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Monday, January 31, 2011

Wendell McKines update

NMSU vs. Northern Colorado in BracketBuster

While it won't be televised, NMSU's BracketBuster game will be Feb. 19 at home against Northern Colorado of the Big Sky Conference.

According to RealTimeRPI.com, Northern Colorado has a RPI ranking of 138 and the Aggies are at 130.

Once again, the only WAC team with an official televised BracketBuster game will be Utah State.



Saturday, January 29, 2011

Aggies into second

I wonder if folks will jump back onto the bandwagon after a home stand?

Either way, the Aggies had to win both games or they would have been a middle of the pack WAC team — not good. They did what they had to, although neither game this weekend was pretty.

NMSU and Idaho combined for 43 turnovers, but NMSU hounded Idaho with 11 steals and Castillo came up big as the Vandals sent two or three guys at Gillenwater all night.

I'm curious as to what you thought about Idaho's defense. They entered the game giving up the second fewest points in WAC games (62.1 ppg). I thought they were solid defensively, shutting down the paint and collapsing on Gillenwater. It was only when the Aggies got out in transition during the Gordo Run that NMSU found some offense and then kind of choked the Vandals out, hitting 15 of 20 from the foul line in the second half.

At the end of the day, it was NMSU's 11th straight home win. The schedule finishes nicely for them before hosting Utah State and Nevada on the last weekend. They could win out until that weekend or they could drop one they shouldn't. Neither would surprise me.

Idaho just got bigger

La Tech topped Boise State on Saturday as the Aggies play from behind against Idaho

I expect an NMSU win. They may not blow out the Vandals but Menzies is 7-1 against Idaho.

I don't expect it to be as close as Thursday against Boise. Watch Barone and Ledbetter. Ledbetter is a shooter the Aggies shut down in the first game. Barone is a skilled big man that had 22 and 9 in the first game.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Boise State game

I felt like I was forced to watch the ugliest game of basketball ever in the first half, only to turn into a good win for NMSU.

The Aggies were outworked in the first half and players and coaches all knew it. I asked Marvin Menzies if he was surprised by the lack of effort in the first half in a game against one of the teams ahead of NMSU in the standings, who had already beaten them. You would think they would be ready to play right? But not the case.

"It was a significant win because if we would have lost, we would have been at 4-4 and would have been at the bottom half of the conference so this was a key win," said Tyrone Watson, who scored a career high  17 and led NMSU with 10 rebounds.

Watson was 6-for-10 from the foul line, including two in the last 1:10 that put NMSU up two.

It looked like it was going to be more of the same in the second half. There was one play that happened in front of me where Paul Noonan dove for a loose ball. I think it was Gordo who he wrestled it free from on the floor, but the other four NMSU players were watching as Noonan threw a pass from his butt to Ryan Watkins, who was fouled on the other end. It put Boise up 46-41 as Boise went up eight with 14:52 left.

But then the Aggies showed up.

"At the end of the day, when we needed good possessions and we needed  high percentage shots and we needed stops, we got them in winning time. We got them when we needed them and that's really what matters in the end. All of that other stuff we can learn and get better at," Menzies said.

I've written this before, but I think what makes the Aggies a contender is they are one of few teams in the WAC with a closer.

If it's a close game, Gillenwater can take over, as shown in the OT when he scored NMSU's first seven points and put the Aggies up for good.

"Troy was just a warrior tonight. I want to commend him on his ability to play within himself in the second half and not get frustrated," Menzies said. "When you need to win games,  you need a go-to guy. You need somebody that they have to be concerned with."

Menzies said it was the Broncos' focus on Gillenwater that opened the way for career-high scoring nights from Watson and Hernst Laroche.

What stood out to me outside of the stat line (34 points, 12-20, 2-3 3-pt, 8 boards, 1 blk) was that he imposed his will on the game. Haven't really seen that this year, but it's a good sign for the stretch run.

"I guess that's just the way it kind of happened but I didn't want to lose so I was going to do whatever it takes to win," Gillenwater said.

He also did it with four fouls, after picking up his fourth with 8:27 left in regulation.

