Saturday, December 31, 2011

Moving forward

There was certainly plenty of speculation after NMSU sophomores Renaldo Dixon and Christian Kabongo weren't part of Saturday's 81-65 victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The school's official stance at this point is this:

“It was a personal coach’s decision,” Aggies head coach Marvin Menzies said during his post game radio interview. “We’re going to assess it going forward and that’s where we were tonight.”

I think it leaves it open to speculation at that point. There is a sense that the team will be better off without Kabongo. I tend to agree, at least from an offensive standpoint and chemistry wise. I also think the Aggies have players capable of stepping up. The Aggies had 13 assists on 26 makes on Saturday and played primarily through McKines, who was open early and often at the high post against a zone and left to make a pass to either wing, dump it down low or make a move on his own. I asked McKines in an earlier conversation if the team was working on things to get him the ball in spots on the floor where he wanted it. 

After telling me that it's a better question for the head coach, McKines said, "I've noticed some plays where I can be successful but everything is still within the system. Whenever coach feels the need to call a particular set or play, he is going to do it. He's been doing a great job so far. It's our best preseason record we've had since I've been here. We are just looking to improve on everything."

Two things CK does well were defend and get to the foul line, where he is the best shooter at 82 percent. He is good at getting to the paint, but he has a team high 46 turnovers on the year. He is a big part of the offense in terms of touching the ball 28 percent of the plays while he's on the floor. McKines is second at 27 percent and Hamidu Rahman is third at 20 percent. 

I think a key player here moving forward regardless of Kabongo is Hernst Laroche. Laroche is involved in 17 percent of the team's play when he's on the court and he's on the court a lot. Laroche showed flashes of what he's capable of on Saturday. Laroche had 15 points, 7 rebounds and fours assists with one turnover. He was 5-8 from the floor and seemed more aggressive getting to the basket.

"I'm a senior and it's my last year," Laroche said. "I know how it feels. I just take it a game at a time."

Daniel Mullings backed up Laroche at the point although Laroche played 35 minutes. Mullings was 3-10 but he hit both of his 3s for the Aggies, who were 7-16 from long range after 1-14 against UNM. Mullings had 11 points, one asst, three turnovers, two blocks and a steal. 

"He did a good job," Laroche said. "He ran the team and got us into our offense. I think he is learning the position so that's good."

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Aggies commentary

My column following NMSU's 89-69 loss to UNM. Yes, 89-69 is my final answer. The unofficial stats and the Pan Am scoreboard said 89-69. The official stats said 89-67. NMSU later changed the score back to 89-69. The official stats took away a field goal from Aggies guard Christian Kabongo. Kabongo was officially 3-for-15 for eight points.

Is this Aggies team the 4-0 club that started the season or the team that has gone 4-5 since?
New Mexico State basketball fans showed up in droves to see for themselves on Wednesday night. They left shaking their heads, badgering their own players from the stands and questioning the head coach.
Was Wednesday’s 89-69 home loss to New Mexico an aberration or the product of an off night? It’s starting to appear as if the Aggies’ 4-0 start is the aberration.
“Every season is a journey,” New Mexico State senior Wendell McKines said. “We are just in a little bump in the road right now. We are looking forward to playing our best basketball in March and we still have a ways to go. We will be fine.”
Of course, McKines is right.
It is a long season and there is plenty of time for the Aggies to revert back to the defensive-oriented team that beat the Lobos at the Pit and nearly beat Arizona at home.
It needs to happen soon.
The Aggies open Western Athletic Conference on Jan. 7, 2012 at Louisiana Tech, home against Utah State (Jan. 12) and Idaho (Jan. 14) and at San Jose State (Jan. 19) and at Hawaii on Jan. 21.
At first, I thought the Aggies could open WAC play 4-1 at worst with a possible loss at Hawaii.
After what I saw on Wednesday and in a Dec. 11 loss at UTEP, I’m not so sure.
UTEP bolted out to an early lead in a 73-69 victory in El Paso.
UNM did the same, leading virtually wire-to-wire and ending the game early with superior ball movement, defense, and a deft shooting touch that the Aggies are not capable of at this point.
The Lobos could have won by 40. Making 12 3-pointers certainly helped their cause, but the Lobos ran circles around the Aggies with simple pick-and-roll basketball that led to wide open looks from all over the court.
It was stark contrast to the Aggies’ pressure on and off the ball in their 62-53 victory in Albuquerque that seems like a lifetime ago now.
“The defense of the ball screen wasn’t bad, it was the rotations off the ball, which we went over, and over, and over,” Aggies head coach Marvin Menzies said. “Yet we still did not execute it very well.”
NMSU had 17 assists in Albuquerque. The Aggies’ had eight on 22 makes on Wednesday.
“We were bad on both sides of the ball and when you play like that against a good team, you don’t have a chance,” Menzies said. “Against a very good team, you have to bring your ‘A’ game and we brought our ‘C’ game.”
With a shortened WAC schedule this year after Boise State’s departure, NMSU simply can’t afford to let games get away from them either early or in the final result.
The Aggies have historically lost a conference road game they shouldn’t somewhere along the line. With Nevada, Utah State and Hawaii playing well, sweeping all three also seems unlikely.
NMSU can still achieve its goals come WAC time.
But if the last two games against legitimate competition are any indication, don’t book your NCAA Tournament tickets just yet.

Jason Groves can be reached at (575) 541-5459. Follow him on Twitter @jpgroves.

UNM thoughts and postgame comments

It seems like I've seen this over and over the past four plus years. The Aggies have a big game at home. A game that seems like they can win, and they blow it. It's not even always the Lobos. The fact is that with a shortened WAC schedule, NMSU can't afford to not show up on a night and explain it away by saying that more important things are ahead. One bad loss in conference play and the top seed is gone. Drop two games to teams they should probably beat and they could easily be looking at a No. 4 seed.

UNM could have won by 40. And they are right, conference play matters most. But NMSU fans will not be happy after Wednesday's result and I think they have more right than ever. They actually showed up, filled the Pan Am to near its current capacity and had nothing to cheer for for most of the game as UNM took the lead for good less than eight minutes in.

NMSU fell to 2-2 against rivals on the season. Normally a respectable result. But after the way they lost on Wednesday, 89-67, it's hard to take anything positive from this game. The last two games where the Aggies played a decent team, they were taken out of the game immediately. On Wednesday, we saw what happens if NMSU can't battle back or play the in-your-face defense they did early on. Against UTEP, I thought it was the players. NMSU's lack of improvement from the first game vs. the Lobos until now was evident on Wednesday and that has to be on the head coach. You have to figure UNM would shoot the ball better and I figured they would make some shots, but 12 3s was remarkable.

3-point makes were probably the difference and Wendell McKines and Hamidu Rahman were very good. UNM's guards outscored NMSU guards 53-20. ... UNM had 19 assists on 30 makes, NMSU had 8 assists on 22 makes. ... Everything else was even, except the 3s. The game proved that NMSU, although they have been good in the second half, is not a good come from behind team. They just aren't built that way this year. 1-14 from 3s and 8-31 from the field in the first half are difficult for this group to recover from. It can get bad in a hurry and it got away from them on Wednesday.

Steve Alford
"This was a barometer game for us. I'm really proud of my team. We have gone 6-1 away from home. You do that in non conference and you have done good things. Our team has gotten better. It's something we are proud of. ... Our ceiling has been big because we had not shot it particularly well. Offensively we are just now starting to get into rhythm. We had 19 assists on 30 goals so we are sharing the ball. We are competing hard but now we are starting to make some 3-point shots. ... We have really guarded, and I think that was the thing tonight."

On ball screens (I've written here that the NMSU centers don't do a good job against ball screens and the Lobos went at them a lot. It put pressure on the rest of the defense.  It led to wide open shots, which the Lobos knocked down.)
"That's always been a big part of what we do. Sometimes we have been big-big. Now we are more of a pick and roll team and the guys have gotten more familiar with that and that part of our offense has really improved since the first time we played."

