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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Arizona loss

"It's a missed opportunity," Aggies senior forward Wendell McKines said. "We missed a moment. Just thinking about the feeling we would have had if we would have won this game. To Know that we arent going to feel that way, it's tough."

The Aggies were right there. They did everything that has worked for them up to this point to give them a chance to win against a Pac 12 team (rebound — Held a 41-38 edge with 19 offensive rebounds. Get to the foul line — Shot 16 for 23 (69.6 percent), limit turnovers (NMSU 9, Arizona 11).

But as good as the Aggies were rebounding the ball all night, and as much as players refuse to use fatigue as a factor, the Aggies nearly came back late in the second half after a 14-2 Arizona run, but couldn't secure a rebound off a missed front end with 29 seconds left down three.

"That's a free throw rebound. It's four against two. Somebody doesn't pinch hard as they should have and it could be the difference in the game. We would have had the ball down three. That's an excellent opportunity to come down and score and get a quick bucket and then who knows.

"I felt like our guys were mentally ready to play," Menzies said. "I don't know about physically. We got a little fatigued there and maybe weren't able to execute at the highest level down the stretch, especially offensively.

"I have to go back and look at the film. I thought we had a couple guys get to the basket and they missed shots or had contact. It's just disappointing to play that hard and not win. We made a lot of mental errors with defensive rotations.

The result was a 83-79 loss, the Aggies' first at home before heading back out to play two more road games.

Wendell McKines was great, finishing with a career-high 28 points, shooting 10 for 18 from the field and 4-7 from 3 point range. Wendell didn't force anything and had the kind of night at home where I thought he could have had at the Pit when he missed shots in the first half he normally makes. The Aggies went cold during the Arizona run, and I can't remember Wendell getting many touches during the run.

"They just made their run. They executed," McKines said. "They are a team full of vets. They just beat us."

Late in the game, the Aggies looked to McKInes and Christian Kabongo.

Arizona had 19 assists on 30 field goals. NMSU had nine assists on 28 field goals, but it's hard to fault the Aggies for looking to Kabongo. He was 7-11 at the foul line and scored five straight points (three on an And 1 and two from the foul line) to get the Aggies to within three.

"(Kabongo) penetrated very well and he's been shooting it fantastic from the free throw line."

NMSU pounded the ball inside with centers Hamidu Rahman and Tshilidzi, especially when Jesse Perry was guarding them. Rahman had 13 and 8 and Nephawe had 6 and 9. Perry was tough though, finishing with 15 and 12 as someone had to step in for Solomon Hill as he battled foul trouble.

"They did a great job," Menzies said. "We really challenged the bigs tongiht. Hamidu shot 50 percent from the field and did a great job with eight boards. Chili had nine boards. Thats what those two have to do every night. We wanted to attack them inside and the guys did a good job finding them. We have to get them more shots depending on the situation."

At times in the first half especially, Nick Johnson beat the Aggies back in transition badly and as a result the Wildcats shot 60 percent in the first half.

NMSU also struggled finding shooters when Arizona guards got into the paint or played pick and roll. Arizona hit the most 3s in a game since hitting 14 against St. Johns.

"Our defensive transition was very weak tonight," Menzies said. "We have done a much better job at that in the past. We were so aggressive offensively going to the glass that we didn't turn around and run with them."

McKines said that there were no excuses, but Menzies let on that in certain situations, fatigue, mental or otherwise, played a factor.

Especially on the offensive rebound on the free throw and the Aggies' 3 point shooting (4-21)

"We had a few really good looks where first look was the best and we passed on it. We were trying to make the extra pass and look for an open shot but the ones that we had off initial penetration were pretty open. 4-21 is not acceptable and not going to win a lot of games at home shooting that percentage."

Monday, November 28, 2011

NMSU vs. Arizona

First I wanted to address what everyone seems to be talking about. NMSU freshman Remi Barry will be available from here on out for the Aggies. I know that most people think he's the next big thing. Maybe he is, but it won't show this year. He finds himself in a good situation with the somewhat surprising play of Bandja Sy and the steady play of Tyrone Watson. He would have to be pretty special to steal minutes from those two guys right off the bat. But it's good that he can work his way into the lineup and by conference time, perhaps he will provide yet another weapon off the bench.

"I'm happy for him that he has put all of that behind him," Marvin Menzies said. "It's a great opportunity for him, whether or not he plays (Tuesday) or not. Having experienced guys in front of him who are playing well is good for him."

Some interesting Sean Miller comments follow, but first Miller said that we won't see freshman center Sidiki Johnson, who is now focused on academics after returning from suspension.

Miller said that junior wing Kevin Parrom is currently a shade of his former self after coming back from injury. Miller said the Wildcats haven't had consistent play from the center position, which should sound familiar for Aggies fans. Miller wants to play 9 or 10 players, so confidence level of bench players is something to keep an eye on, especially since it seems like freshman guard Josiah Turner is starting to work himself back into good graces. I think that guard play is interesting to watch on Tuesday and is probably Arizona's strength. Kyle Fogg is a a big (6-3) senior guard and Nick Johnson has averaged 10 per game and shoots 43 percent from 3 as a freshman and Jordan Mays has started five of the six games and senior Brendon Lavender is the team's best shooter but has only played 8  minutes per game so far.

One thing is for certain. Miller will not start the same lineup as he did in a 61-57 home loss to San Diego State last week. Miller said that the combination of Jesse Perry, Solomon Hill, Kyryl Natyazko, Mayes and Fogg will start against at Arizona.

Miller on the Aggies
"I think they are a terrific offensive rebounding team and the best offensive rebounding team we have faced so far. They play with tremendous depth and energy defensively. Energy and taking care of the ball is important. I think it's going to be a great challenge and I think they are a team that will be in the postseason."

I think the Wildcats will be fine. But they have players who are trying to figure out roles early on.
"Derrick Williams plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves now. Tuesday is going to be a really hard game for us."

