Avoiding a letdown — Expectations are certainly high for New Mexico State coming off a 22-12 season and a Western Athletic Conference tournament championship last year. NMSU returns three starters in addition to their top two players off the bench from last year’s team that was even with Michigan State in rebounding in a 70-67 first-round loss in Spokane, Wash. The Aggies have a challenging schedule, but 20 wins and another run at the NCAA Tournament are realistic goals entering 2010-11.
Replacing Gibson and Young — Losing guards Jahmar Young (declared for NBA after junior year) and Jonathan Gibson (graduated) and their 37.8 points per game will no doubt change the Aggies’ style of play. New Mexico State basketball fans have become accustomed to an up-tempo style of play that put a premium on 3-point shooting. But this year, the Aggies’ most experienced and talented players are all in the frontcourt — Wendell McKines, Hamidu Rahman and Troy Gillenwater. Without a true wing, NMSU will certainly look inside more than the past three seasons. The Aggies roster appears to be versatile enough to defend in multiple styles. With McKines, Rahman and Gillenwater on the back of the Aggies matchup zone gives NMSU lenghth that few teams on their schedule will match. NMSU has players to come off the bench with the athleticism to play man-to-man and pressure full court as well.
Emergence of young players — While New Mexico State’s strength this season is its interior play, returning one of the top point guards in the WAC in junior Hernst Laroche doesn’t hurt. The Aggies will need two or three younger players to emerge as the season unfolds. The Aggies have high hopes for freshman guard Christian Kabongo to be productive in the backcourt. Sophomore forwards Tyrone Watson and Bandja Sy showed potential as freshmen and can each play multiple positions. Someone will have to mature this year for depth purposes.
Diluted talent pool in the WAC — Nine of the top 10 leading scorers and six of the top 10 rebounders from a year ago are out of the league. While it opens opportunties for other players to step in, experience could determine the league champion and most likely, the lone representative in the Big Dance. New Mexico State and Utah State return the most experienced players in the league and will most likely fight to represent the WAC in the tournament.
Menzies team — Gordo Castillo is the lone player remaining who was recruited by former coach Reggie Theus. And it was Menzies who brought Castillo back after Theus planned to send Castillo to prep school. The rest of the roster is comprised entirely of Menzies recruits for the first time in his four years at NMSU and he has the full compliment of 13 scholarships for the first time in two years. Menzies has continued to search the globe (the Aggie have two players from Senegal, four from Canada, one from South Africa and one from France this year) for players, opting to forego the junior college or Division I transfer route in favor of developing young players. So far, so good, as Menzies is 60-41 at NMSU with a WAC regular season title and and a WAC tournament win last year.
The 'pass the ball down low' offensive strategy you describe seems right on and needed. But it requires good coaching. This year will be the biggest challenge for Menzies in terms of strategy and execution coaching, because the talent lends itself to a specific strategy. You can't just go balls out, you have to play a certain way to play to your strengths. The good news, it seems, is that it also may be his best opportunity to reach guys and get them to buy in and execute. It seems most of the (questionable) characters are gone now. This just might be the year Menzies gets WAC COY.
What do you think?
Good stuff JG.
I like the Aggies chances this year not only because of the returning talent down low, but also the lack of distractions.
It looks as though the Aggies will have a full roster at the beginning of this season. The last couple years have seen academic and legal issues which seem to be in the rearview. This gives the Aggies a chance to make some early noise to position themselves for a possible at-large bid if they fall in Vegas.
One player that I am excited about, but doesn't seem to be making any noise is BJ West. If I recall correctly, he was a recruit that LSU ended up not wanting to risk the grades liability on. But I understood that on the court he was a high major player for sure. I think ESPN had graded him in the 90s. Are we off base with expectations on him, or has he just not jelled with Menzies?
I think either him or Sy will need to play tough minutes at the 3/4 behind McKines in order for this team to compete. Depth will be the biggest key in my opinion.
Gibson's senior year he started playing within Menzie's scheme on limited, yet ample minutes. JY's absence frees up 36 mins + per game to let the other guys play within the system. He could draw a crowd and should have had a lot more assists but lots of the unexpected NBA no-looks only led to free transition lay-ups for the opponents, keeping the games too close for comfort. Then what did JY have left in the tank a crunch time? Anyway the pound it down low with some attention to rebounding is a tried and true formula for UTags and definitely fits NMSU's personnel.
Clarification, please. What are limited, but ample minutes? Also, though I agree JY had his weaknesses (hopefully opposing wings won't be averaging 25 against us this year), crunch time play was not one of them, and his ability to create a pretty good shot and make it at the end of the game (Hawaii, WAC semis) will be the thing we miss most.
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