On the Aggies
"This is a very good team and they aren't going to lose a lot of games at home. I think Arizona was the only other team to beat them in here. For us to lead almost start to finish says a lot about where our team has come from."

Going inside
"In the first game, we didn't finish anything inside. In this game, we really finished well. When Drew plays the way he did tonight, we are a much better basketball team. The other guys fed off that."

"From the first time we played, our drive and kick game has got better. I didn't like our spacing in the first game. the guys have really worked hard at finding daylight. That's easier for the guy that is driving to see. I think that part of our offense has really gotten better and now we are taking open 3s instead of tough 3s. Now we are getting really good looks."

Wendell McKines
On the Lobos
"They attacked us. They had much more energy than last time and a lot more urgency and they shot the ball. Wow. That's the best 3-point shooting I've seen in the Pan Am since I've been here."

State of the Aggies after loss
"At the end of the day, this is what we do. We are not going to lose our confidence. If we lose our confidence, we may as well not suit up. Every season is a journey. We are just in a little bump in the road right now. We are looking forward to playing our best basketball in March and we still have a ways to go. We will be fine."

On the Lobos shooting
"Just have to think about the next play. You can't let it get you down. If that's in your head, them making three points is not only three points, but it's your points the next play down. You have to keep playing. You just have to give them credit for making their shots and try to defend the 3-pointer better."

On the Lobos and Aggies since the first meeting
"They seemed a lot more crisp. They seemed like they are playing more within themselves. It seemed like everybody knows their roles on the team. They looked like what they were predicted to be at the top of the Mountain West. You have to give them all the credit. ... They shot the 3-point ball very well in the first half and it dug us in a hole that was very tough to get out of. Hats off to New Mexico. As far as us, we have to go back to the drawing board and get back to what we do. We can't let this get us down. On to the next one. This is a long season. We can't let one loss dictate the rest of the season."

Marvin Menzies
"I'm glad the rivalry games are over. That's for sure. The Lobos shot the lights out tonight. It was one of those things where we had no answer for the 3 ball. We go 1 for 14, they go 12 for 24 and thats pretty much the story of the game. There are things that we did well and things they did well but at the end of the day, that was the point differential that was the story of the game. 21 points is far too much to climb when you have that type of a team."

"At the end of the day, we beat them there, they clobbered us here. It's frustrating to have such a good crowd and not being able to perform better is what is probably the most frustrating thing. I don't think we will shoot that bad again from the 3 point line but it came at a very inopportune time."

"If you can shoot the 3 ball, then coming back is always a possibility. When we shoot it like we did tonight, it's not a possibility. We had guys air balling 3s tonight.  That's just a matter of getting in the gym, getting more reps. Having a higher level of concentration. Not being frustrated when things don't go our way."

On defending ball screens
"The defense of the ball screen wasn't bad, it was the rotations off the ball, which we went over, and over, and over. Yet we still did not execute it very well. That one was baffling. I have to look at the film on that."

"Players have to play. I feel like we knew who we were facing. They have improved and we haven't improved as much as they have. They shot the ball much better than we did.
we didn't play very well offensively down there but I thought we took them out of some things and I thought we did some things well defensively to help us get over the top but unfortunatly, we didn't do either tonight. We were bad on both sides of the ball and when you play like that against a good team, you don't have a chance. ... Against a very good team, you have to bring your A game and we brought our C game."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

UNM game thread/prediction

Hopefully you can post your pregame predictions and thoughts and postgame reaction here.

First of all, I picked NMSU to enter WAC play at 12-3 so a win over the Lobos is big for me as well as the Aggies as they have likely wins vs. Pine Bluff and at Bakersfield to go to 11-4 with wins in all three.

However, I, nor most people I'm willing to bet, had NMSU beating the Lobos at The Pit, making a sweep of the Lobos seem possible.

I'm going with the Aggies to win a 69-63 game on Wednesday at the Pan Am.

I'm sure the Lobos have improved since they lost to the Aggies in the second game of the season. The Aggies have shown signs of improving the past three games despite playing inferior competition. But who have the Lobos played? People are concerned about NMSU, but their three game losing streak came to Southern MIss (10-2 and No. 3 RPI), Arizona (10-4, 53 RPI) and UTEP, a team that I thought was originally a bad loss but since has beaten Clemson and Auburn (two bottom teams in great leagues) while hanging with Kansas State in Hawaii over the weekend. Simply stated, NMSU is the best team the Lobos have played and they lost to The Pit.

I know that it's not likely that NMSU will hold UNM to 28 percent shooting again. But I also know that Wendell McKines,, Hernst Laroche and Christian Kabongo won't be held to 0-for-14 from the field again like they did in the first half in Albuquerque. McKines was getting easy looks too and could have had 30. He finished with 14 and 9.

I think that assists are a big stat for the Aggies against the Lobos. NMSU had 17 assists in the first two games. Wendell McKines found Bandja Sy cutting along the baseline vs. the Lobos zone from the high post, the ball was moving and NMSU was getting good shots.

In addition to the story lines I wrote about in my last blog entry, I think Hamidu Rahman and the Aggies bench have to be productive because position for position, I think the two teams are extremely even. Yet Rahman had a good game against Arizona  against and undersized center (13 and 8 6-12 shooting) and he also seemed engaged in the Aggies recent games against smaller players who aren't skilled. Bandja Sy has scored 21 points in the last two games and will have to check senior Phillip McDonald on the other end — Remember his block of McDonald and three-point play to ice the game in Albuquerque.

Two things stick out to me from the first game. It was ugly. I described it as a street fight. That's how the Aggies want it and playing at home, they should be able to dictate more of their style. The second thing was the possessions the Lobos had the ball in crucial situations, nobody wanted to shoot. Nobody wanted that big shot. Maybe they have defined their roles or maybe they were just shocked that an Aggies team was capable of playing that kind of defense. But at home. Rested. Confident. I have the Aggies on Wednesday.

Storylines/keys to Lobos game

Prediction coming later this evening

3-1 or 2-2 in rivalry games
Entering every season, earning a split against rivals New Mexico and UTEP is a respectable result. 
This Aggies group seemed different though.
A win at the Pit for the first time in nine years and a blowout win over UTEP at home made a season sweep of the four games seem realistic.
After all, it happened to the Aggies last year.
A recent three-game losing streak — including a 73-69 loss at UTEP — has taken the luster off a 4-0 start to the season.
A win Wednesday would match the four-game win streak the Aggies had to the start the season and doing it at home would restore casual fans’ excitement in the team just in time for conference play, which is truly what matters most to the team’s postseason hopes.
By the time the season ends, UNM could be the best team the Aggies face all year. The Lobos are currently riding an eight-game win streak and stand at 10-2.
The season looked bleak for UTEP early on, but the Miners picked up wins over lower tier teams from the ACC and SEC over the weekend.
The truth is that the Aggies and their fans shouldn’t be disappointed with a split against UTEP and UNM on the year.
But both groups recognized that this year was to be different.
It still can be.

Will the real Aggies please stand up
Wednesday’s game should provide an indication of how good the Aggies are going to be for the rest of the season.
The Aggies are well rested, relatively healthy and playing at home against a good team. They will be up for this game.
The Aggies can’t afford a slow start against the Lobos even if they have been pulling away from teams in the second half. Although the Aggies have won three straight, they haven’t shown the sustained defensive effort for 40 minutes that limited New Mexico to 28 percent shooting (4-for-21 in the second half) in the first meeting.
Is this NMSU team the team that shot 28 percent in the first half or the team that shot 60 percent in the second half and outscored the Lobos 36-22 in the second half to pull out the program’s biggest win since the 2010 Western Athletic Conference Tournament title game?