"It was tough because right after I picked up my fourth, I think Montreal scored two in a row on me. That's tough to get scored on like that. We switched and I guarded Watkins and I think Chile guarded Montreal so that's how I was able to stay without getting fouled out."

Gillenwater's responsibility in the second half and OT was extended to bringing the ball up the court as the Broncos pressure bothered NMSU all night.

"They were pressing us and Troy can handle it," Menzies said. "There was no reason for us to force the issue. We wanted to get a good possession in. Some of those guys played a lot of minutes but he has the ability to do that."

Gillenwater didn't get a touch on the Aggies' last possession of regulation. It didn't turn out to matter but Menzies said the idea was to get Gillenwater the ball but the Aggies rushed and Laroche ended up taking a jumper from the elbow with 3 seconds left.

"We had plenty of time," said Menzies, whose team got the ball back with 28 seconds left after La'Shard Anderson tied it. "I called a play but we didn't get it executed and we took the shot too early. It's supposed to be a last second shot but we went too early. They did a great job with the pressure. We were trying to get Troy in an Isolation situation but they jumped out and denied it. There is an option that we have if they do that but we didn't get to it."

There were times in the first half where it looked as if Laroche had never faced pressure before, leaving his feet or getting trapped. He committed four of his eight turnovers in the first half, but seemed more in control in the second half.

"That (8 turnovers) might be a record too," Menzies said. "A record that I wouldn't care to see again. They had a defensive gameplan for him. They were going to climb into him and guard him with different guys. They were going to make  him work harder than he normally has to and they did a good job and forced those turnovers."

Tre Nichols came out of nowhere to score 18 for the Broncos, spelling La'Shard Anderson. Nichols scored 11 in the first half, finding the paint whenever he wanted against Laroche, Watson or the NMSU zone.

"He's a shooter but he kind of did out of the ordinary from what we expected from him," Watson said. "We just had to contain him because he was very hot. We had to stop him and really contest his shots because he was getting hot."

Menzies said,
"The way our defense was designed, (Laroche) should have had more help. We were shading (Nichols) to one side but he probably gave him a little too much, which allowed that penetration to happen. That's something we can clean up but we played hard."

Boise State outrebounded NMSU by one in the first half, but the Aggies outrebounded an opponent for the first time in three games, finishing the game with a 44-34 edge on the boards.

"It was just an emphasis at halftime," said Gillenwater, who had eight boards. "They were beating us on the boards. We came upstairs and talked about it. They outhustled us and got to a lot of 50-50 balls that we should have got. They played extremely hard. You have to give them credit. They kind of caught us offguard a little bit."


The Aggies center duo of Hamidu Rahman and Chili Nephawe combined for 14 points and nine rebounds. It would be nice to see Rahman improve to those numbers on his own, but he made some strong moves on Thursday and played well in 26 minutes.

"It was something that has been lacking," Menzies said. "14 and 9 from that position, that's solid. We can deal with that. We can't deal with three rebounds or two, which is what we have been getting. That helps for the absence of Wendell."

Watson seemed to say that Thursday's first half was a wake up call. You would think it won't happen again on Saturday.

"It was really bizarre," Menzies said. "Our lack of intensity and it was collective. It was like, what's going on guys? We visited on it very heart to heart at the half. You have to give them all the credit. The game is 40 minutes, not 20 minutes. At the end of the day, you have to look at the 40 and at 40 we were tied and in 5 we were better and it's what we needed."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Halfway home: Looking back, ahead at Aggies and WAC