I asked Miller, whose teams have been known for playing man to man, how he approaches playing teams like the Aggies, who aren't a great shooting team.
"Everybody thinks that playing zone solves the problem against a team that doesn't shoot well. One thing the zone exposes is second shots. It backfires if you are giving up high quality second shots."

Miller said his team isn't on par with his past teams defensively at this point.
"We have always gotten better year by year on the defensive end. We're not very good in any of those areas right now."

Here are two additional things that I'm watching on Tuesday.


Key matchup
Wendell McKines vs. Solomon Hill
Arizona coach Sean Miller believes Aggies power forward Wendell McKines could start for a Pac-12 team, including his own.
But McKines is an Aggie and his numbers reflect the 6-foot-6 Hill.
Hill leads the Wildcats with 12 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. McKines leads the Aggies with 17 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Both players are capable of hitting the perimeter shot but don’t rely on it as McKines is shooting 37 percent from 3-point range and Hill is a 25 percent shooter.

Key to watch
Rebounding
NMSU is outrebounding its opposition by 8.3 boards per game. The Aggies are tied for 14th nationally with 16 offensive rebounds per game. McKines is pulling down 3.5 offensive rebounds per game.
“I think they are a terrific offensive rebounding team,” Miller said. “They are the best that we have faced yet.” 

Arizona part 1

Here are some early thoughts on Tuesday's game. I'll have more later on today.

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.”

Manufacturing points
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.”

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Long, somewhat happy plane ride home

NMSU is 5-1 after picking up two wins in the Great Alaska Shootout. I guess there is some good news in that the Aggies get a chance to avenge what was a weird loss to Southern Miss later this season.

But for now, the Aggies return home after three games in three days to play a well rested Arizona team coming off a home loss to San Diego State. NMSU leaves Alaska at 150 a.m. Alaska time. They return home around 1230 pm on Sunday and have one day to prepare for a 7 p.m., game on Tuesday against Arizona.

"I like it (the schedule)," Hernst Laroche said. "I like playing more games so you can get in that groove. We have seniors so it shouldn't be a problem. We should be able to get ready for it."

NMSU was 85-131 (64.9 percent) from the foul line in three games in Alaska, setting a Great Alaska Shootout record for both free throws made and attempted. That's 28 makes and 44 attempts per game.

Christian Kabongo made his first 30 free throw attempts at the tournament and was 11 of 12 in Saturday's 81-71 win over Southern Miss.

Obviously the Aggies are putting pressure on officials to make calls.

"We are aggressive and physical. That's our reputation and they have to call it. If they don't call it one time, we are going to go back the next time," Laroche said. "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."

A possible reason for first setback

NMSU is not a perfect team by any means, but the Aggies are certainly the most athletic and talented team in Alaska this week.

Saturday's 80-72 loss to Southern Miss wasn't a bad loss, but it was a loss that shouldn't have happened.

I'm sure the Aggies aren't looking for excuses. But you have to think that playing five of six games away from home to start the season can take its toll on a team. How else could you explain getting outrebounded 38-26 with 13 offensive rebounds against a smaller team? Last year, you would expect that but it doesn't fit with how this team has been playing. NMSU continued to get to the foul line, but a night after shooting 70 percent from the line, the Aggies were 68 percent from the foul line (30-44) but only 15-26 (57 percent) in the second half.

We knew the Aggies weren't the best shooting team. What's starting to show for me though is not the 3-point miss because the Aggies aren't shooting an unrealistic amount of attempts. But they are missing 10 footers, and what's more, they are good shots, open shots. It could make scoring get more and more difficult as the season goes on if they can't knock down the occasional jumper.

NMSU has some home games coming up after the Alaska trip. Coming back at 5-1 is nothing to be ashamed of considering all but one were played outside of the Pan Am.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Success in Alaska

The Aggies beat Tenn. Chattanooga 75-65, Oregon 86-75 and Illinois 95-94 to win the 1992-93 Alaska Shootout.

The competition there wont be that stiff this time around, but there is still some good competition the Aggies can get out of it. Here is a blog entry from prior to the season on the schedule.


I think the Aggies are the best team in Alaska. I expect them to play Central Michigan, Southern Miss and either Murray State or San Francisco.

It's very early in the game, but NMSU is currently ranked No. 28 on RealTimeRPI. (Cleveland st. is No. 1.

Central Michigan is 2-1 with a 67-57 win at Pepperdine on Monday and a 2OT loss to Charlotte.
Southern Miss is No. 3 at 1-1 with a loss at Denver (RPI No. 2, 59-52) and a win at Colorado State (RPI 56. 79-58). Will be interesting to see this clash of styles since it looks like Southern Miss wants to slow things down like UTEP did.

Murray State (109 RPI) has wins over Morgan State and UAB (62-55) this year. San Fran is No. 133 with a loss to North Dakota State and four straight wins over Northern Arizona, Lafayette, San Jose State and Seattle, all schools 188 or above.

Behind the scenes of the Aggies' run-and-gun start

Ever wonder how the Aggies have seemed to outlast teams and pull away from them in the second half so far this season? Do you think they can sustain it for an entire season?

I asked the man tasked with getting the Aggies in condition for an up tempo style driven by defense, former Aggie  player and second year strength and conditioning coach Trei Steward a few questions.

Did you do anything differently?
Steward: Coach came to me with some concerns about last year's conditioning. Me being a first-year strength and conditioning coach there were a lot of things that I changed. I knew we had to get better in certain areas, one being able to get up and down the court. ... Coach put it on me and said, 'Hey Trei, we have to get this done.' I put it back on the players if this is the kind of style you want to play this year and they did it. ... I think we are below average right now in my eyes but we are playing well. If we continue to build it, we can make defense a staple for this team for years to come."