Williams and Lobos on a roll
UNM has won eight straight and nine of its last 10. 
Sophomore guard Tony Snell is the Lobos best scorer at 13.3 points per game and senior forward Drew Gordon may be their best player. An argument could be made for sophomore point guard Kendall Williams as the team’s most important player.
Williams was 0-for-9 from the field with five turnovers against the Aggies in Albuquerque. He has since had 17 points in a win over Washington State, 19 points in a win over Missouri State and 16 in a win over Oklahoma State.
While the Lobos are among the best teams  on the Aggies’ schedule, the same could also be said for the Lobos. UNM’s  loss to the Aggies is the Lobos’ only game against a team with a Top 100 RPI ranking. By comparison, three of the Aggies’ four losses are to teams in the top 100,  including twice to Southern Mississippi, ranked No. 3.

Board battles
Wednesday’s game features two of the Top 20 individual rebounders in the country. 
Aggies senior Wendell McKines is tied for 18th in the nation with 10.1 rebounds per game and UNM’s Gordon is tied at 13th with 10.5 per game. McKines has set back-to-back career highs this year with 16 and 17 respectively in the Aggies’ last two games. Gordon’s season includes a 20-rebound performance against Oklahoma State.
The Aggies have the edge in team rebounding. NMSU is 17th nationally with 37.2 rebounds per game. They are also 26th in rebounding percentage, meaning the Aggies pull down  57.3 percent of rebounds. UNM is 40th at 56.2 percent. 
The teams were even at 38-38 on the boards in Albuquerque. Rebounding will likely play a bigger factor Wednesday.

Take care and share
The Aggies are at their best when the ball is moving, especially when the Lobos drop back and play zone as they showed at times in the first meeting.
NMSU had 17 assists in the first game and averaged 15.2 assists per game through the first six games. The Aggies have dropped to 10.7 assists per game the past six games and currently average 12.9 assists per game. UNM is 15th nationally with 17.2 assists per game. The Lobos also lead the country in assist to basket ratio, meaning the Lobos have assists on 70.6 percent of their made field goals. By comparison, 52 percent of the Aggies’ made field goals are assisted.
Although turnovers have crept upward for the Aggies recently, both teams do a good job creating turnovers while keeping their turnovers down. NMSU commits 15.4 turnovers per game while forcing 16 per game. The Lobos commit 14.7 turnovers per game and force 16.5.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Stepping aside

This will be my last blog entry until Dec. 26 although I will still be approving reader comments. Heading home for the holidays for the first time in two years.

In the meantime, follow @TeddyFeinberg on Twitter for game updates from Wednesday's game vs. McNeese State. Here is Monday's El Paso Times story from UTEP's win at home against McNeese State. There is this near the end of the story on McNeese State's guards.

"The Cowboys have a pair of good players in 6-foot-4 senior Patrick Richard (16.4 points a game and he has scored 1,183 points in his career coming into Monday night) and 6-3 junior Jeremie Mitchell (13.0 points a game and over 20 twice already this season). Richard, blanketed most of the night by Washburn, had just 12 points and scored five of those late. Mitchell finished with just three points."

Facing quality guards and big guards is a good thing for the Aggies, especially if suspended guard Christian Kabongo returns to the lineup Wednesday, a day after he was reinstated and allowed to practice for the first time on Tuesday after missing the past two games. 

McNeese presents a more realistic chance to see if the Aggies are starting to regain their swagger from a 4-0 start that included a win at UNM. It sounds like McNeese played zone against UTEP so the Aggies will likely see a healthy dose of it as well. On the flip side, NMSU did well in their zone against Southern and McNeese isn't a great shooting team either so the Aggies could also work that into their defensive game plan Wednesday but we will see. The more defenses the Aggies can throw at a team, the better.

I asked Wendell McKines if the Aggies can build back to the defensive performance we saw at The Pit. We all know that's how this team is going to win games. Defend, rebound. 

"We just have to emphasize it more," McKines said. "The whole season is a marathon. I feel as though we showed flashes against Southern of that same type of defensive effort. We just have to be consistent. Everybody knows that has to be the makeup of our team if we want to go as far as we can. It's all about practice and executing on the floor."

One sign that the Aggies were learning from their previous mistakes was the 51-29 margin on the boards against Southern. I know that Southern is not to the class of UNM or Southern  or UTEP (other teams that have hung with the Aggies on the boards), but they reminded me of a lower tier WAC front line in terms of size and athletic ability.

Turnovers seem to be creeping upward though for the Aggies. 
NMSU had 17 against Western and 22 against Southern. Is it just a result of giving young players minutes? Were the Aggies 9 assists on 31 makes a product of poor ball movement or just the fact that NMSU had 40 points in the paint, 15 offensive rebounds that led to 23 second chance points? 

I guess we will see when the level of competition continues to increase building up to UNM and WAC play. 

Lastly, it was good to see Bandja Sy play well from an offensive standpoint against Southern. Sy was 2-16 from 3-point range in the previous six games entering Southern. Sy was 3-4 from the field on Monday and 2-3 from long range. He also had three boards. I still think that Watson is a more polished player, a player who coaches trust more, but Sy was a factor early in the season. Hopefully he returns to form, giving the Aggies a big lift off the bench and next year as well.

Another Canadian stud?

Pitt transfer and former Mcdonalds All American Khem Berch is rumored to be considering NMSU.

With Sim Bhullar already on campus, this web site lists Berch and Bhullar as the top 2 2011 Canadian center prospects.  Missouri and apparently Kentucky are also two places  that would take Berch, who was a starter at Pitt.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Aggies working way back

Athletes are confident by nature. It's what makes them so fun to watch.

Tyrone Watson touched on it briefly in my last blog entry, but I think the Aggies had their confidence shaken a bit after losing three straight.

Aggie fans should hope that the team's victory at UNM, which was clearly their best overall game of the season so far, wasn't the peak of their season. In that game, NMSU was all over the Lobos defensively, holding UNM to 28 percent shooting ... at home.

"There was a lot of emotion and adrenaline (at UNM)," NMSU coach Marvin Menzies said. "The key is to get repetitions in practice. They have experienced what it feels like now and that's good. We have gone back to emphasizing defense, defensive transition and rebounding."

It's good for the Aggies that they have inferior opponents to work on what they need to before the Lobos come to town on Dec. 28.

Tonight's opponent, Southern, is 3-8 and coming off a 30-point loss at UTEP on Saturday. Wednesday's opponent, McNeese st. plays at UTEP on Monday.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Yawn..... Southern is next

I suppose coaches can get something out of Wednesday's 92-65 victory over Division II Western New Mexico.

I know everyone thinks Remi Barry will be a superstar, but I was looking forward to seeing Terrel de Rouen and Daniel Mullings play extended minutes.

Mullings got his first career start, scored nine points on 3-8 shooting, 1-4 from 3 pt range with two rebounds, two assists and a steal in 27 minutes. de Rouen played 21 minutes, scored six points on 2-3 shooting with four rebounds and did a good job pushing the pace when he was in there. Even with Christian Kabongo returning, I believe de Rouen would be the better option as the back up point guard behind Laroche. There were times that Laroche played off the ball as well and he got some good looks, hitting 2-3 from 3 point range. 

Daniel Mullings:
"It just meant that I had to be ready to bring my defensive presence sooner. It's a different attitude because you have to bring your energy from the tip of the game. ... It was good just to get a win. We had a couple losses straight so it was just good to get back on the winning side."

"They (Barry and de Rouen) were looking forward to getting more minutes and knew coming in they would be able to get a lot of minutes in this game. I thought they were ready."

"I'll be ready if I get to start."

Marvin Menzies:
"It was a challenging game to stay engaged because of the obvious talent difference. It was good to go against somebody else and get a chance to execute those things for some of the new guys. .. We wanted to just mix things up (regarding the starting lineup) get some different looks from different guys in different positions. I liked the way we got an opportunity to play some guys in different spots for extended periods."

