The Aggies should move to 3-0 vs. UNM/UTEP this year with a win over UTEP on Sunday. If so, it would be NMSU's first sweep of the Miners since 2006 and Marvin Menzies would improve to 6-13 in rivalry games.
The Aggies have some time to work on themselves with five straight home games following Sunday's game. The only test during that stretch should be the UNM game on Dec. 28.
Something to watch for from here on out is how teams play Wendell McKines. McKines' improvement across the board has been fun to watch. He's still the double-double player we expected to see, but he's also shooting 44 percent from the floor and knocking down a career best 41.9 percent of his 3s and 69 percent of his free throws. Unfortunately for the Aggies the past two games in particular, I'm not the only one that has noticed.
"They are trying to jam me up and daring us to shoot it," McKines said. "We just have to get in the gym and try to make adjustments."
Against Southern Miss last week, McKines' last field goal attempt was a made 3 with 12 minutes to go as the Aggies were trying to make a comeback. Against Arizona, McKines scored five straight points to pull the Aggie to within five with 4:45 left in the game but he didn't shoot again. McKines also didn't have an assist or turnover during those stretches, which tells me that he wasn't touching the ball as much as he needs to close out games.
The Aggies offense went through Christian Kabongo the last five minutes of both games. (CK is currently fourth in WAC in usage percentage, — An estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while on the floor — CK is involved in 29 percent of the possessions while he's on the floor, although that has to be much higher down the stretch. Wendell is right behind him at 28.6 percent. For comparison, San Jose State's Adrian Oliver was 35 percent last year and Troy Gillenwater was 32 percent last year. Jahmar Young was was 28 percent his final year.
I give the Aggies credit for making these games close, but the Aggies won't win these games if their best player doesn't have the ball in his hands.
"Teams are denying him the ball but also really keying on him rebounding the ball," Menzies said. "He is getting hit first now. He just needs to be more aware and he has to adjust and we have to adjust.
"It's new for him but he's still getting his points but now he just has to go and get it more. It's the progress you hope to see for seniors expected to be marked men."
It's easier for teams to take away a "post player" then a guard. But it's not even scoring. McKines doesn't need much space to get him the ball. The Aggies need to get him open . He's probably the second best passer on the team.
The fact that McKines is not a guard means that other players simply have to be more productive and more consistent in critical situations.
I doubt we will get to dissect how the Aggies close a close game on Sunday but here are a couple things to consider.
The Aggies made a season-best nine 3-pointers in the first game. If nine is a benchmark, it's hard to see this team counting on that as they are shooting 32 percent from long range on the season.
NMSU will win this game doing what has worked for them all year and what worked for them the first time out against UTEP. The Aggies are superior in the paint and superior in talent from top to bottom. The fact that UTEP is returning their best player in Gabe McCulley shouldn't matter as I don't think McCulley would find minutes in an Aggies uniform and that Washburn is probably the lone Division I player of any note on this UTEP roster moving forward.