SUMMER
"We put in some new drills with a lot of resistance training for quick sprints, but we went old school too and did a lot of suicides and 30 second on and 30 second off drills to get them ready for games. You aren't going to be in basketball shape before you are playing. Simulating basketball in conditioning drills is tough. We weren't allowed to touch a basketball but  I can still work on defensive conditioning because we don't need a basketball. We can still tell how you are supposed to slide and cut people off."

Steward said that there was above average participation for summer workouts
"Even guys who aren't playing minutes now were here. Something that clicked I think was losing last year in the tournament didn't sit well with them. Defense was always the key for this year's team. They knew that they aren't going to have that scoring punch all the time so we have to do it with our defense. In order to play defense, you have to be well conditioned and able to move side to side."

PRESEASON
"When they got back for school, we did testing to see where they were at and then just went at it three days a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Sometimes we went four or five days with certain guys like Chili and Hamidu trying to get those big guys to run more. They still aren't where we want them to be but nobody is. That's OK. I want them to peak in February to be the type of team that can outlast teams."

REGULAR SEASON
"I felt like going into the season last year, we were decent but we didn't keep up with it in practice like we should have. This year there is more emphasis that if we want to be this kind of team, we are going to have to run more in practice."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Ags No. 22

At least according to this AP Top 25 voter.

"22. New Mexico State cracks the poll here after winning at New Mexico and beating UTEP. A nice road win, winning at the Pit. Next: C. Michigan on Thurs. in the Great Alaska Shootout."


The Aggies haven't received votes since the 2007-08 preseason poll and they ended the previous season receiving votes in the final poll.


Marvin Menzies said after the UTEP game that if his team went to Alaska and went 3-0, perhaps they would receive votes. It happened earlier.


"I'm happy to see that one person was listening," Menzies said. "It's just one of those benchmarks along the way that you would like to achieve. Hopefully we can get more people on board."


Menzies said that OƱate grad Terrel de Rouen could get some minutes on this Alaska trip. He also revealed that he likely won't play Eric Weary in hopes that he can redshirt Weary. Remi Barry is not on the trip as the team left Monday, but Menzies said he would join the team if the suspension is dropped from six games to four or five.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Two down, two to go



Tim Floyd lost to NMSU for the first time at UTEP.

Said Floyd, "That's a really good Aggie team. Their speed, their quickness, their athleticism I thought was just superior. It reminded me of a Memphis team we played a year ago. They were tremendous on the offensive class. Their second and third and multiple efforts on the glass were the key to the game."

Pretty decent praise for the Aggies, who are now 2-0 vs. UTEP and UNM after going 0-4 in these games last year.

But apparently beating UTEP holds a special place for Aggies coach Marvin Menzies.

"Anytime you can beat UTEP, it feels a little bit better than beating any other school. Its a great rivalry and I respect it a lot."

Then Menzies added this, referring to Wendell McKines' Twitter posts a couple weeks ago and UTEP's trending topic entitled #under10wen.

"I don't think they held him under 10 did they? No, 23 and 13 so that didn't happen. I was glad to see Wen keep his head and play great basketball."

McKines was efficient, shooting 5 for 13 from the field and 12 for 15 from the foul line for a career high 23 points. He registered his 29th career double double with 13 rebounds for his second double double effort in three games this season.

McKines had 7 of the Aggies' 21 offensive rebounds as the Aggies had 22 second chance points. Two of those offensive rebounds came on two different free throw misses while the Aggies were trying to put the game away.

NMSU was 71.8 percent from the foul line (28-39) after entering the game shooting 60 percent. Getting to the free throw seems to be part of the Aggies' offense. NMSU is averaging 39 attempts per game. If they can shoot at least 65 percent from the line, that's 25 points per game. Hernst Laroche was 9 of 10 at the line and Chili Nephawe was 6-for-7, all in the last 5 minutes.

It was good to see the Aggies handle an inferior team at home. UTEP frankly isn't very good offensively. They shot 45 percent for the game but were 3 of 13 from long range and you could tell they wanted the game in the 60s but when the Aggies opened the second half 7-0, UTEP couldn't keep up.

Is it strange to anyone else that NMSU hasn't been 3-0 since 2003-04? They've been in the tournament a couple times during that span, but this team is different. It's not lost on Menzies, whose team has  a realistic opportunity to run the table in the Alaska tournament next week. If so, the Aggies would be 6-0, something that hasn't happened since 1969-70 when Lou Henson started the season 8-0. The Aggies started 5-0 in 1990-91 and 4-0 in 2003-04.

"If we can go to Alaska and have success out there, I really think we will be on track for maybe even some Top 25 votes, which hasn't happened in some time."

Quote time:
Marvin Menzies
"Hamidu struggled a little bit tonight (0 points, 8 rebounds) and he was frustrated with the speed of play."

Saturday was the first time in three games NMSU led at the half. UTEP slowed the game down early but couldn't keep it going.
"Our guys are not front runners but they are competitors. When they don't have everything going their way, sometimes they can get a little distracted on a possession or two. We are 3-0 and we have loads of improvement in front of us. I'm so excited about the potential of this team. They say its a scary word but not with this crew. We are going to realize some dreams. We are going to shock some people and have a season to be remembered."

Chili Nephawe picked up another technical, but he didn't foul out for the first time this season.
"He's a firey passionate guy."

Wendell McKines, on the new Pan Am floor
"I like it. We are undefeated on it."


Tim Floyd
"We didn't guard the 3 point line. We had a hard time staying between them and the basket with their drives. A lot of that was just not being back on defense so we are late to play and reach and stab. They just whipped us."

"We came out at the start of the second half and didn't show the poise we showed in the first half."

Floyd said that the Miners spread the floor hoping to go by Aggies defenders. It was just like the Lobos, where Snell tried to drive. It seems that it will take some time for the Aggies to prove to people that they can guard the ball and play good help defense.