"Terrel showed some comfort tonight. He has been able to get in a few games but I thought he was much more vocal. Point guard wasn't his position in high school so we are educating him in that spot. He is very talented offensively. It's good to have a guard that can knock down shots and get to the paint and do those things when things break down. Remi, it was the first real game on the schedule that he got a chance to play in. I thought he did well. He gave us a lot of energy. He knocked down a nice 3 there and then knocked down his free throws."


I'm looking for Hamidu Rahman to get as many minutes as he can handle with Chili Nephawe and Renaldo Dixon splitting the rest at the center spot.
Rahman is a senior. He's healthy and Nephawe simply has not improved. Rahman came into Wednesday averaging 7.6 pts and 6.4 boards per game, but he's only playing 22 minutes a game. If he's fit enough to do so, he needs to get back to the beast that he was his sophomore season when he averaged 10 and 8 in 26 minutes per game. Nephawe hasn't done enough to pass him and Rahman has done it before.

"Down the line, I think so but you never know. It's who is playing well."


The Aggies have another big game on Monday against Southern. 
"It feels good to have some home games coming up," said Tyrone Watson on Tuesday. "We played nine games and only two at home."

Watson had started the past 42 games at NMSU before coming off the bench on Wednesday.

The big test during this five=game home stand will be Dec. 28 vs. UNM.
"We have already addressed that," Watson said. "UNM is the big picture but we can't look past anyone because we have done that before and it came back to bite us. If we take care of business we will be high on confidence  vs. UNM."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

CK suspended indefinately

NMSU announced tonight that Christian Kabongo has been suspended indefinitely from the men's basketball team. CK is an emotional player but Sunday's events at UTEP kind of forced the school and the coach to do something.

I was expecting a benching or something of that nature and was somewhat surprised by the suspension, but it is what it is and I think the Aggies have players capable of filling the void.

"In the interim, I think guys will both have more opportunities and some who haven't had opportunities will have some. That's the advantage of having depth is being able to go to different guys," Marvin Menzies said.

The two likely candidates to fill in for Kabongo, at least in the starting lineup are Bandja Sy, who was a starter for early parts of last year and who needs some sort of spark to get him going offensively. Freshman Daniel Mullings is a high energy guard, but probably not polished enough offensively to start. I also think freshman Terrel de Rouen should play more. Menzies said on the coaches show that he expects Remi Barry to play tomorrow or at least in the upcoming games.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ugly loss, bad loss (UTEP 73, NMSU 69)

Rivalry game aside, this was a bad loss to a bad one-win UTEP team — the Aggies first such loss of the season, but third straight loss nonetheless.

UTEP didn't exactly win this game. In fact, the Miners tried to help the Aggies out down the stretch, yet they still outscored NMSU 10-4 in the last 345. In a previous blog post, I believed the Wendell McKines wasn't getting enough touches late in close games the past two games. It was the other way around tonight. McKines didn't shoot in the first half and he was 1-7 in the second half for a season low 4 points as the Aggies were 1-7 from the floor down the stretch with McKines going 0-4. That, along with UTEP outrebounding NMSU 39-39 were two stats that stand out from this one after the Aggies outrebounded the Miners (minus Gabe McCulley, who killed the Aggies again for 18-13-7 ast.) by 20 in Cruces.

"They played with more energy and they executed down the stretch," McKines said. "They just executed down the stretch and we didn't. ... They had a game plan. We had a stretch where we could have put the game away and we didn't. They fed off that and made their run."

Yet the Aggies still  had a chance to win the game, up by five with seven minutes left, and to tie the game, down by 3 McKines missed an open triple from the wing.  At one point postgame, McKines said perhaps not being in rhythm all night threw him off.

But later, he said this, "That was a wide open look. No excuses, I should have made that shot."

McKines was frustrated, but the Aggies hung around with role players playing well. Hernst Laroche played well with a season high 16 and I liked the Aggies running the ball through him and using Christian Kabongo as a second ball handling option, but in the end, the Aggies fell short in a third straight close game.

Postgame comments:
Hernst Laroche:
"We had some turnovers, the boards, all of that was a breakdown. ... It (the box and 1) caught us off guard, they were making shots. McCulley was making 3s. we had difficulty getting the ball to Wen. They came out strong."

"It's a tough one because we had it. We have a bunch of seniors and juniors who have already played in those kind of situations. We just let the lead go down. Ya, it hurts."

"They were making shots. We weren't. We knew it was going to be a battle. It's there house and we weren't going to quit."

Wendell McKines:
"They keyed in on me specifically and we didn't make the proper adjustments. We made the adjustments in the second half. Every coach is going to have a game plan coming in. We had a chance to put them away and we didn't."

"I haven't seen that (a box-and-1) in college. It caught me off guard. In the first half, I waiting for us to make the proper adjustments but we didn't do that until the second  half. I had to sacrifice my scoring in this game for us to compete. ... Just making me a part of the offense a little bit but stuff like that happens. We expected me to get  hedged and boxed out really tough but not necessarily a box and 1. It kind of caught us off guard but as a team, we had a chance to put them away. Anything I was doing individually, it didn't really matter. I tried to get involved a little bit at the end of the second half, but after not touching it the whole game, I was out of rhythm."

"This is where being a student of the game plays a part. I have to watch film and talk to the coaches and see where I can make proper adjustments to still be a part of the offense if that's what is needed to win the game."

"We are a well rounded team. We have a lot of talent from the starters to our depth. I wasn't surprised. Tyrone stepped up, Bandja stepped up. We have players to step up. It's just about the little things. Defense played a part as well. We wouldn't have lost the game if we would have stopped them more. At the end of the day, we can make up all the excuses in the world. We just didn't execute down the stretch."

Tim Floyd:
"Streeter is probably our best chaser and we wanted to limit (McKines) his catches and touches as much as we could. We thought he had the feet to do it. We knew they would take him to the post and we knew he would have back side help when they did. We thought we could limit all of his perimeter catches early and we were hoping they would keep him on the perimeter and keep him off the offensive glass. ... Based on what happened in the Cincinnati/Xavier game, it was going to be a closely called game and we wanted to start box and 1 thinking we wouldn't foul as much. That didn't work out. They lived at the line."

"They are going to beat themselves up on the foul line and we really should as well. They make some free throws and it's a different basketball game."

Marvin Menzies
"We practice to make 3s. We don't always make them at this high of rate but we took what was given to us. We were able to get some wide open shots there."

"We got what we wanted. If they would have fouled, they would have fouled. We got the look we wanted. We were actually going for a quick two. If that wasn't there and they did a good job clogging it up. CK threw it out. We got a good look at it but it was just short."

Disturbing Kabongo gesture adds to loss

Following is an email myself and the rest of the Aggies staff received from a UTEP fan following the game.

Twice that I witnessed during the game tonight after making a shot;  Mr. Kabongo Sophomore Guard for NMSU  OBVIASLY grabbed his penis through his shorts and stocked it multiple times wale extending his pelvis toward the student section and sections B & C in the Haskins Center.  I cannot tell you how offensive this was to my wife and several people in my seating area.  I know my wife felt she needed to leave the seating area for a few minutes to compose herself.  She went up to the concourse where she found other women and children recovering from what can be described as a sexual assault without exaggeration. 
I would like to know what if anything The Athletic Departments of the University’s and the Coaching staff at NMSU feel is appropriate for this type of vulgar behavior. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

3-0 vs. Rivals......Give McKines the ball

The Aggies should move to 3-0 vs. UNM/UTEP this year with a win over UTEP on Sunday. If so, it would be NMSU's first sweep of the Miners since 2006 and Marvin Menzies would improve to 6-13 in rivalry games.

The Aggies have some time to work on themselves with five straight home games following Sunday's game. The only test during that stretch should be the UNM game on Dec. 28.