While the halfway point is still a game away, we can already see some trends developing for the New Mexico State men’s basketball team, as well as the Western Athletic Conference.
The Aggies have hovered around .500 all season. Now 10-11, it should come as no surprise their conference record is also average. NMSU sits at 4-3 in WAC play, but since the Aggies begin their second trip through most league opponents this weekend, it seemed like a good time to look back and ahead.
With a new look for the WAC Tournament bracket, which awards the top two teams a bye into the semifinals, there could be cause for concern regarding the Aggies current spot in fifth place.
NMSU was the first team with a conference road win, beating Idaho on opening weekend. On that same trip, the Aggies outplayed Boise State for 30 minutes before losing by three. Their home win against Fresno State (who came into the Pan American Center 3-0 in the conference) isn’t as impressive, since the Bulldogs have lost their last four.
The second-half schedule also provides reason for optimism. NMSU plays five of its last nine WAC games at the Pan Am.
Boise State and Idaho make the return trip to Las Cruces this weekend. The Aggies follow that up with a road game at Fresno State (3-4) and back-to-back games against winless Louisiana Tech. The Aggies then make the always challenging San Jose State/Hawaii road trip, which appears easier than in past years.
It all sets the Aggies up for meaningful home games against Utah State (March 2) and Nevada (March 5) to close out the season.
After an up and down start, that’s all the Aggies could ask for.
•••
From an individual standpoint, NMSU junior forward Troy Gillenwater has been terrific. 
Gillenwater leads the league in scoring in WAC play and has showed toughness in his first year as a starter, playing through a foot and ankle injury.
Due to early-season injuries, young players have been asked to step in right away. Some have responded better than others. 
It’s unfair and unrealistic to expect much from freshmen or sophomores playing for the first time. You take what you can get from young guys. 
One player who needs to return to form for the Aggies to contend is junior center Hamidu Rahman. Rahman has missed games due to a calf injury this season, but even before the injury, his production was less than what we expected from him entering the year. Throughout his career at NMSU, Rahman has shown the ability to get up for big games. He needs to do so to take some pressure off Gillenwater and the younger players.
•••
Other things that have stood out to me:

Northern Aggies on their way: Utah State has won a piece of three straight WAC regular season championships. At 7-0 in league play and riding a 21-game regular season conference win streak, the UtAgs seem well on their way to a fourth.

Idaho causing trouble: I was worried about Idaho entering the season after the team lost its best player in point guard Mac Hopson, as well as one of the top defensive big men in the conference in center Marvin Jefferson.
I don’t want to take anything away from the Vandals, who started 5-1 in conference play.  But I can’t help myself. Of Idaho’s first five wins, the Vandals’ opponents were a combined 9-23 entering Saturday’s games. Only Nevada, at 3-3, was .500 or better. 
The Vandals fell to Boise State by three on Saturday to move both clubs to 5-2.
Idaho is second in the WAC is scoring defense (60.9 points per game) and first in field goal defense, holding teams to 38 percent shooting.

WAC staying put: The WAC has a conference RPI of 15, according to RealTimeRPI.com. Not bad, but not great and it won’t get any better. Utah State (43 RPI) is the only conference club in the top 150, but the UtAgs have a schedule strength of 205. Boise State has the next highest RPI at 158.

First half all stars: If I was voting for a first-team All-WAC right now, here it is.
La’Shard Anderson (Boise State point guard) — Anderson’s 2.8 steals and 5.2 assists per game lead the WAC. In conference play, he’s also second in scoring at 17.9 points per game.
Adrian Oliver (San Jose State guard) — Oliver has the two highest scoring outputs of any WAC player of 42 and 35 points. He leads the conference in scoring at 23.3 points per game.
Troy Gillenwater (New Mexico State forward) — Gillenwater is second behind Oliver in scoring with 19 points for the season, shooting 36 percent from 3-point range in WAC games. He’s also seventh in rebounding with 7.1 per game.
Tai Wesley (Utah State forward) — Wesley has taken leadership of the UtAgs, scoring 16.3 points and pulling down 7.1 rebounds per game in WAC play.
Dario Hunt (Nevada center) — Hunt has responded to the challenge of adding offense to his game as a sophomore, scoring 13.3 points per game in league play and shooting 65 percent (second in WAC). He’s also fourth in rebounding with 7.9 and first in blocked shots with 2.3 per game.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Halftime

The Aggies are 4-3 as they start playing teams for the second time this weekend and they have played everyone except La. Tech.