"It wasn't an offense to delay the game. It was to take advantage of what we thought we could do."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

COMMENTARY: Aggies win ugly, win big


It was not pretty.
Just how the Aggies like it.
My snapshot memories from New Mexico State’s 62-53 victory over New Mexico at The Pit on Wednesday aren’t highlight dunks, blocked shots, or both teams making big shots.
Although this game also included that.
Plays that stand out to me include Daniel Mullings diving into Lobos fans courtside for a loose ball.
Or center Hamidu Rahman walking away with his hands in the air to avoid escalating a situation after he was tackled by Demetrius Walker. Rahman made 1-of-2 free throws on the intentional foul and Wendell McKines converted a three-point play on the extra possession to put the Aggies up for good with 8:57 to play. 
Or Christian Kabongo, who stood in to draw a charge on Tony Snell with 2:52 to play with four fouls.
How about Hernst Laroche, who was buried beneath three Lobos going to the hole with 54 seconds left. Laroche made both free throws to put NMSU up four.
Finally, Bandja Sy blocking Phillip McDonald’s 3-point attempt with 23 seconds left and then converting a three-point play two seconds later on the other end to ice the win and snap a seven-game skid to the Lobos.
Statistically, the Aggies won at The Pit for the first time since 2002 despite every player on the roster having an off night.
McKines, Laroche and Kabongo were a combined 0-for-14 from the floor in the first half. Laroche had an uncharacteristic seven turnovers. Rahman was 8-for-16 from the free throw line and NMSU was 21-for-38 (55.3 percent) from the foul line for the game.
But it was even worse for the Lobos and you have to credit the Aggies for that.
UNM shot 28 percent (14-for-50) from the floor for their worst shooting percentage under Steve Alford.
The fact is that in just two games, NMSU has proven it can adapt to its environment. The Aggies scored 89 points to open the season and 62 in the second game.
The common theme in both games was speeding the game up, defending full court for 40 minutes and making it look sloppy but making plays in crucial situations.
It’s not pretty but it’s working for them and it seems to be a signature for this team.
I’m a Denver Broncos fan but not a believer in quarterback Tim Tebow. But after two straight road wins, I would rather my team win ugly than lose.
NMSU is 2-0 for the second straight year. A home win at UTEP on Saturday would be the Aggies first 3-0 start since they went 4-0 in 2003-04.
And that is beautiful for Aggies fans.

Jason Groves can be reached at (575) 541-5459. Follow him on Twitter @jpgroves


Looking forward

I don't expect a NMSU letdown on Saturday against UTEP. I think the experience of this group doesn't let the team lay an egg in their home opener.

Plus there is this fact.

NMSU went 2-0 last year. The Aggies werent two games over .500 again until conference play. They were never three games over .500.

UTEP is down and I still think we haven't seen the Aggies get going offensively.

finally, NMSU hasn't started 3-0 since a 4-0 start in 2003-04. All signs point to an Aggies win on Saturday.

Thoughts on UNM

Wednesday's 62-53 victory at New Mexico has the potential to be a program defining victory for Marvin Menzies.

NMSU's WAC title run two years ago included a win over Nevada in Reno. Since that game was a tournament game, I would probably put it ahead of Wednesday night. But it's close for the emotional factor. UNM had seven straight wins  over the Aggies, Marvin Menzies was 1-7 against Steve Alford and the Aggies hadn't won at The Pit since 2002.

Even late in the game when they were trailing, the Lobos seemed stunned the Aggies were playing them close at their own place — something that hasn't happened the past four years. Tony Snelling was dribbling the ball like he was the playground, looking for an opening as if he couldn't believe the Aggies were playing them straight up and knowing that a drive to the paint wouldn't be easy.

Alford isn't known for playing zone defense, but even he dared the Aggies to shoot. Look, we know the Aggies aren't a shooting team, but you don't have to be to beat a zone. In the first half, Aggies players connected twice that I can remember on high low passes to a player cutting along the baseline. The NMSU guards can get into the paint on penetration against a zone and the Aggies have done a good job on the offensive boards with 11 against a physical Lobos team and scoring 17 points off 21 UNM turnovers.

Here are two things I learned about the Lobos moving toward their rematch at the Pan American Center Dec. 28. Tony Snell is really good (5-for-11, 3-6 3s, 18 points including big 3s that tied the game at 40-40 and put the Lobos up 44-42) and Drew Gordon isn't that great. Both UNM starters in the frontcourt were hampered by foul trouble, but Gordon didn't show too much skill around the basket or the ability to score from inside. Going into the game, I thought the front courts between the teams was a wash. After seeing the teams in person for the first time, I give the Aggies a clear advantage there and maybe move a slight edge to the Lobos guards because I don't think the Lobos will shoot as poorly again and Kendall Williams will not go 0-for-9.

Moving along to postgame comments from players and Marvin Menzies.

Wendell McKines is the difference to me. The guy was 0-7 in the first half, but he came out confident in the second half to get the Aggies even at 31 all. He was 5-for-7 in the second half. He hit a big 3 against the zone as well and remained the same player on the boards with nine rebounds. But just as important was his leadership. He pulled Chili Nephawe out of the group in the first half after a Nephawe technical that I still don't understand. Was it taunting or was if for defending his teammates in the scrum? In the second half, McKines ran from in front of the Lobos bench across the court to stop Watson from getting a potential tech after disputing a potential turnover.

"We just had to stay poised. This is a rivalry game so naturally we are going to play outside of ourselves but we have to stay in balance to not get techs from the refs. We had to stay emotionally stable. When I see guys, they trust me and know that they probably need to chill. We know we don't need a technical to hurt the team."

McKines on the win
"It's a really big victory for us, the city of Las Cruces and New Mexico State. It was for you Las Cruces"

McKines on facing UTEP on Saturday
"This roster is full of experience and we know we have to get ready for UTEP. We are going to enjoy this tonight."

McKines on being down just five at halftime
"I still felt like we had the momentum and we were playing at our pace and playing great defense. We missed free throws and weren't finishing things we normally finish. That happens on the road. Our main focus was staying consistent on the defensive end."