Something to watch for from here on out is how teams play Wendell McKines. McKines' improvement across the board  has been fun to watch. He's still the double-double player we expected to see, but he's also shooting 44 percent from the floor and knocking down a career best 41.9 percent of his 3s and 69 percent of his free throws. Unfortunately for the Aggies the past two games in particular, I'm not the only one that has noticed.

"They are trying to jam me up and daring us to shoot it," McKines said. "We just have to get in the gym and try to make adjustments."

Against Southern Miss last week, McKines' last field goal attempt was a made 3 with 12 minutes to go as the Aggies were trying to make a comeback. Against Arizona, McKines scored five straight points to pull the Aggie to within  five with 4:45 left in the game but he didn't shoot again. McKines also didn't have an assist  or turnover during those stretches, which tells me that he wasn't touching the ball as much as he needs to close out games.

The Aggies offense went through Christian Kabongo the last five minutes of both games. (CK is currently fourth in WAC in usage percentage, — An estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while on the floor — CK is involved in 29 percent of the possessions while he's on the floor, although that has to be much higher down the stretch. Wendell is right behind him at 28.6 percent. For comparison, San Jose State's Adrian Oliver was 35 percent last year and Troy Gillenwater was 32 percent last year. Jahmar Young was was 28 percent his final year.

I give the Aggies credit for making these games close, but the Aggies won't win these games if their best player doesn't have the ball in his hands.

"Teams are denying him the ball but also really keying on him rebounding the ball," Menzies said. "He is getting hit first now. He just needs to be more aware and he has to adjust and we have to adjust.

"It's new for him but he's still getting his points but now he just has to go and get it more. It's the progress you hope to see for seniors expected to be marked men."

It's easier for teams to take away a "post player" then a guard. But it's not even scoring. McKines doesn't need much space to get him the ball. The Aggies need to get him open . He's probably the second best passer on the team.

The fact that McKines is not a guard means that other players simply have to be more productive and more consistent in critical situations.

I doubt we will get to dissect how the Aggies close a close game on Sunday but here are a couple things to consider.

The Aggies made a season-best nine 3-pointers in the first game. If nine is a benchmark, it's hard to see this team counting on that as they are shooting 32 percent from long range on the season.

NMSU will win this game doing what has worked for them all year and what worked for them the first time out against UTEP. The Aggies are superior in the paint and superior in talent from top to bottom. The fact that UTEP is returning their best player in Gabe McCulley shouldn't matter as I don't think McCulley would find minutes in an Aggies uniform and that Washburn is probably the lone Division I player of any note on this UTEP roster moving forward.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Last post on Remi Barry

This will be the last time I talk about Remi Barry until he actually plays. He can not redshirt. He has already sat out a year, so barring an injury related medical redshirt, he has four years to play. If he never sees the court, it would be a wasted year and he would have just three years. Personally, I don't see that happening. People can think he is the next big thing and that the Aggies would have beaten Arizona with him playing. Or, you can side with the coaches simply not thinking he's ready. He hasn't played basketball for two years, he hasn't practiced with the team for a week while they were on the road and the last two games have been competitive contests. With a week of practice this week and some winnable games at home, I would expect to see him get onto the court sooner than later.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Swept by Southern Miss

New Mexico State lost its second straight game and its second game of the season to Southern Mississippi, this time 74-66.

Three things I would like to see the Aggies work on with this week off they have. NMSU hasn't had a real practice in nearly two weeks, as they are either traveling or getting ready for an upcoming opponent. I hope they get some shots up, I hope they figure out how to rebound against undersized teams and I hope they work on their zone defense, because I do think it will come in handy at some point during games this season but it didn't look very good against Southern Miss on Sunday.

I think the turnovers will come down from 19. They only had six in the second half. 

I was more concerned about the disturbing trend they have the last couple games with sharing the ball. Seven assists with 26 made field goals and 19 turnovers. Christian Kabongo had five turnovers and three assists and Hernst Laroche had four turnovers with one assist. The Aggies had nine assists on 28 baskets against ARizona while the Wildcats had 19 assists.

To me the player that is hard to figure is Kabongo, What do you think? It's hard to argue the results. His ability to get to the foul line and into the paint kept the Aggies in their last two games, but once he has the ball, the ball stops moving. It seems like the paint gets crowded because the Aggies don't have shooters and it takes away the threat of a post player making a move because by the time they get the ball, there is no space. It just seems like it's easier for teams to defend. Just an observation. Here is what Menzies said.

"When we don't score off that initial push, I think we need to get more reversals of the ball. At the same time, it was a tightly officiated game that made it a little more difficult to get any rhythm going."

I asked Menzies why the Aggies struggled with an undersized Southern Miss team on the boards. Southern Miss is the only team to outrebound the Aggies and they've done it twice.

"They are a tough matchup for out fives," said Menzies, referring to NMSU centers Hamidu Rahman and Chili Nephawe. "They are really athletic and hard nosed and it just created problems for Chili and Hamidu. They were really jamming up Wendell and keying on him all night."

"They were just fresher and had more bounce. They just outplayed us. Rebounding didn't hurt us as much in the first half as it did in the second half."


Southern Mississippi defeated NMSU 74-66 on Sunday in Mississippi to drop the Aggies to 5-3 on the season. Southern Miss also defeated NMSU 80-72 in the Great Alaska Shootout.
Southern Miss used the same formula to beat the Aggies, outrebounding NMSU 42-33 with 20 offensive rebounds for 21 second-chance points and 11 more field goal attempts. The Eagles also converted on 21-of-30 free throw attempts and scored 20 points off 19 NMSU turnovers.
“They were just fresher and had more bounce,” Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said. “They just outplayed us.”
New Mexico State trailed the entire afternoon. Southern MIss led by as many as 19 and led by 18 in the second half.
The Aggies finished the game shooting 50 percent from the floor, closing to within eight twice in the second half. 
The first time was midway through the second half to close the Aggies to 56-47, but the Aggies committed turnovers on four straight possessions and Southern Miss pushed the lead back to 18.
NMSU responded with a 10-0 run  to make it 65-57 with 5:42 to play. Christian Kabongo made it a seven-point game at 69-62 with 1:02 left but the Aggies’ inability to rebound robbed the Aggies of valuable possession down the stretch.
Kabongo led the Aggies with 21 points and six rebounds, shooting 6-for-17 from the floor. 
NMSU attempted just 14 free throws, while Southern Miss was 21-for-30 from the foul line.
Kabongo was 7-for-10 at the foul line, Hernst Laroche had 12 points and Wendell McKines became the 28th player to score 1,000 points at NMSU with 15 points on Sunday.
Southern Miss took a 13-2 lead early as the Aggies didn’t make a field goal until a Kabongo lay up with 14:47 left in the first half. Southern Miss led by as many as 19 with a 13-2 run that put USM up 33-14 with 5:25 left in the first half.
The Aggies closed to within nine on a Daniel Mullings jumper with 1:19 but Page and the Eagles pushed the lead back to 40-26 with a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Southern Miss scored 15 points off 13 Aggies turnovers in the first half and scored nine second-chance points after grabbing eight offensive rebounds in the first half.
“The thing that shot us in the foot were the turnovers,” Menzies said. “We had 13 in the first half and it’s tough to fight out of that big hole like that.”

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Southern Miss a quality win?

Based on the remaining schedule it would be.

A New Mexico State win on Sunday is necessary because, except for a potential BracketBuster game against a mystery opponent, there aren't that many opportunities for quality RPI wins from here on out. Although it's still very early to consider RPI rankings Southern Miss is ranked No. 17. As it stands right now, again, very early, Only California Bakersfield is an upcoming opponent ranked in the Top 100 at No. 52. New Mexico should move up throughout the season from its current rank of 168 and potentially Nevada could increase from 162, but the WAC will likely drag both NMSU and Nevada down later in the season with Utah State, Idaho, San Jose and Hawaii all ranked 189 or higher.

