Sunday's season opener at Oregon State on ESPNU is a winnable game, it should be a close game and a win on the road could be significant later down the road. We know that the WAC is a one-bid league, but winning games like Sunday against a Pac 12 school could be the difference between a 14 seed or a 12 seed if OSU have a successful season. NMSU could also use a win over a power conference — it hasn't happened since they beat Colorado at home in 2002. Oregon State was picked to finish eighth in the Pac 12 but it's behind the likes of Top 25 teams Arizona and UCLA picked at the top.
NMSU was one of the best rebounding teams in the country last year. In an exhibition game win over Lewis and Clark, Oregon State was out rebounded 41-36 with 18 offensive rebounds against them. Oregon State does have some size with two 6-8 players and two at 6-10 that all seem to be in the rotation, although senior Angus Brandt was second on the team last year in 3-pointers attempted and looks like a player more comfortable facing the basket. NMSU has struggled keeping undersized players off the glass (think last year's Southern Miss team) Oregon State has a couple players that fit that description, namely 6-10 UTEP transfer Eric Moreland and 6-7, 295 pound senior Joe Burton. Everyone thinks the Aggies are going to be more versatile offensively, but their bread and butter is still going be defense, the inside game, getting to the foul line and offensive rebounding. If Lewis and Clark got to the offensive glass and the Aggies ranked 10th nationally last year with 14 offensive rebounds per game, it could be a source of easy buckets for NMSU.
Pace of play
Oregon State led the Pac 12 in scoring last year with 79 points per game. The Beavers will get out and run with the Aggies, who averaged 78 points per game last year. Which team can get stops though and who will win the turnover battle? NMSU held opponents to 68 points last year and 33 percent shooting from 3-point range. Oregon State gave up 72 points per game last year. If the game is played in the mid to high 70s, there are going to be turnovers. 14 turnovers is a good number for both teams, a big increase in that number will likely be the losing team.
Oregon State has four starters back and a sixth man at guard who steps into the starting lineup and Sunday will be the Beavers second game at home as they host Niagra on Friday. OSU has a game against a future NMSU opponent on Friday while the Aggies will be breaking in a new rotation for the first time on the road against a team playing its second game. Tough situation.
On the court, NMSU has two starters returning but Chili Nephawe and Bandja Sy played starter minutes last year. The Beavers have a certain experience edge at the point guard position, where junior Ahmad Starks is a two year starter going against an unproved player at the point guard spot for the Aggies. Starks is 5-9 and the leading returning scorer at 12.1 ppg while shooting 37 percent from 3-point range. Teaming with Starks in the backcourt is Roberto Nelson, who averaged 9 ppg while shooting 35 percent from 3. NMSU has guards to defend Oregon State, but the point guard position is unproven at NMSU.
I think NMSU can win this game, but it's hard to pick a new Aggies team to go on the road against a good opponent in their first game. Especially since OSU have Niagra Friday to work out kinks and OSU had the benefit of a Euro tour in the offseason. Also looking for how the NMSU centers play defense against some versatile bigs with some size as well.
Oregon State 80, New Mexico State 75