Bandja Sy has been a key player after two games for the Aggies. I think that is due to the fact that he got a lot of playing time last year but also that coming off the bench is his true role, along with Daniel Mullings.

"I don't really mind. I just try to do my best when I'm on the court and bring energy and make some plays. That's what coaches ask me to do."

Marvin Menzies on where Wednesday's win stacks up
"I'm still kind of soaking it in and getting ready for UTEP. It's a huge win for us. There is no question. When you can steal a win and steal it at The Pit from such a great program, it makes you feel good and re-affirms that we are doing things the right way."

The Aggies have now won a game in the 80s and one in the 60s. I think this team's true ability is somewhere in between. But it was a good sign when you play in the same league as Utah State.

"I'm glad we won but it's not the way we want to play. I want to get up and down and keep pressure on a team. We want to get runouts and steals and open court scoring. What Steve did by turning it into a half court game was to their advantage but we had some seniors and some guys who made big plays down the stretch."

On hanging around after the Lobos 15-1 run late in the first half to still trail by just five.
"I dont think they worried about the score as much as that they didn't defend the way they should have. I knew we would get scores. I didn't know how they would come. Bandja Sy had a great game. It was a team win"

On facing zone against Alford, a primarily man-to-man coach
"If we didn't play well against it, we knew they would ride it. He wants to play like we play in terms of playing man to man. Tonight I thought that the zone gave us some problems and slowed the game down. We weren't very efficient against it but we did get some offensive rebounds against it and executed against it when we needed to down the stretch."


On the difference between the UNM and UTEP rivalry
"I think there is a little more hatred in the UTEP rivalry and the UNM one has more history. I'm fully aware that we have four games every year that have nothing to do with the rest of the season."






Wednesday, November 16, 2011

UNM/NMSU thread

Hopefully fans can post your thoughts on the game here.

I'll start.

First of all, I had the Aggies splitting with the Lobos this year and I'm sticking to that. But after watching the Aggies play this week and thinking more about this game, I wouldn't be surprised to see NMSU pull one out. I think it's going to be a tight game anyway, but it's hard for anyone to go to UNM and come out with a win.

I think that the Lobos backcourt has a slight edge and I think the two front courts are a wash. In last year's loss at UNM, the Lobos outrebounded NMSU 48-31 with 18 offensive rebounds despite 17 rebounds from Hamidu Rahman. Rahman, Chili Nephawe, Wendell McKines and others have to hold their own with Hardeman, Gordon and Bairstow.

I think the Aggies will do a better job taking care of the ball, namely Christian Kabongo. In addition to the potential Gordon/McKines matchup, I'm looking forward to seeing when Kabongo and Kendall Williams get matched up on each other.

I have a final score of UNM 75, NMSU 70

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

McKines and Watson and Justin Hawkins talk about rivalry week

NMSU is in a unique scheduling situation, having to play a home and home every year with two schools that are normally pretty good. It can be a good thing or a bad thing for the team and the coaches, especially if they get off to a bad start like the current 3-13 trend or get swept by one or either school like the Aggies did last year. Coming off an 0-4 outing against New Mexico and UTEP last year, I think the Aggies players know in the back of their mind that these particular games mean more to NMSU fans and students than most games.

It will be interesting to see how the Aggies handle this week with a game at The Pit on Wednesday against a team they haven't beaten in seven tries, and then on Saturday against UTEP at home. 


NMSU junior Tyrone Watson:
"After what happened last year, it's kind of offensive for the guys now in the lockerroom that we haven't won there. They've (UNM) been winning, basically every game we've seen them. Now I know a little bit about the history of it. These games are meaningful and I think everybody in the lockerroom is aware of that."

"This is going to be one of the most exciting weeks of the season just because it's back to back rivalries and UTEP got us here last time. All of the rivalry games are meaningful but this week in particular is a big week for the Aggies so I'm looking forward to it."

On The Pit
"It's one of the greatest atmospheres in college basketball, just to be there with the history it has. It's something to be a part of. Since I've been here, we haven't won there so this one is very meaningful."

NMSU senior Wendell McKines:

"This game (Wednesday) is all about heart and who is the best team in New Mexico. It's a challenge."

On the Aggies' 0-4 mark vs. UNM and UTEP last year.
"It's not an option. Whatever it takes to win, we just have to do it. Whatever sacrifices we have to make, we have to do it."

I also got some email feedback from former Aggie standout Justin Hawkins. Hawkins played in big time rivalries at Utah against BYU and he never won at the Pit at either Utah or NMSU

"There isnt much difference between the BYU/Utah rivalry and NMSU/UTEP/UNM rivalry. When I was at Utah BYU and Utah had been tournament teams every year for the past 15 years and they where producing pros. Either guys going to the NBA or guys playing at a high level overseas. BYU's arena is incredible it seats like 22,000 so of coarse it is loud and crazy in there. The schools are also 30 mins apart so that makes the rivalry crazy too.

"The NMSU/UNM/UTEP rivalries are basically the same. The cities are close like with when we play UTEP and with UNM we been battling them for who is the more domminant  team in the state the last couple years. Unfortunatly I haven't been able to actually go to any of those games in the last 4 years but when i was playing the intensity was amazing. UTEP was always a physical team so the games would be really physical and UNM is very skilled and run a great system so the team who can impose their will normally wins.

"The biggest thing that makes rivalry games is the fans though. The fans want to come out and support a team that they feel like has a chance to win every night based of the simple fact that they play hard every night. I think that this years team has all the pieces to sweep UTEP and UNM this year. They have all the physical tools and that have coaches that are going to work very hard to make sure that the team is prepared. I also know that everyone in the NMSU locker room coaches, players, managers, have heart and they are determined to go out and give 100% every night."


————

I also asked Daniel Mullings, Watson and McKines about Friday's opener at UNC.