But I expect the Aggies to take care of business. Southern Miss may have had some time off since the Great Alaska Shootout, but I doubt it helped their players grow. Southern Miss was the only team to outrebound NMSU thus far and although they play hard, I don't think the Aggies will let that happen again against a team that is undersized compared to NMSU.  Southern Miss also isn't known for shooting the 3. One player, Page, has taken 49 attempts and the second most attempts on the team is 18. Those two things (outrebounding NMSU and shooting 7-14 from 3-pt range) will be hard for Southern Miss to replicate I think.

Not to mention the fact that Southern Miss simply beat NMSU. Watching that game, I got the sense that NMSU felt like they could turn it on down the stretch but Southern Miss was able to hold them off with some big offensive rebounds. I think NMSU will start much better on Sunday and come back for a well deserved week off before going to UTEP.

Noteworthy, Wendell McKines is two points shy of becoming the 28th player at NMSU to reach 1000 points. He's also fourth on the rebounding list at 828 as he attempts to become just the second player at the school to score 1000 points and collect 1000 rebounds. After his 28 point performance against Arizona, I also expect McKines to win his second WAC Player of the Week nod but perhaps Deonte Burton's latest outburst will spoil that. We shall see.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Arizona loss

"It's a missed opportunity," Aggies senior forward Wendell McKines said. "We missed a moment. Just thinking about the feeling we would have had if we would have won this game. To Know that we arent going to feel that way, it's tough."

The Aggies were right there. They did everything that has worked for them up to this point to give them a chance to win against a Pac 12 team (rebound — Held a 41-38 edge with 19 offensive rebounds. Get to the foul line — Shot 16 for 23 (69.6 percent), limit turnovers (NMSU 9, Arizona 11).

But as good as the Aggies were rebounding the ball all night, and as much as players refuse to use fatigue as a factor, the Aggies nearly came back late in the second half after a 14-2 Arizona run, but couldn't secure a rebound off a missed front end with 29 seconds left down three.

"That's a free throw rebound. It's four against two. Somebody doesn't pinch hard as they should have and it could be the difference in the game. We would have had the ball down three. That's an excellent opportunity to come down and score and get a quick bucket and then who knows.

"I felt like our guys were mentally ready to play," Menzies said. "I don't know about physically. We got a little fatigued there and maybe weren't able to execute at the highest level down the stretch, especially offensively.

"I have to go back and look at the film. I thought we had a couple guys get to the basket and they missed shots or had contact. It's just disappointing to play that hard and not win. We made a lot of mental errors with defensive rotations.

The result was a 83-79 loss, the Aggies' first at home before heading back out to play two more road games.

Wendell McKines was great, finishing with a career-high 28 points, shooting 10 for 18 from the field and 4-7 from 3 point range. Wendell didn't force anything and had the kind of night at home where I thought he could have had at the Pit when he missed shots in the first half he normally makes. The Aggies went cold during the Arizona run, and I can't remember Wendell getting many touches during the run.

"They just made their run. They executed," McKines said. "They are a team full of vets. They just beat us."

Late in the game, the Aggies looked to McKInes and Christian Kabongo.

Arizona had 19 assists on 30 field goals. NMSU had nine assists on 28 field goals, but it's hard to fault the Aggies for looking to Kabongo. He was 7-11 at the foul line and scored five straight points (three on an And 1 and two from the foul line) to get the Aggies to within three.

"(Kabongo) penetrated very well and he's been shooting it fantastic from the free throw line."

NMSU pounded the ball inside with centers Hamidu Rahman and Tshilidzi, especially when Jesse Perry was guarding them. Rahman had 13 and 8 and Nephawe had 6 and 9. Perry was tough though, finishing with 15 and 12 as someone had to step in for Solomon Hill as he battled foul trouble.

"They did a great job," Menzies said. "We really challenged the bigs tongiht. Hamidu shot 50 percent from the field and did a great job with eight boards. Chili had nine boards. Thats what those two have to do every night. We wanted to attack them inside and the guys did a good job finding them. We have to get them more shots depending on the situation."

At times in the first half especially, Nick Johnson beat the Aggies back in transition badly and as a result the Wildcats shot 60 percent in the first half.

NMSU also struggled finding shooters when Arizona guards got into the paint or played pick and roll. Arizona hit the most 3s in a game since hitting 14 against St. Johns.

"Our defensive transition was very weak tonight," Menzies said. "We have done a much better job at that in the past. We were so aggressive offensively going to the glass that we didn't turn around and run with them."

McKines said that there were no excuses, but Menzies let on that in certain situations, fatigue, mental or otherwise, played a factor.

Especially on the offensive rebound on the free throw and the Aggies' 3 point shooting (4-21)

"We had a few really good looks where first look was the best and we passed on it. We were trying to make the extra pass and look for an open shot but the ones that we had off initial penetration were pretty open. 4-21 is not acceptable and not going to win a lot of games at home shooting that percentage."

Monday, November 28, 2011

NMSU vs. Arizona

First I wanted to address what everyone seems to be talking about. NMSU freshman Remi Barry will be available from here on out for the Aggies. I know that most people think he's the next big thing. Maybe he is, but it won't show this year. He finds himself in a good situation with the somewhat surprising play of Bandja Sy and the steady play of Tyrone Watson. He would have to be pretty special to steal minutes from those two guys right off the bat. But it's good that he can work his way into the lineup and by conference time, perhaps he will provide yet another weapon off the bench.

"I'm happy for him that he has put all of that behind him," Marvin Menzies said. "It's a great opportunity for him, whether or not he plays (Tuesday) or not. Having experienced guys in front of him who are playing well is good for him."

Some interesting Sean Miller comments follow, but first Miller said that we won't see freshman center Sidiki Johnson, who is now focused on academics after returning from suspension.

Miller said that junior wing Kevin Parrom is currently a shade of his former self after coming back from injury. Miller said the Wildcats haven't had consistent play from the center position, which should sound familiar for Aggies fans. Miller wants to play 9 or 10 players, so confidence level of bench players is something to keep an eye on, especially since it seems like freshman guard Josiah Turner is starting to work himself back into good graces. I think that guard play is interesting to watch on Tuesday and is probably Arizona's strength. Kyle Fogg is a a big (6-3) senior guard and Nick Johnson has averaged 10 per game and shoots 43 percent from 3 as a freshman and Jordan Mays has started five of the six games and senior Brendon Lavender is the team's best shooter but has only played 8  minutes per game so far.

One thing is for certain. Miller will not start the same lineup as he did in a 61-57 home loss to San Diego State last week. Miller said that the combination of Jesse Perry, Solomon Hill, Kyryl Natyazko, Mayes and Fogg will start against at Arizona.

Miller on the Aggies
"I think they are a terrific offensive rebounding team and the best offensive rebounding team we have faced so far. They play with tremendous depth and energy defensively. Energy and taking care of the ball is important. I think it's going to be a great challenge and I think they are a team that will be in the postseason."

I think the Wildcats will be fine. But they have players who are trying to figure out roles early on.
"Derrick Williams plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves now. Tuesday is going to be a really hard game for us."

I asked Miller, whose teams have been known for playing man to man, how he approaches playing teams like the Aggies, who aren't a great shooting team.
"Everybody thinks that playing zone solves the problem against a team that doesn't shoot well. One thing the zone exposes is second shots. It backfires if you are giving up high quality second shots."

Miller said his team isn't on par with his past teams defensively at this point.
"We have always gotten better year by year on the defensive end. We're not very good in any of those areas right now."

Here are two additional things that I'm watching on Tuesday.

Key matchup
Wendell McKines vs. Solomon Hill
Arizona coach Sean Miller believes Aggies power forward Wendell McKines could start for a Pac-12 team, including his own.
But McKines is an Aggie and his numbers reflect the 6-foot-6 Hill.
Hill leads the Wildcats with 12 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. McKines leads the Aggies with 17 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Both players are capable of hitting the perimeter shot but don’t rely on it as McKines is shooting 37 percent from 3-point range and Hill is a 25 percent shooter.

