I asked Craig Neal what he thought about the NMSU/UNM rivalry as the now head coach. He said all the right things, but I thought it was interesting that when he came with Steve Alford from Iowa, they were already used to having rivalry games placed on the schedule every year.
"I think the programs have both been in good shape the past six years," Neal said. "It's two really hard games every year against an in state rival so it hasn't really bothered me. When we were at Illinois, we had three rivalry games every year against Iowa State, Northern Illinois and Drake and it would rotate where we played them."
From a series standpoint, the fact that New Mexico has won five straight at the Pan Am sticks out to me more than the three straight Lobos victories or 10 of the last 11. The lone Aggie win was an impressive victory at The Pit in 2011.
I think with the makeup of the two teams this particular season, the Aggies have a better chance than recent years of catching the Lobos before they really get rolling.
It's going to be tough, but the Aggies win 86-83
Transition defense: NMSU is an excellent defensive team, but the Aggies simply aren't a great transition team simply because opposing teams try to beat Sim Bhullar and Chili Nephawe up and down the court. The Lobos have big men capable of outrunning the Aggies with Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow. Kendall Williams also doesn't mind leaking out and getting the Lobos fastbreak going. It's an approach that Neal brought with him when he took over. He said he hopes for between 70-75 possessions per game.
"We haven't changed much defensively, we still have the same principles but there are more possessions in a game so we are giving up more possessions," Neal said. "We are giving up 8-10 more foul shots this year so we are trying to work on that. I just think that last year, we had droughts where we wouldn't score a field goal for seven minutes. We wanted to free guys up and with guys we had coming back, we trust that they would make good decisions."
It makes it more important for the Aggies guards to not take bad shots or turn the ball over, something they did 21 times on Saturday at Colorado State.
Offensive rebounding: The Aggies are giving up 12 offensive rebounds per game and 17 per game the last two games,. taking away from the advantage that NMSU's 12 offensive rebounds should create. The Lobos average 14 offensive rebounds per game. Aggies lose their advantages as a good defensive and rebounding team when the other team gets that many more field goal attempts off misses.
Go inside early and often: The Lobos are the only team that they play this year where neither team will adjust their lineups. Both teams have two post players who occupy the paint. I have a feeling that either Nephawe or Bairstow foul out of this game, but it wouldnt hurt for Bhullar to be aggressive early on against Kirk in the post because Kirk causes so many problems as a shooter from 3 and around the basket. Bairstow is also aggressive offensively putting the ball on the ground or shooting the mid range jumper but he is prone to foul trouble.
Three point line: I expect both teams to play some zone defense tonight to protect their post players from getting into foul trouble. UNM shoots 6-20 from 3-point range but they are giving up 8 3s per game. Making another 10 3s like they did against Colorado State is asking a lot, but NMSU should be fine if they match their 4 3s per game and keep the Lobos around four or five.