Mullings: Overall we played well. At the beginning we had a couple bumps. It was my first college game and it was good to get one under my belt. At first I had jitters but playing with my teammates and bringing energy on defense got me going."

Mullings had an unbelievable dunk off a steal in transition, showing both his leaping ability and defensive prowess.

"I think that it got us going. It brought us together and got us going as a collective unit."

Watson:

"We just were getting at them. As coach said, the last 10 minutes they would crack and sure enough they did."

McKines:
McKines had 18 and 10 at UNC, but he only scored 3 points in the second half. I asked him if he noticed anything differently in the second half as far as the offensive end was concerned.

"We are more of a balanced team. the first half, I was scoring a bit more and in the second half, other guys stepped up. It really doesn't matter as long as I come out with the victory. It was obvious that their scouting report was that no matter who is guarding me, when the shot goes up put a body on me."

McKines on junior Bandja Sy, who hit some big 3s in the second half
"Bandja works on those shots. His work  ethic has increased throughout his college career. It's good to finally see him stepping up and playing more of a role."


Monday, November 14, 2011

UNM game is personal for Wendell McKines

I was looking forward to the NMSU/UNM matchup to see Lobos UCLA transfer Drew Gordon play against Aggies senior Wendell McKines.

It turns out, I wasn't the only one.

"I've known Drew since I was 15 years old," McKines said. "He's from San Jose and I'm from Oakland. I've known him, hung out with him. He's a friend of mine so this is definatly personal and definately bragging rights. I'm looking forward to the challenge."

Gordon didn't play against the Aggies last year as he waited to be cleared and McKines was injured.

Both players are double-double machines, who can keep possessions alive on the offensive glass. The question is will we see them play against each other? The UNM front line consists of 6-9 Gordon, 6-9 Aussie Cameron Bairstow and 6-8 AJ Hardeman. Wendell laughed at me when I asked who is going to check Gordon. I had to try. My guess would be to match Wendell up on Hardeman, hopefully saving McKines from getting into foul trouble. That leaves Hamidu Rahman and Chili Nephawe to deal with Gordon.

"I'm welcome to any challenge and I'm sure Hamidu is too," McKines said. "What it all comes down to in defensive effort and it's about rotations and the team aspects of defense. If one person is able to beat us, we are in trouble for the rest of the year."

I don't think Gordon is going to dazzle offensively. He's a hard worker but if his agility poses a problem for NMSU centers, I think sophomore Renaldo Dixon could step in and hopefully be ready to contribute, especially if the game turns into a track meet.

"When you play away, more than likely, you will play at their pace," McKines said. "You have seen us play at Utah State two years ago. We adapt to any situation and can come out victorious."

The Aggies obviously missed McKines last year. It's a different vibe around them this year and it's hard to imagine them going 0-4 against UNM and UTEP this year.

"It's not an option. Whatever it takes to  win, we just have to do it. Whatever sacrifices we have to make, we have to do it."

—————

I spoke with former coach Lou Henson about the rivalry and McKines.

On McKines
"I think he's as good a rebounder as I've ever seen. I don't think I've ever seen a player his size go to the boards like he does."

On UNM
"I think we have a good enough team and I think they can be beaten up there. The Pit will be full. With all of the Big 10 schools that I coached against, they have the same kind of atmosphere at New Mexico. It's a good series and I looked at it just like a conference game. It's important to the fans to do well against those guys, just like it is in football. It's important to be competitive and win some games."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Aggies grind it out

NMSU was clearly the better team in Saturday's 89-75 victory at Northern Colorado. Their depth (eight players played at least 15 minutes) and size (outrebounded UNC 41-27 with 13 offensive rebounds)  simply wore down the Bears. NMSU outscored UNC 31-19 in the last 11:28, shooting a ridiculous 60.7 percent from the floor in the second half.

As someone who watches the Aggies on a regular basis, I must say that it took me about a half to get accustomed to seeing them play straight man-to-man, often for the length of the floor. There were a few times where transition was lax, but forcing 20 turnovers with seven steals (three from Daniel Mullings) is pretty good.

UNC was really bothered by the Aggies' length. At one point, I think McKines was at the top of the full court pressure with Watson and either Sy or Laroche near midcourt. That's pretty tough to see over or dribble through.

If the Aggies cut their turnovers in half, they pull away faster. Christian Kabongo had a tough night in some respects. He led the Aggies with 20 points, was 50 percent from the floor and 10-13 from the foul line, but eight turnovers is concerning for a guy the Aggies will lean on.

I kind of had a feeling that the Bears couldn't sustain their 6 of 9 3 point effort of the first half. UNC was 2-11 from 3 in the second half. GAME OVER.

NMSU was more talented and they should have won. What I liked is that they played solid long enough to prove they had more class than UNC and then pulled away.

They scored in transition and off TOs, but I think they will see a lot of zone this year and will eventually need to win games in the half court. Banda Sy could provide an answer there, but I'm waiting to see if tonight's 13 second half points and 3-4 shooting from 3 will carry over all season. I think the Aggies are a 3-point shooting by committee team, which makes them harder to prepare for. It was Sy's night tonight though, that 3 he hit after UNC made it a four point game with 6 minutes left was a dagger.

Friday, November 11, 2011

NMSU appeals Barry suspension

NMSU freshman Remi Barry will not play on Saturday.
NMSU is appealing a six-game suspension due to Barry’s amateurism status. The suspension stems from Barry receiving benefits unrelated to NMSU staff prior to his arrival in Las Cruces.
The six-game suspension was cut from 12 games to six games. NMSU hopes the suspension is dropped to three or four games and officials hope to receive word prior to the team’s trip to Alaska Nov. 24-26. If the suspension is not reduced, Barry would be eligible to play in the Aggies’ Nov. 29 game against Arizona at the Pan American Center.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Opening thoughts

Here is the story on the Aggies entering the season that is going to be in Thursday's Sun-News. Getting off to a good start is important I think. I also believe it's possible, not only with the schedule but also the fact that NMSU's principle players are finally all on the court entering a season. I don't think that has happened yet under Menzies due to injuries, NCAA, academics or some combination. I'll write more about UNC specifically tomorrow.