Key to watch
NMSU is outrebounding its opposition by 8.3 boards per game. The Aggies are tied for 14th nationally with 16 offensive rebounds per game. McKines is pulling down 3.5 offensive rebounds per game.
“I think they are a terrific offensive rebounding team,” Miller said. “They are the best that we have faced yet.” 

Arizona part 1

Here are some early thoughts on Tuesday's game. I'll have more later on today.

It’s the perfect recipe for an upset. 
A high major team figuring out how to replace a lottery pick, playing a senior-laden mid-major on the road early in the season.
“You have to go out and play the games,” Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said. “They are more talented I think than people give them credit for. They are an upper echelon team in the country and we have to play our best basketball.”
The last time New Mexico State beat a team from a “Power Six Conference” was against Colorado at home in 2002.
If there was ever a chance to add to that total, it could be Tuesday against a young, but talented Arizona club coming off a loss at home to San Diego State on Nov. 23.
Arizona will only get better as the season goes along under third-year coach Sean Miller, but Miller expects a stiff challenge against a 5-1 Aggies team that starts three seniors, a junior and a sophomore.
“Since I was at Xavier, I don’t really look at mid-majors as a factor,” said Miller, whose team is 4-2 this season. “There is so much parity in college basketball now. Just look at the teams who are winning  championships in the early tournaments. That’s because there are a lot of good players and good teams.”

Manufacturing points
The Aggies lead the nation in free throws made (170), attempted (249), makes per game (28.3) and attempts per game (41.5).
“We are aggressive and physical,” Aggies senior point guard Hernst Laroche said. “That’s our reputation and (officials) have to call it. If they don’t call it one time, we are going to go back the next time. We have to keep working because we know we are going to get open shots. The more free throws we get, the better it is for us. We have to keep practicing so that we step to the line with confidence.”
Aggies sophomore guard Christian Kabongo is fourth nationally with 46 attempts this season. Kabongo is making them too, shooting 92 percent after a 34-for-35 stretch in three games at the Great Alaska Shootout. The Aggies were 85-for-131 (65 percent) in Alaska from the foul line and they are shooting 68 percent from the line for the season.
“Our team goal is to be above 72 or 73 percent,” Menzies said. “We are not too far off. We are taking so many of them that the percentage is probably more significant so the we want to be above 70 percent.”

For the 100th time
Tuesday will be the 100th meeting between New Mexico State and Arizona but the first game in Las Cruces since 1971 — a game won by the Aggies 89-73.
Tuesday’s game marks the end of a home-and-home series with the Wildcats. Arizona defeated NMSU  in Tucson last year as lottery pick Derrick Williams’24 and 14 outgunned Troy Gillenwater’s 25 points.
The Wildcats own a 59-40  advantage in the series. The Aggies have lost the last three games to Arizona, all on the road — in 1999, 2006 and last year. 
It could be awhile before the Aggies and Wildcats meet again.
“Non-conference scheduling is different now than it was 10 years ago,” Miller said. “Scheduling is done a year or two in advance and we have moved in a different direction, but we know it is an incredible environment versus an excellent team.”

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Long, somewhat happy plane ride home

NMSU is 5-1 after picking up two wins in the Great Alaska Shootout. I guess there is some good news in that the Aggies get a chance to avenge what was a weird loss to Southern Miss later this season.

But for now, the Aggies return home after three games in three days to play a well rested Arizona team coming off a home loss to San Diego State. NMSU leaves Alaska at 150 a.m. Alaska time. They return home around 1230 pm on Sunday and have one day to prepare for a 7 p.m., game on Tuesday against Arizona.

"I like it (the schedule)," Hernst Laroche said. "I like playing more games so you can get in that groove. We have seniors so it shouldn't be a problem. We should be able to get ready for it."

NMSU was 85-131 (64.9 percent) from the foul line in three games in Alaska, setting a Great Alaska Shootout record for both free throws made and attempted. That's 28 makes and 44 attempts per game.

Christian Kabongo made his first 30 free throw attempts at the tournament and was 11 of 12 in Saturday's 81-71 win over Southern Miss.

Obviously the Aggies are putting pressure on officials to make calls.

"We are aggressive and physical. That's our reputation and they have to call it. If they don't call it one time, we are going to go back the next time," Laroche said. "We have to keep working because we know we are going to get open shots. The more free throws we get, the better it is for us. We have to keep practicing so that we step to the line with confidence."

A possible reason for first setback

NMSU is not a perfect team by any means, but the Aggies are certainly the most athletic and talented team in Alaska this week.

Saturday's 80-72 loss to Southern Miss wasn't a bad loss, but it was a loss that shouldn't have happened.

I'm sure the Aggies aren't looking for excuses. But you have to think that playing five of six games away from home to start the season can take its toll on a team. How else could you explain getting outrebounded 38-26 with 13 offensive rebounds against a smaller team? Last year, you would expect that but it doesn't fit with how this team has been playing. NMSU continued to get to the foul line, but a night after shooting 70 percent from the line, the Aggies were 68 percent from the foul line (30-44) but only 15-26 (57 percent) in the second half.

We knew the Aggies weren't the best shooting team. What's starting to show for me though is not the 3-point miss because the Aggies aren't shooting an unrealistic amount of attempts. But they are missing 10 footers, and what's more, they are good shots, open shots. It could make scoring get more and more difficult as the season goes on if they can't knock down the occasional jumper.

NMSU has some home games coming up after the Alaska trip. Coming back at 5-1 is nothing to be ashamed of considering all but one were played outside of the Pan Am.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Success in Alaska

The Aggies beat Tenn. Chattanooga 75-65, Oregon 86-75 and Illinois 95-94 to win the 1992-93 Alaska Shootout.

The competition there wont be that stiff this time around, but there is still some good competition the Aggies can get out of it. Here is a blog entry from prior to the season on the schedule.

I think the Aggies are the best team in Alaska. I expect them to play Central Michigan, Southern Miss and either Murray State or San Francisco.

It's very early in the game, but NMSU is currently ranked No. 28 on RealTimeRPI. (Cleveland st. is No. 1.

Central Michigan is 2-1 with a 67-57 win at Pepperdine on Monday and a 2OT loss to Charlotte.
Southern Miss is No. 3 at 1-1 with a loss at Denver (RPI No. 2, 59-52) and a win at Colorado State (RPI 56. 79-58). Will be interesting to see this clash of styles since it looks like Southern Miss wants to slow things down like UTEP did.

Murray State (109 RPI) has wins over Morgan State and UAB (62-55) this year. San Fran is No. 133 with a loss to North Dakota State and four straight wins over Northern Arizona, Lafayette, San Jose State and Seattle, all schools 188 or above.

Behind the scenes of the Aggies' run-and-gun start

Ever wonder how the Aggies have seemed to outlast teams and pull away from them in the second half so far this season? Do you think they can sustain it for an entire season?

I asked the man tasked with getting the Aggies in condition for an up tempo style driven by defense, former Aggie  player and second year strength and conditioning coach Trei Steward a few questions.

Did you do anything differently?
Steward: Coach came to me with some concerns about last year's conditioning. Me being a first-year strength and conditioning coach there were a lot of things that I changed. I knew we had to get better in certain areas, one being able to get up and down the court. ... Coach put it on me and said, 'Hey Trei, we have to get this done.' I put it back on the players if this is the kind of style you want to play this year and they did it. ... I think we are below average right now in my eyes but we are playing well. If we continue to build it, we can make defense a staple for this team for years to come."

"We put in some new drills with a lot of resistance training for quick sprints, but we went old school too and did a lot of suicides and 30 second on and 30 second off drills to get them ready for games. You aren't going to be in basketball shape before you are playing. Simulating basketball in conditioning drills is tough. We weren't allowed to touch a basketball but  I can still work on defensive conditioning because we don't need a basketball. We can still tell how you are supposed to slide and cut people off."