It could have been better, but at the same time 4-3 isn't the end of the world. I'm writing a column for Tuesday on my impressions for the Aggies and the WAC halfway through and will post it online when I'm done. I wanted to start a thread to see what has stood out to you league wide, with the Aggies, etc.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Scouting Utah State

It sounds like the two keys to making tonight's game competitive or having a chance to win are two things that NMSU doesn't do particularly well — Rebounding and transition defense.

Utah State allows a league low 58.2 points per game, mainly because they are a good rebounding team and limit opponents to one shot. NMSU might have to be patient tonight because second chances are few and far between. Utah State plays mostly man-to-man although they showed a 1-2-2 zone in road wins at Nevada and Boise State.

Once Utah State gets a rebound, they are good in transition and perhaps better in the half court. Although they have a lot of sets to prepare to, most end with getting Wesley the ball on the block. He mostly needs a screen to get him there though. Jardine, Wesley and Bendall are their primary frontcourt players, so NMSU should be able to match up with Gillenwater, Rahman and Nephawe.

Utah State isn't different with Brockeith Pane running the point compared to the last couple of years with Jared Quayle. They are different players, with Pane being more of a driver and mid-range player where Quayle was the team's best 3-point threat. Look for NMSU to play more zone than they have against Utah State in the past because Pooh Williams and Tyler Newbold aren't shooting with the same accuracy as they have in the past. Although Williams has hit some big shots against NMSU in the past.

Like I said in a previous post. I think the Aggies are capable of coming up with a win tonight, but I don't expect it. They haven't won there since 2006. I think tonight's game will be beneficial to see exactly what works against Utah State so when they visit Las Cruces and potentially in the WAC Tournament on a neutral floor, the Aggies can see where they stand.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Questions....concerns

Troy Gillenwater prides himself on his versatility.
While there is no doubting his versatility on the offensive end, take a look at the following stats and consider which WAC power forward you want.

Player A:  18.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 45 percent FG, 35 percent 3-point, 5 assists
Player B:  14.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 62 percent FG, 2-3 3-pt FG, 48 assists
Player C:   14.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 58 percent FG, 42 percent 3-pointers, 15 assists

Any thoughts?
Player A is Gillenwater, B is Wesley and C is Czyz from Nevada.

I asked Marvin Menzies his thoughts on why Gillenwater has five assists on the season.
“It’s a combination of Troy being offensive minded, which is one of his roles. You would think he would have more. He is drawing a lot of fouls so whenever he draws a foul, it’s taking away from a potential assist. He is making a lot of shots and he’s taking a lot of shots. I think that as the season goes on, it will pick up because teams are adjusting now and saying whenever he catches it, he’s not passing it. You may think that, but he may be the guy that makes the assists that makes the assist because a lot of times it will go inside out.”

Here are a couple stats that would scare me if I were an Aggies fan.

Utah State is ninth nationally in scoring defense, giving up 58.2 points per game.
NMSU has been able to score against some good defenses, hopefully they forget the second half against Nevada.
“It was one of those nights where you run into a deadly combination of the home team playing really well and the road team struggling. We ended up shooting good in the first half, but we didn’t defend really well. The second half, we couldn’t get any offensive rhythm going.”

Nevada point guard Deonte Burton had no trouble creating offense off the dribble. It seems like Utah State’s Brockeith Pane is the same type of player.
“We didn’t defend the dribble and our defensive transition was bad. It was very much a shared loss like our 14 turnovers. Defensively, we played hard, but we didn’t play very smart at times.”


Anyone who reads here regularly knows the Aggies have been struggling on the glass. Utah State is seventh in the country, outrebounding opponents by 9.4 per game. Not a good recipe for the Aggies on Saturday.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Road sweep?

The Aggies fell to a 5-13 Nevada team by 19 points, allowing 90 points in a 90-71 loss on Thursday.

The Aggies had an apparent advantage in the frontcourt, but made an average, defensive minded Dario Hunt look like Derrick Williams with a 20 and 12 night. How on earth do the Aggies plan to stop Utah State on the boards, the one team in the WAC that can match the Aggies in terms of size and experience in the frontcourt.