Last year for three Aggies
While the return of senior forward Wendell McKines is a major key to the Aggies success and has garnered most of the headlines, Saturday’s game also marks the return of senior center Hamidu Rahman and point guard Hernst Laroche’s 100th consecutive start.
Rahman’s last appearance for the Aggies was for 10 minutes in a 58-54 loss at home to Utah State on March 2. Rahman was limited to 23 games with a torn calf muscle that plagued him all year. Rahman has been a productive player at NMSU. He enters his senior season tied for No. 4 on the career list for blocked shots with 98.
Laroche has been a steady hand at NMSU. He enters his senior season second behind Jonathan Gibson in games played. Gibson leads the list with 131. Laroche is also No. 6 in minutes played with 3,209. Eric Channing is first with 3,783. Laroche could also push for the school record in assists with a productive senior year. Laroche is currently 176 assists behind career leader Sam Crawford, who had 592 assists.
McKines enters the season No. 6 in rebounds with 761. It’s not likely McKines will surpass Sam Lacey’s 1,265 but the senior will likely join Lacey as the only two players at NMSU to record 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.

Super sophs
It’s typical to see the most dramatic improvement from a player’s freshman to sophomore season.
Jonathan Gibson, Jahmar Young, Wendell McKines, Troy Gillenwater, Gordo Castillo and Hamidu Rahman are all players who enjoyed individual success in their second year under head coach Marvin Menzies.
The Aggies hope the trend repeats itself with sophomore guard Christian Kabongo and center Tshilidzi Nephawe this year.
Both players showed promise as freshmen, but each encountered their fair share of growing pains. Nephawe showed a deft shooting touch for a big man, shooting 48 percent from the floor and 76 percent from the foul line. But at 6-foot-10, he averaged just 4.4 rebounds per game in 18.2 minutes of action. Kabongo showed a knack for getting into the paint as a freshman, starting 14 games with 82 assists but his 82 turnovers and 19 percent 3-point shooting jump out as weaknesses he has addressed. Kabongo seemed more confident in his first appearance as a sophomore with 18 points, six rebounds, seven assists and zero turnovers in an exhibition game victory over Eastern New Mexico.
The Aggies would be pleased if Nephawe remains productive offensively while upping his rebounds and Kabongo continues to create opportunities for himself and his teammates while taking better care of the ball.

Off to the races
For numerous reasons, the Aggies haven’t been able to get off to a good start the past four years.
NMSU opens this year on the road at Northern Colorado on Saturday, followed by a Nov. 16 game at rival New Mexico.
Some Aggie teams have been able to recover, some haven’t.
NMSU is 26-32 in November and December the past four years. The Aggies are 4-23 in road games during that time.
NMSU is 2-2 in season openers under head coach Marvin Menzies, beating Louisiana on the road to open last year.
This is the first year that Menzies has had his projected team entering the season opener, making it possible to navigate the early portion of the schedule with a quality record.

Run-and-gun
Eleven Aggies played at least 12 minutes in NMSU’s exhibition game.
While that may not repeat itself, NMSU will ideally play at least 10 players to succeed in a high-pressure, up-tempo style that seems to benefit their personnel this year.
A four-guard rotation of Laroche, Kabongo and freshmen Terrel de Rouen and Daniel Mullings will push the pace. McKines, Tyrone Watson, Bandja Sy and Renaldo Dixon are athletic wings and Hamidu Rahman and Nephawe have to be solid at the center position.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Fuel to UTEP rivalry

Here is some pieces from a story I wrote on a little Twitter war sparked by Wendell McKines after Eastern New Mexico beat UTEP on Thursday night.

"“#UTEP fans betta go hide in Juarez wen #NMSU slide through they just list to a team we beat by 50 .. That’s disgusting if you ask me”
Later, McKines posted, “#UTEP is a disgrace to the southwest .. They should all go to Juarez and hold up signs that say we hate mexican food”
New Mexico State athletics director McKinley Boston said the school does not have a specific policy regarding athletes and social networking sites.
“I’ve never really taken a position on what they choose to do unless it involves alcohol or drugs,” Boston said. “(McKines) is a senior. He’s a thoughtful person. We don’t have a policy to address his words unless it’s in a derogatory nature. Unfortunately it gives fodder to UTEP, but it’s not a big deal to me.”
UTEP fans have noticed.
In response, UTEP fans started a trending topic called #under10wen on Twitter.
Aggies coach Marvin Menzies declined comment as the Aggies prepare for their season opener on Nov. 12 at Northern Colorado.
“Coach would rather not have Wendell give bulletin board material but he’s a very confident player and I don’t see it as any more,” Boston said.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Sim Bhullar and another preseason ranking

The NCAA denied an eligibility waiver on 7-5 freshman center Sim Bhullar. The school appealed the decision and it was denied. As a  non-qualifier, this means that Bhullar will not be able to play until next year. From what I've read and talking to his sister when he came here, that was the plan anyway, but if NMSU was able to get him cleared, it would have been a bonus.

Apparently the NCAA is evaluating the amateurism of  Remi Barry. Barry played in the Aggies' exhibition game on Wednesday, but could miss early games this season.

The 2012 Pomeroy preseason rankings are listed here. Pomeroy ranks the Aggies No. 128 overall. The WAC is ranked No. 13. NMSU is the third ranked WAC team behind Utah State (49) and Nevada (78). Pomery projects Utah State finishing 11-3 in the WAC, Nevada going 10-4 and NMSU finishing 8-6 in league play. Pomeroy had the WAC ranked No. 14 in his final rankings from last year.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Notes from exhibition win

I talked to a lot of people in the offseason. an overwhelming impression I got from fans and people who follow the Aggies closely: If they play hard and beat their rival games at home, people will show up.

