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.