the plan is to wait until he gets on the floor to see what he is capable of. Doctors said that he would be able to get on the court in two weeks from today so there is a timeline for now I suppose. With injuries to Troy Gillenwater, Hamidu Rahman Gordo and even coach Menzies, whose back was bothering  him so much so on Monday that Gerald Lewis did the postgame interview with Jack Nixon, I'm curious to know if McKines would come back for conference just because the team needs him, or if he would be patient enough to sit the rest of the season and come back at full strength next year.


Just in case you were wondering, Hamidu Rahman would be eligible for a medical redshirt if that's a route the Aggies want to explore. Since the injury took place in the first half of the season and Rahman had only played in 8 of the Aggies' 30 games, or just under 30 percent, he would be eligible for a medical redshirt if his doctor determines that he cannot fully participate. Haven't asked about it yet, but I'm sure some of you have thought about it and I was curious myself.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Rahman re-injured

The Aggies took another hit in the first half when Hamidu Rahman appears to have re-injured the calf that kept him out two games. Rahman went to the floor in pain at 7:19 and does not appear like he will be able to return.

Plenty of seats available

A very intimate gathering so far at the Pan Am. With the students gone, I'm putting the over/under at 1,000 tonight.

Probable starting lineup with no Gordo Castillo or Troy Gillenwater:

Hernst Laroche
Christian Kabongo
Bandja Sy
Tyrone Watson
Hamidu Rahman

More shorthanded

Troy Gillenwater and Gordo Castillo will both probably miss tonight's game vs. Arkansas Pine Bluff. Both players were injured at UNM on Saturday, but Gordo came back after suffering an apparent ankle injury as well.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Seven straight

If there is a more snake bitten team in America, please start posting their names.

This Lobos team right now was more beatable than the previous two years I think, yet something or another got in the Aggies way. Tonight it was an ankle injury to Troy Gillenwater. Gillenwater looked fine during warmups so he must have rolled it during the first half. Hamidu Rahman comes back with a 14 and 17, but with no Gillenwater to compliment him, the offense struggled again.

However, I was impressed that the Aggies were down six at halftime. At one point, I think I saw Dixon, Watson, Rahman, Laroche and Gordo out there. Not really a scary offensive lineup. Yet they battled back.

Christian Kabongo continues to improve, but he's a freshman and sooner or later, the Aggies always seem to unravel and get away from whatever it was they were doing well. Tonight it was getting the ball to Rahman in the post and getting out in transition.

I was surprised to see the result get away like it did. I thought if the Aggies were going to be blown out in the first half, but they kept it close, only to get blown out in the second half.

Gillenwater

I've been watching Troy Gillenwater, who came out at the 16 minutes timeout and is favoring his right ankle. We will see if he returns but he seems frustrated.


Just as I write that, Troy checked in. But he does seem to be favoring the right ankle. Troy left the game and currently has his ankle wrapped in ice.

Rahman in

Hamidu Rahman is likely to start. We will see how limited he is, but it would be a big boost in depth on the front line against a Lobos team the Aggies already handled on the glass

Friday, December 10, 2010

Can the Aggies beat the Lobos?

After three years of covering this team, I wouldn't be surprised if somehow the shorthanded Aggies find a way to end a seven-game losing streak at the Pit.

It seems like at some point each season, a light goes on and the Aggies win a game they probably shouldn't. Last year, it was at UTEP.

That light has come on for some players, although I think depth or a lack thereof is the Aggies biggest weakness thus far. Their starting five is fine and Castillo has adjusted better to his role off the bench, but after that, not so much. I think Renaldo Dixon has passed Abdoulaye N'Doye and BJ West as far as big guys off the bench, and that could pay bigger dividends whenever Hamidu Rahman returns from injury, regardless of what Wendell McKines ends up doing.

Rahman is a game time decision on Saturday after failing to make it through an entire practice the past three days.

I wasn't all that impressed with the Lobos, but they should shoot better at their own place and they are a solid defensive team, but don't have anyone who can guard Gillenwater. Despite his poor shooting performance in the second half, I want to see Gillenwater just as aggressive offensively from here on out,  maybe just not settle for the early 3 so much late in games.

The Aggies haven't been swept by both rival schools since 2002 I believe. They could take a hit attendance wise if they lose this one.

Can they pull it out?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Injuries

Wendell McKines indicated on his Twitter account  that he could be leaning to sitting the season out.

"It's already december .. That means hoop season is in 11 months. (wink wink) "

At some point upon Marvin Menzies return from California, they will meet but perhaps Wendell has made up his mind. Hoping to talk to the man himself at some point.

Menzies will likely not be in Albuquerque on Saturday, as services for his father are scheduled to be on Saturday. If that's the case, I was told Paul Weir will be the gameday coach against his former boss at Iowa. Not sure on that yet, but it's what I was told on Tuesday and Weir does scout the Lobos.

Hamidu Rahman returned to practice on Tuesday. he tried to go on Friday but it didn't go well. I spoke to him before practice on Tuesday. He said he plans to play on Saturday. The Aggies could certainly use him.

Monday, December 6, 2010

McKines update

Was informed that after meeting with his doctor, Wendell McKines will not be able to practice for at least 2-3 weeks. He's still rehabbing the broken foot he suffered on the first weekend of practice and is still walking in a boot.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Food for thought

I was informed before the game that Marvin Menzies' father passed away on Friday. I know his father had a heart attack last month. It's unfortunate and quite frankly I can't imagine how he is on the sidelines right now.

Dixon

Renaldo Dixon checked in with under six minutes in the first half, meaning he will not redshirt this season.

Recruiting visits

Two recruits are on hand this weekend. 

6-5 wing from El Camino Real HIgh in California Temjae Singleton and 6-11 Keanau Post from Westland Prep in Phoenix, Canadian born have each been offered by NMSU.


Lobos come to town

I don't know what to think about tonight's game. I know that I like the Aggies a lot more with Hamidu Rahman in the lineup, which is up in the air after not practicing all week. Rahman against UNM freshman Alex Kirk could have been a matchup the Aggies could use to put the Lobos on their heels.

The Aggies can probably guard the Lobos man to man, but I don't think the Lobos can punish them in the zone like other teams the Aggies have played. Phillip McDonald is certainly capable of knocking it down and he had a career game here last year, but Dairese Gary is 7 of 20 and backup Jamal Fenton is 10 of 26 from long range. The 3 has hurt the Aggies against UTEP, we will see if UNM can use it as well.

UNM transfer Emmanuel Negedu seems like he's starting to get more time inside, along with AJ Hardeman. Either way, the Aggies could still have an advantage in the post with Troy Gillenwater, who will see a more normal matchup tonight after playing against Julyan Stone the past two games.

The Lobos certainly have the depth advantage, playing as many as 11 at times while Steve Alford tries to figure out his roster. The Lobos biggest strength I think at this point is their balance with no Hobson or Martinez.