That's why I wrote about the need to beat UNM and UTEP at the Pan Am this year. I don't think that's going to be easy, but it's necessary.

The other part is effort. People don't like watching the Aggies play a 2-3 zone, loaf back in transition and shoot 3s. To that end, I was encouraged by what I saw in NMSU's 115-64 win over Eastern New Mexico on Wednesday.

I counted four drawn offensive fouls in the first half before I stopped paying attention to every play so I could work. Other numbers that show you a heavy work ethic: 22 offensive rebounds, nine steals, nine blocks, 23 assists and 25 second chance points, all 11 players played at least 12 minutes and the bench scored 51 points.

Perhaps because they were offensive oriented in the past, Christian Kabongo's ability to guard people and Hernst Laroche's ability to guard people last year got lost. Not the case this year. Add freshman Daniel Mullings (13 points, three assists, four steals, two blocks) and hopefully Terrel de Rouen, and the Aggies have perimeter people who are high energy and fun to watch even if they aren't great offensive scorers or shooters.

Here are some left over postgame quotes.

Christian Kabongo
On guards responsibility playing man to man: "If you are on the wing guarding a guard, you are trying to force him baseline. If you are guarding him in the middle, we don't anyone to go  body to body with us because it really affects us when they go to the middle and basically not let anyone in the paint."

On playing hard: "I think we feed off our energy but it's always a bonus when you feed off the crowd's energy. It's always good to hear people cheering."

CK was able to get to the paint last year, perhaps it was his biggest strength. Against a D2 team, he did it at will.

"It's still a strength. I think I have a shot, but we still have more to prove. This is just an exhibition. As the season goes on, it will show."

On Daniel Mullings
"He's like oxygen. He's everywhere. You beat him, you think he's not there and he's the one getting the block. He is like the energizer bunny."

On if the Aggies can play this way all year:
"We have guards who can guard full court and guards who can push. Wendell can bring it up, Bandja can bring it up. We have been conditioning more. It was the hardest conditioning ever. A lot of people came back early. It was a whole lot of running."

Wendell McKines
On the hustle stats: "Those are things we take pride in. those are things we practice. Those are things we get after each other on. It's onlyright that we show them in the game. I think that is going to be our image."

On Mullings: "He is going to be good. He has a lot of energy, plays hard defense, he's long and athletic. He is going to be good. He is good. And he's only going to get better."

On man-to-man: "We have a lot of pride and we like to man up. We take responsibility for our man and helping our teammate and making our rotations."

Marvin Menzies
Defense: "We have a little bit more in the arsenal but that's the way we would like to play."

On offensive rebounds: "It's an emphasis. We want to try to create those second chance looks. It's one of those things we want to try to create scoring opportunities using our length."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Numbers game

One thing that stands out to me about the men's team is the number of big bodies. While the Aggies were certainly hurt by injuries last year, it's a number's game.

Hamidu Rahman, Chili Nephawe, BJ West, Renaldo Dixon, Wendell McKines, Tyrone Watson, Bandja Sy.

Those are all players who will play either the power forward or center position this year. That's assuming that Sim Bhullar isn't cleared and moved into the rotation.

I asked Marvin Menzies about the likelihood of using a redshirt year on someone. Obviously the exhibition game and practices leading up to the Nov. 12 opener at Northern Colorado can still play a big factor.

"You have to get through the exhibition game and the next few days and then sit down with guys and get a feel for who would want to," Menzies said. "Right now, all of them are looking forward to having a spot. I don't know right now about the 12 who will travel."

I believe that Renaldo Dixon was supposed to redshirt last year. He played a role at times last year and I'm excited about him as a sophomore, but I think a redshirt season could be beneficial to him. You can probably say the exact same thing about BJ West.

"You don't want to redshirt guys who could have helped you," Menzies said. "All of the pieces decide what is best for them but you have to factor in what is going to give you the best chance to win all season long."

What I'm looking for from Wednesday exhibition vs. Eastern

I wrote a story for the paper talking about the Aggies wanting to play together this year. Normally I think that's a cliche or coach speak, but I think this particular NMSU has to truly play together in order to win. By playing together in this case, I think means sharing the ball on offense (because NMSU doesn't have the  type of scorers they've had in the past) and showing that they can play man-to-man defense as  a team for a sustained period of time, something that takes more than just physical ability.

"We want to try to create an aggressive defensive style," Ags head coach Marvin Menzies said.

Menzies said the Aggies hope to play more man-to-man this year, but even if they end up playing zone again, they need to be active on that end of the floors, creating turnovers and easy scoring chances.

So I want to see a decent number of assists and multiple players getting in the scoring column. I know that Wendell McKines, Christian Kabongo and Hernst Laroche will get the bulk of shots but there are three or four additional players that I want to see in the scoring column.

Defensively, I would like to see some turnovers and a low shooting percentage. To me, those numbers would indicate that the Aggies are pressuring teams like they say they want to. The rebounding number will likely be skewed in NMSU's favor against a Division II team. NMSU outrebounded Eastern NM 55-20 last year and rebounding was a team weakness through the year.

Individually, I want to see if Hamidu Rahman has recovered from injury to the  point where he can have a quality senior year. Sophomores CK and Chili need to improve from the first to the second year.

I'm kind of excited about the potential lineup of Hernst Laroche, Christian Kabongo, Daniel Mullings, Wendell McKines and either center. I don't know if I like it as a starting lineup because I think Tyrone Watson is a proven player and Mullings isn't enough of a shooter to surpass him, but that lineup is a high flying lineup with the potential to drive guards crazy.

One thing we will not see, as of Monday at least, is freshman Terrel de Rouen (ankle) or (likely) Sim  Bhullar. Bhullar's waiver to the NCAA was denied last week so he's not able to practice. NMSU submitted an appeal for his initial eligibility. That could be determined later this week.