Steward said that there was above average participation for summer workouts
"Even guys who aren't playing minutes now were here. Something that clicked I think was losing last year in the tournament didn't sit well with them. Defense was always the key for this year's team. They knew that they aren't going to have that scoring punch all the time so we have to do it with our defense. In order to play defense, you have to be well conditioned and able to move side to side."

"When they got back for school, we did testing to see where they were at and then just went at it three days a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Sometimes we went four or five days with certain guys like Chili and Hamidu trying to get those big guys to run more. They still aren't where we want them to be but nobody is. That's OK. I want them to peak in February to be the type of team that can outlast teams."

"I felt like going into the season last year, we were decent but we didn't keep up with it in practice like we should have. This year there is more emphasis that if we want to be this kind of team, we are going to have to run more in practice."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Ags No. 22

At least according to this AP Top 25 voter.

"22. New Mexico State cracks the poll here after winning at New Mexico and beating UTEP. A nice road win, winning at the Pit. Next: C. Michigan on Thurs. in the Great Alaska Shootout."

The Aggies haven't received votes since the 2007-08 preseason poll and they ended the previous season receiving votes in the final poll.

Marvin Menzies said after the UTEP game that if his team went to Alaska and went 3-0, perhaps they would receive votes. It happened earlier.

"I'm happy to see that one person was listening," Menzies said. "It's just one of those benchmarks along the way that you would like to achieve. Hopefully we can get more people on board."

Menzies said that OƱate grad Terrel de Rouen could get some minutes on this Alaska trip. He also revealed that he likely won't play Eric Weary in hopes that he can redshirt Weary. Remi Barry is not on the trip as the team left Monday, but Menzies said he would join the team if the suspension is dropped from six games to four or five.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Two down, two to go

Tim Floyd lost to NMSU for the first time at UTEP.

Said Floyd, "That's a really good Aggie team. Their speed, their quickness, their athleticism I thought was just superior. It reminded me of a Memphis team we played a year ago. They were tremendous on the offensive class. Their second and third and multiple efforts on the glass were the key to the game."

Pretty decent praise for the Aggies, who are now 2-0 vs. UTEP and UNM after going 0-4 in these games last year.

But apparently beating UTEP holds a special place for Aggies coach Marvin Menzies.

"Anytime you can beat UTEP, it feels a little bit better than beating any other school. Its a great rivalry and I respect it a lot."

Then Menzies added this, referring to Wendell McKines' Twitter posts a couple weeks ago and UTEP's trending topic entitled #under10wen.

"I don't think they held him under 10 did they? No, 23 and 13 so that didn't happen. I was glad to see Wen keep his head and play great basketball."

McKines was efficient, shooting 5 for 13 from the field and 12 for 15 from the foul line for a career high 23 points. He registered his 29th career double double with 13 rebounds for his second double double effort in three games this season.

McKines had 7 of the Aggies' 21 offensive rebounds as the Aggies had 22 second chance points. Two of those offensive rebounds came on two different free throw misses while the Aggies were trying to put the game away.

NMSU was 71.8 percent from the foul line (28-39) after entering the game shooting 60 percent. Getting to the free throw seems to be part of the Aggies' offense. NMSU is averaging 39 attempts per game. If they can shoot at least 65 percent from the line, that's 25 points per game. Hernst Laroche was 9 of 10 at the line and Chili Nephawe was 6-for-7, all in the last 5 minutes.

It was good to see the Aggies handle an inferior team at home. UTEP frankly isn't very good offensively. They shot 45 percent for the game but were 3 of 13 from long range and you could tell they wanted the game in the 60s but when the Aggies opened the second half 7-0, UTEP couldn't keep up.

Is it strange to anyone else that NMSU hasn't been 3-0 since 2003-04? They've been in the tournament a couple times during that span, but this team is different. It's not lost on Menzies, whose team has  a realistic opportunity to run the table in the Alaska tournament next week. If so, the Aggies would be 6-0, something that hasn't happened since 1969-70 when Lou Henson started the season 8-0. The Aggies started 5-0 in 1990-91 and 4-0 in 2003-04.

"If we can go to Alaska and have success out there, I really think we will be on track for maybe even some Top 25 votes, which hasn't happened in some time."

Quote time:
Marvin Menzies
"Hamidu struggled a little bit tonight (0 points, 8 rebounds) and he was frustrated with the speed of play."

Saturday was the first time in three games NMSU led at the half. UTEP slowed the game down early but couldn't keep it going.
"Our guys are not front runners but they are competitors. When they don't have everything going their way, sometimes they can get a little distracted on a possession or two. We are 3-0 and we have loads of improvement in front of us. I'm so excited about the potential of this team. They say its a scary word but not with this crew. We are going to realize some dreams. We are going to shock some people and have a season to be remembered."

Chili Nephawe picked up another technical, but he didn't foul out for the first time this season.
"He's a firey passionate guy."

Wendell McKines, on the new Pan Am floor
"I like it. We are undefeated on it."

Tim Floyd
"We didn't guard the 3 point line. We had a hard time staying between them and the basket with their drives. A lot of that was just not being back on defense so we are late to play and reach and stab. They just whipped us."

"We came out at the start of the second half and didn't show the poise we showed in the first half."

Floyd said that the Miners spread the floor hoping to go by Aggies defenders. It was just like the Lobos, where Snell tried to drive. It seems that it will take some time for the Aggies to prove to people that they can guard the ball and play good help defense.

"It wasn't an offense to delay the game. It was to take advantage of what we thought we could do."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

COMMENTARY: Aggies win ugly, win big

It was not pretty.
Just how the Aggies like it.
My snapshot memories from New Mexico State’s 62-53 victory over New Mexico at The Pit on Wednesday aren’t highlight dunks, blocked shots, or both teams making big shots.
Although this game also included that.
Plays that stand out to me include Daniel Mullings diving into Lobos fans courtside for a loose ball.
Or center Hamidu Rahman walking away with his hands in the air to avoid escalating a situation after he was tackled by Demetrius Walker. Rahman made 1-of-2 free throws on the intentional foul and Wendell McKines converted a three-point play on the extra possession to put the Aggies up for good with 8:57 to play. 
Or Christian Kabongo, who stood in to draw a charge on Tony Snell with 2:52 to play with four fouls.
How about Hernst Laroche, who was buried beneath three Lobos going to the hole with 54 seconds left. Laroche made both free throws to put NMSU up four.
Finally, Bandja Sy blocking Phillip McDonald’s 3-point attempt with 23 seconds left and then converting a three-point play two seconds later on the other end to ice the win and snap a seven-game skid to the Lobos.
Statistically, the Aggies won at The Pit for the first time since 2002 despite every player on the roster having an off night.
McKines, Laroche and Kabongo were a combined 0-for-14 from the floor in the first half. Laroche had an uncharacteristic seven turnovers. Rahman was 8-for-16 from the free throw line and NMSU was 21-for-38 (55.3 percent) from the foul line for the game.
But it was even worse for the Lobos and you have to credit the Aggies for that.
UNM shot 28 percent (14-for-50) from the floor for their worst shooting percentage under Steve Alford.
The fact is that in just two games, NMSU has proven it can adapt to its environment. The Aggies scored 89 points to open the season and 62 in the second game.
The common theme in both games was speeding the game up, defending full court for 40 minutes and making it look sloppy but making plays in crucial situations.
It’s not pretty but it’s working for them and it seems to be a signature for this team.
I’m a Denver Broncos fan but not a believer in quarterback Tim Tebow. But after two straight road wins, I would rather my team win ugly than lose.
NMSU is 2-0 for the second straight year. A home win at UTEP on Saturday would be the Aggies first 3-0 start since they went 4-0 in 2003-04.
And that is beautiful for Aggies fans.

Jason Groves can be reached at (575) 541-5459. Follow him on Twitter @jpgroves