Perhaps the biggest challenge facing New Mexico State entering Saturday's final is that it has been more than a month since the Aggies played Louisiana Tech, the hottest team in the WAC right now. Although the Aggies swept the season series, this isn't the same team.
"Their personnel is the same, and they are not doing a lot differently offensively, but they are doing it better," Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said.
Louisiana Tech's run to Saturday's WAC Tourney final against New Mexico State has been quite impressive, although somewhat surprising.
The Bulldogs, under first-year coach Mike White, beat arguably the WAC's two top programs. After beating defending champion Utah State on Thursday, Louisiana Tech upended top seeded Nevada 78-73 in Friday's late semifinal.
Yet Menzies wasn't surprised.
"I told people that if they continued to gel, they would be a force to be reckoned with in the tournament and here they are in the final," Menzies said.
Louisiana Tech led by 15 in the first half, by 3 at the half after shooting 8-10 from 3-point range in the first half. White said the Bulldogs have increased their 3-point shooting selection as the season has progressed. They have certainly been hot this week, shooting 16-for-31 (52 percent) from 3-point range in Vegas. Louisiana Tech finished 8-14 from 3 point range for the game.
NMSU has been very good against the 3-point line this year, but La. Tech has a player in freshman guard Raheem Appleby, who hit the Aggies for 30 in Las Cruces. The matchup between the guards is exciting to me. Louisiana Tech point guard Kenneth Smith reminds me of Daniel Mullings as far as his speed and quickness. White called him Speedy in the press conference. NMSU will have to guard against penetration because Speedy, Trevor Gaskins can get to the paint and Hawaii's Shaquille Stokes had some success on penetration on Friday.
On paper, the Aggies' size is the most obvious advantage. It's formidable against the Top tier teams. Against a guard oriented team like La. Tech, it's magnified even more. Yet Louisiana Tech is one of five teams this year to outrebound the Aggies. La. Tech did it 44-42 in Ruston.
That makes NMSU's center play important again. I think Chili Nephawe had his best game of the season on Friday. And Menzies said it was good to see since Hamidu Rahman wasn't effective on Friday, but did have a good game on Thursday.
Turnovers are also a key against La. Tech. Louisiana Tech pressures full court. They did it to NMSu in Ruston and forced 20 turnovers.
"They have done it before, but they are more efficient," Menzies said. "They play effective man defense but the guard play has really improved."
It's not the final that myself, or many probably wanted to see. But perhaps the final features the two teams who are playing the best right now.