I remember talking to NMSU players following last year's first-round loss to Indiana. It seemed like the Aggies were depending on getting to the foul line against the Hoosiers. Afterall, the Aggies were among the nation's leaders in free throw attempts. Only problem was that NMSU wasn't playing with WAC refs anymore. NCAA games are called differently for whatever reason. Perhaps some are coming from a more physical league, more experience in the Tournament. But NMSU attempted just 10 free throws against Indiana.
Indiana was also ready for Wendell McKines, as the dominant offensive force on the Aggies. A year later and I believe this team is more balanced offensively while still doing the things that got NMSU into the tournament last year.
"You have to play harder, play stronger, make stronger moves because they are not going to call everything and we know that," Aggies senior Bandja Sy said. "They let us play."
Not that the Aggies shy away from a physical game, but they won't get calls and now they know this going in. Not to mention, St. Louis has been described as a very physical basketball team.
Sy and Daniel Mullings both said the Aggies can't afford to get off to a slow start again.
"They jumped out on us early before we kind of adjusted," Mullings said.
This year's Aggies are less reliant on the free throw line this season, and more balanced offensively.
"A lot of that has to do with a lot of the starters that went down at the beginning of the season because we have a lot of depth at a lot of positions," Mullings said.
The Aggies defend and rebound well enough to keep them in any game. They aren't as reliant on getting to the foul line as they were a year ago and more players are capable of contributing. NMSU seems to have improved in areas of weakness from last year's tournament team.