I think the Aggies can win this game on the road, but I'm not as confident as I was for the road game last year. Let me refresh your memory. UTEP point guard, then junior Jacques Streeter, denied Wendell McKines the ball in a box-and-1 defense. Meanwhile, the Miners were red hot offensively, hitting 11 of 14 for a 24-6 lead with 13 minutes left in the first half. McKines didn't attempt a field goal in the first half and finished with 4 points. NMSU took McKines out of the game, started making shots and actually led by five with 7 minutes left but UTEP outscored NMSU 10-4 in the last four minutes.
Patience offensively: The Aggies don't have a single player capable of scoring like McKines this year, so I'm not sure if the Aggies will see a box and 1 or triangle and 2 at least to start the game. But the Miners do want an ugly game and a slow game in the 50s so NMSU will have to score somehow in the half court. The way NMSU has done that and likes to do that are get the ball inside, drive to the rim, grab offensive rebounds or get to the foul line. One thing I noticed is that the Miners are allowing teams to shoot 49 percent from 3-point range, so they are giving up open looks. We will see if NMSU can knock them down. Turnovers also play a role in patience offensively. Against Louisiana, the Aggies guards were in such a hurry to push the ball that they often gave it away before they even got to half court. NMSU post players are also giving the ball away. NMSU has had recent 24 and 26 turnover games. That number has to fall back down to around 14 to win.
Marvin Menzies on UTEP defensively:
"Tim will do that even to who is hot that game. If you have a guy who is scoring really well, even if it's not a prolific scorer but if he gets going in that game, Tim will match up with that guy. ... You just have to understand what your advantages are spacing wise as far as getting high percentage shots against that type of defense. A lot of people call them junk defenses, but if you can perfect a junk defense and I think Tim has done that. ... It's something to prepare for. You don't want to get too far off what you do but you have to be aware that it can get your team out of sync if you're not ready for it."
Defend and rebound: Two things the Aggies have done well for the better part of the last two seasons. I was happy to see NMSU center Tshilidzi Nephawe with double-doubles against the Aggies last two Division I opponents but the level and size of competition picks up again pretty much for the rest of the season and I think Nephawe has to at least maintain his 6.2 rpg if not increase it for the Aggies to be successful. UTEP sophomore Cedrick Lang is 6-9 and has started at the four all season. The surprise to me has been 6-10 junior John Bohannon, who leads the team with 10 ppg and 60 percent from the field. UTEP also has 6-8 freshman Chris Washburn coming off the bench. UTEP hasn't caught fire from long distance yet and the Aggies need to keep that trend going. I think NMSU has length on the perimeter to accomplish that against Streeter, Washburn and Ragland.
Quick start: As noted above, a slow start killed the Aggies last year. Obviously you don't want to fall behind on the road, but I think especially against a team that appears to lack confidence/weapons offensively at this point in the season, if the Aggies play their game, get the rebound, get some transition and putbacks, they could put early pressure on the Miners and make a limited offensive team have to play catch up.
Matchups to watch:
PG —Jacques Streeter vs. KC Ross-Miller, Terrel de Rouen
Menzies: "They've got a senior and we have two sophomores still trying to find themselves a little bit that are improving."
Wing — Bandja Sy vs. Julian Washburn — Washburn is a 6-7 sophomore who is averaging under 10 ppg and shooting 11 percent from 3 point range. Sy is 6-8 and was also off to a slow start offensively. Smaller players have bothered Bandja, but this is a matchup he could potentially succeed in.
Menzies: "Julian, I think is a phenomenal defender. They are both long athletic guys with pretty good midrange games. Hopefully we will have an edge there with experience but we are on the road."
UTEP's Gabriel McCulley was a marginal player who looked like Kevin Garnett last year against the Aggies. He's gone and NMSU has some decent matchups if Nephawe and Sy play as well as I think they can. I think NMSU can win and I picked them to lose this game going into the season. With or without Daniel Mullings, I think NMSU gets a lead early and holds on for a 65-60 victory on the road.