I don't expect the Aggies to win on Saturday. They haven't since 2006. A little toughness and having a chance in the last five minutes would be as good as a win for the Aggies after taking a major step back on Thursday.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Breakout game?

NMSU held San Jose State to a season low 53 points on Saturday.

The Aggies entered the game shooting the 3 33 percent. They were a triple short of a season high for makes with 11 while shooting 26, finishing 42.3 percent from long range.

I'm going to write a story for Monday's paper about the Aggies' bench, which showed what it will look like from here on out barring anymore injuries. I don't think too many teams in the WAC have the depth, both in the backcourt and the frontcourt, that we will see from the Aggies.

San Jose State game

Hamidu Rahman is expected to start tonight. I would like to Rahman start to take some strides to regain his form from a year ago. Marvin Menzies also indicated that the Aggies could look to a lineup down the road that includes Chili Nephawe and Rahman on the floor together.

I asked Menzies if Rahman's head was alright since he has been out of the starting lineup and battling injuries all year.

"I think he's a little frustrated that he's not 100 percent but he is getting there," Menzies said. "I'm looking forward to him playing well tomorrow because he didn't play a boatload of minutes against Hawaii."

Without Adrian Oliver, who is not expected to play tonight, 5-11 freshman guard Keith Shamburger could be a player to watch. Shamburger scored all 21 of his points at La Tech in the second half, hitting 2 3s. Senior Justin Graham also made two triples, but without Oliver or a Robert Owen like last year, the Spartans don't seem to present that threat of a perimeter scorer. Another candidate is 6-3 JC transfer Calvin Douglas, one of four JC players.

The Aggies should have a big advantage in the paint against this team, who starts 6-7 and 6-8 and like Menzies said the other day, the Spartans don't have much depth, so if NMSU can continue to get the opposing team in foul trouble, we could see another lopsided result in NMSU's favor.

I thought that it was good for the Aggies to blow out an inferior opponent like Hawaii. They didn't play down to their competition. It would be nice to see the same kind of game tonight since without Oliver, I don't see much in the San JOse roster.

The maturation of Troy Gillenwater

Marvin Menzies said that Troy Gillenwater has been a silent leader for the Aggies this year.

From watching his body language on Thursday against Hawaii, Gillenwater seemed like a positive presence on the bench before he came in with six minutes left until halftime. The Aggies likely would have won without Gillenwater, but once he came in, it was over. Not only did he produce in the scoring column but at every dead ball, look at who is calling his teammates into huddles at free throws and talking to his teammates.

"Just having him on the floor, the other team has to choose to double Troy or what," NMSU guard Gordo Castillo said. "I think it's great for us. He's a big body. He's our player and having him on the floor is big for all of us."

Gillenwater scored 13 points with 10 rebounds in 18 minutes, but he has consistently given the credit to his teammates.

"Our teammates look for me in the right spots and I have to give the credit to my teammates. They know where I'm good at scoring the ball so I just try to be aggressive. I know they feel more complete with our whole team out there. I'm not comparing myself to Kobe Bryant, but if Kobe Bryant is not playing, then the Lakers are a different team. That is how it is when any team has their main guy that is out. They rallied even with me out, we were up by eight points at one point. They understand. We have had injuries all year and they know how to rally."


There has been no denying Gillenwater's talent since coming to Las Cruces, but there have been instances, even this year in Springfield, where things got to him and took him out of the game.

Since then, Gillenwater seems to have taken another step in his maturation in Las Cruces. Perhaps it's because he has waited his turn to be the 'man' here or perhaps it's only natural that Gillenwater, who turned 22 recently, has grown up in his four years here.

"It's one of the good things about bringing in kids as freshmen," Menzies said. "Most freshmen are not ready to walk onto a Division I floor and go to the NBA the next year. There is usually a growth process. It's good to see it and be involved with it and be a part of making it happen."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Gillenwater limping

Troy Gillenwater left the court before his teammates during pregame. He was dressed and looked like he was going to try to go but he looked to be favoring  a foot or an ankle.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Trending.....

