New Mexico State is 1-1 in its last two games, scoring 60 points in a loss to Nevada and a win over Fresno State.
Three games ago, the Aggies scored 87 points in a four-point loss at Hawaii. So what is the ideal pace for this team, which seems to have leveled off a bit from an offensive standpoint.
"We just want to run all day," NMSU junior wing Tyrone Watson said. "We emphasize not running a set or offense. We just want to get the ball and go. If we can score off the fastbreak or transition. I think we let a lot of outside things get to us. Just the fact that we are playing in big games. We kind of fear our opponents a little bit too much and don't play our necessary defense. We don't emphasize it enough to each other, player to player."
Opposing teams have been able to dictate tempo to the Aggies recently, forcing NMSU to play from behind.
"That's how things have shaken out lately. It's tough to play how we want to play when they aren't playing that way. It's hard to force them to play that way when they are playing 3-4-5 different defenses a game," Watson said.
Offensively, it all starts outside, where the Aggies are shooting 28 percent from 3-point range in the WAC. We all knew coming into the season the Aggies weren't going to be a great shooting team. But for whatever reason, the Aggies aren't converting offensive rebounds, opposing turnovers or chances at the free throw line (at least against Fresno State, where NMSU was 7-18) into offense.
NMSU got back into the Hawaii loss and the Nevada loss by increasing the pressure.
"That's our style of play, getting turnovers and forcing them to take quick shots," Watson said. "We are waiting for them to make mistakes but if people are making shots, it's tough to do so we have to just grind it out."
I understand that NMSU doesn't have depth across the board to be able to play that way for an entire game, but I also think NMSU could have pulled away from Fresno earlier by extending their pressure early and then banging away at them on the interior. My first thought, and I doubt that coaches would talk about it, is that the Aggies are saving certain things in the arsenal for the second round through WAC play. Saving legs, saving certain looks.
"I don't know if we have that luxury anymore without the depth that we had earlier in the year," NMSU coach Marvin Menzies said. "Having the two guards out who were quick defenders who could score in the open court. We will still push when we can and look to do that. The full court pressure back to man to man, I think we will have to mix some things up and do some things a little differently and play to our strengths. We still have to make shots. We are trying to pound the ball inside and take advantage of our physical size."
In the meantime, NMSU is facing some variation of zone defense every night, clogging the paint and taking away the drive for players who thrive on it like Watson and Daniel Mullings.
"We add stuff game to game, day to day according to how teams play us," Watson said. "Practicing that stuff has helped. Seeing film and the open spots and how we can be more effective rather than taking early outside shots. When they back down and give us shots, you want to shoot the ball. They are just baiting you. I think we have seen all the defenses that is in basketball so I don't think anything else is going to surprise us."
The Aggies are shooting the ball 46 percent from the field for the season and Wendell McKines (35 percent from 3) and Hernst Laroche (44 percent from 3) are actually decent options from outside. The Aggies need at least one more guy who needs to heat up from here on out.
"I say we have to shoot the ball and that's a given," Menzies said. "The other thing is the free throw line and the turnovers. There are other areas we can shore up I think to give ourselves an advantage."
I asked about Remi Barry on Tuesday, who seems to have taken steps to be able to contribute. Another option is Bandja Sy, who is streaky at best, but is on a downward trend at the moment, shooting 0-10 from 3 prior to the Hawaii game (3-6) and is 1-8 since. The flip side to Sy, is he is much better defensively than Barry at this point.
"Remi still has a ways to go," Menzies said. "He's out of place a lot and is still getting familiar to the system. ... He's getting there. He's not to that point yet where he has a total comfort level but it's coming. I've always said that if he can get on a roll of being consistent of going hard in practice, in the classroom, and get that discipline going, he could be somebody maybe we could look to in the second round of league games. ... There is no doubt. He is in the mix now. We are going to look to, like Tyrone, Bandja, Mullings. Which is good. He's another weapon. The underclassmen are kind of an x factor for us and I think maybe the driving force of how far we go."
To their credit, the Aggies have remained solid defensively, which will keep them in games. But it's hard to count on their ability to win close games when the reality, a lack of offense recently has made some games closer than they should have been.