The New Mexico State men’s basketball coaching staff is extremely familiar with San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher. The Aggies were seeded No. 13 in the Midwest Region and will take on No. 4 SDSU on Thursday at Veterans Memorial Arena in Spokane, Wash. The Aztecs are 29-4 this season and ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press poll.
“It’s going to be crazy,” said Menzies, whose Aggies finished 26-9 and won their third consecutive Western Athletic Conference Tournament championship on Saturday. “I have already texted him. It’s like playing someone in your own family, we are that close. It’s going to be bittersweet either way. We will put that aside and do the best we can do.”
Menzies was an assistant under Fisher from 1999-2003 at San Diego State. First-year NMSU assistant coach Aerik Sanders played for Fisher at SDSU from 1999-2003.
“That should help us a little bit but this is going to be about players that night,” Menzies said.
Sanders joined the Aggies this season after one year at Montana State. Prior to that, Sanders ran the Sanders Sports Academy, where he developed relationships some of the Aztecs current players, including standout guard Xavier Thames. It was Fisher who helped Sanders break into the coaching business after his playing career.
In January, Sanders predicted a NMSU/San Diego State match up in March.
“When I was doing the Skills Academy, I was still volunteering and working out with a lot of those guys,” Sanders said. “I text with (Thames) and am kind of like a big brother to him. I texted him two or three weeks ago and said, ‘Don’t be surprised if we play you guys.’”
San Diego State is among the teams that Menzies follows throughout the season. At the school’s watch party on Sunday, Menzies said he has watched San Diego State at least eight times.
“They are, in my opinion, the best defensive team in the country,” Menzies said. “They are going to do a lot of things similar to what we do with ball screens and post defense.”
San Diego State lost to the Aggies in-state rival New Mexico twice this season, including in Saturday’s Mountain West championship game. NMSU and UNM split their two-game series in the Aggies non-conference schedule.
Watching the Aztecs on television and comparing common opponents is fine, but stepping on the court with them is a different story. But it apears, on paper, that it could be a low-scoring game with two good defensive teams.
Sanders compared San Diego State to Arizona, by far the best defensive team the Aggies have played this season.
“We have the size advantage so they will try to be scrappy and pressure,” Sanders said. “They have all 6-7, 6-8 athletes from shooting guard all the way to the center. They are going to trap, full court pres and obviously get up and down the court.”
Like they have all season, the Aggies have a size advantage against the Aztecs with sophomore center Sim Bhullar and junior center Tshilidzi Nephawe in the paint.
“I feel like everyone is ready,” Nephawe said. “(Following Saturday’s victory in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament championship), nobody really went out and just make sure that we all have legs and are ready for the Tournament. We were still happy but more just thinking ahead.”
Menzies makes his fourth NCAA Tournament appearance and his team enters the tournament as a No. 13 seed for the third time. The Aggies were a No. 12 seed the last time they were in Spokane, losing a Midwest Regional to eventual Final Four participant Michigan State.
“No matter what, we are going to play a great basketball team but upsets happen every year so it’s definitely our goal to beat them and we think that’s possible for us,” Aggies senior guard Kevin Aronis said.