It’s the perfect recipe for an upset.
A high major team figuring out how to replace a lottery pick, playing a senior-laden mid-major on the road early in the season.
“You have to go out and play the games,” Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said. “They are more talented I think than people give them credit for. They are an upper echelon team in the country and we have to play our best basketball.”
The last time New Mexico State beat a team from a “Power Six Conference” was against Colorado at home in 2002.
If there was ever a chance to add to that total, it could be Tuesday against a young, but talented Arizona club coming off a loss at home to San Diego State on Nov. 23.
Arizona will only get better as the season goes along under third-year coach Sean Miller, but Miller expects a stiff challenge against a 5-1 Aggies team that starts three seniors, a junior and a sophomore.
“Since I was at Xavier, I don’t really look at mid-majors as a factor,” said Miller, whose team is 4-2 this season. “There is so much parity in college basketball now. Just look at the teams who are winning championships in the early tournaments. That’s because there are a lot of good players and good teams.”
The Aggies lead the nation in free throws made (170), attempted (249), makes per game (28.3) and attempts per game (41.5).
“We are aggressive and physical,” Aggies senior point guard Hernst Laroche said. “That’s our reputation and (officials) have to call it. If they don’t call it one time, we are going to go back the next time. We have to keep working because we know we are going to get open shots. The more free throws we get, the better it is for us. We have to keep practicing so that we step to the line with confidence.”
Aggies sophomore guard Christian Kabongo is fourth nationally with 46 attempts this season. Kabongo is making them too, shooting 92 percent after a 34-for-35 stretch in three games at the Great Alaska Shootout. The Aggies were 85-for-131 (65 percent) in Alaska from the foul line and they are shooting 68 percent from the line for the season.
“Our team goal is to be above 72 or 73 percent,” Menzies said. “We are not too far off. We are taking so many of them that the percentage is probably more significant so the we want to be above 70 percent.”
For the 100th time
Tuesday will be the 100th meeting between New Mexico State and Arizona but the first game in Las Cruces since 1971 — a game won by the Aggies 89-73.
Tuesday’s game marks the end of a home-and-home series with the Wildcats. Arizona defeated NMSU in Tucson last year as lottery pick Derrick Williams’24 and 14 outgunned Troy Gillenwater’s 25 points.
The Wildcats own a 59-40 advantage in the series. The Aggies have lost the last three games to Arizona, all on the road — in 1999, 2006 and last year.
It could be awhile before the Aggies and Wildcats meet again.
“Non-conference scheduling is different now than it was 10 years ago,” Miller said. “Scheduling is done a year or two in advance and we have moved in a different direction, but we know it is an incredible environment versus an excellent team.”