Trending upward:

Bandja Sy: I wanted to see if Sy could sustain some good play and apparently he has enough to hold onto a starting spot as Christian Kabongo moved to the bench on Saturday against Fresno. In WAC play, Sy is 5-of-7 from 3-point range and 8-of-15 from the field, showing an increased awareness to not jack up the first open look he gets.

Chili Nephawe: I was kind of worried about Nephawe there for a little bit, he didn't look like he belonged on the court at times after starting out well. But he is going to be a good WAC big man. averaging just under 10 points in three league games. one of the under rated things about big men is their ability to knock down free throws. Nephawe is 20-of-23 from the foul line in the last four games.


Tai Wesley: The Utah State senior entered the week first nationally in field goal percentage, shooting 66.7 percent from the floor. Wesley is fifth in the league in scoring at 15.2 per game and third in rebounding with 8.6 per game. In WAC play, Wesley has been even better, scoring 21.3 per game in three games with 9.7 rebounds while shooting 75 percent. I'm sure Wesley's offensive game is providing the bulk of his points, but in WAC games, nearly half of his rebounds have come on the offensive end.


Trending downward:
NMSU rebounding: I thought that the return of Gillenwater and Rahman would help the Aggies pick up in this area, but it hasn't, especially on the defensive end. I would say the Aggies are playing better defensively than they were a year ago, yet they are failing to end the possession with the rebound. They are last in the WAC in Defensive rebounding percentage (.66). They give up 12.4 offensive boards per game.

San Jose State: The Spartans lost a heartbreaker to Boise State in four OTs, but they followed with a loss at home against Idaho. It doesn't get much better for San Jose State as they hit the road for their next three. The Spartans are 0-14 in WAC play on the road dating back to 2009  and the Spartans haven't won in Las Cruces since 1994.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Fresno State

I heard from one person on Saturday that as soon as Wendell McKines officially announced his intention to redshirt that Aggies fans had mailed in the season.

I hope that's not the case. Is this team as good as last year's? Probably not. But Saturday's 80-68 win over previously unbeaten Fresno State should show that the Aggies will certainly contend for a league title.

Fresno State was clearly tired in the second half and the Bulldogs played without a player, but the Aggies were simply the more efficient team, understanding the Bulldogs were probably tired and wearing them down.

The Aggies are proving to use the foul line as a weapon in their offense, perhaps replacing the 3-point shot from previous seasons. NMSU was 26-of-37 from the line while Fresno State was 8-of-14. NMSU made 70 percent, which is a good percentage considering their three bigs, Gillenwater (5-of-7 FT) Chili Nephawe (8-of-10) and Hamidu Rahman (5-of-7) accounted for most of the free throw attempts.

BJ West out

West isn't playing tonight. I know he had a sore neck. He's not dressed.

Scouting Fresno

NMSU coaches have compared how different NMSU would be without point guard Hernst Laroche to what Fresno State was like prior to the return of junior Steven Shepp. As a result, the Bulldogs have been playing more organized and are not 3-0 in league play. Greg Smith went from shooting jumpers to returning to the block and has been putting up the kind of numbers expected of him entering the season.


They seem to start
Shepp
UNM transfer Jonathan Willis
Tim Steed junior college transfer, driving, athletic Tyrone Watson type player
Nedeljko Golubovic (a perimeter player on offense as a power forward)
Smith

Bench
Kevin Olekaibe, a 6-1 freshman guard who is the only player outside of Smith to average in double figure.

Fresno isn't a great shooting team but they run when they can and crash the offensive boards, which the Aggies have struggled with at times.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Thoughts on Wendell McKines?

McKines was driven to return but he sounded like he wouldn't be where he wanted to be by the middle of January.

He hasn't played a full season since his sophomore year. It was really his only full season at NMSU since he was a role player as a freshman behind fifth-year seniors. Playing against UNM and UTEP at full strength was also something he talked about.

In the end, I don't see his decision as that much of a surprise, but I do believe it was a frustrating decision for him to make.

From covering this team for four years, I've learned to expect the unexpected but it does seem like McKines is intent on returning to NMSU next year. If Troy Gillenwater were to return, the expectations would certainly be high.