Monday, January 24, 2011

Halfway home: Looking back, ahead at Aggies and WAC

While the halfway point is still a game away, we can already see some trends developing for the New Mexico State men’s basketball team, as well as the Western Athletic Conference.
The Aggies have hovered around .500 all season. Now 10-11, it should come as no surprise their conference record is also average. NMSU sits at 4-3 in WAC play, but since the Aggies begin their second trip through most league opponents this weekend, it seemed like a good time to look back and ahead.
With a new look for the WAC Tournament bracket, which awards the top two teams a bye into the semifinals, there could be cause for concern regarding the Aggies current spot in fifth place.
NMSU was the first team with a conference road win, beating Idaho on opening weekend. On that same trip, the Aggies outplayed Boise State for 30 minutes before losing by three. Their home win against Fresno State (who came into the Pan American Center 3-0 in the conference) isn’t as impressive, since the Bulldogs have lost their last four.
The second-half schedule also provides reason for optimism. NMSU plays five of its last nine WAC games at the Pan Am.
Boise State and Idaho make the return trip to Las Cruces this weekend. The Aggies follow that up with a road game at Fresno State (3-4) and back-to-back games against winless Louisiana Tech. The Aggies then make the always challenging San Jose State/Hawaii road trip, which appears easier than in past years.
It all sets the Aggies up for meaningful home games against Utah State (March 2) and Nevada (March 5) to close out the season.
After an up and down start, that’s all the Aggies could ask for.
From an individual standpoint, NMSU junior forward Troy Gillenwater has been terrific. 
Gillenwater leads the league in scoring in WAC play and has showed toughness in his first year as a starter, playing through a foot and ankle injury.
Due to early-season injuries, young players have been asked to step in right away. Some have responded better than others. 
It’s unfair and unrealistic to expect much from freshmen or sophomores playing for the first time. You take what you can get from young guys. 
One player who needs to return to form for the Aggies to contend is junior center Hamidu Rahman. Rahman has missed games due to a calf injury this season, but even before the injury, his production was less than what we expected from him entering the year. Throughout his career at NMSU, Rahman has shown the ability to get up for big games. He needs to do so to take some pressure off Gillenwater and the younger players.
Other things that have stood out to me:

Northern Aggies on their way: Utah State has won a piece of three straight WAC regular season championships. At 7-0 in league play and riding a 21-game regular season conference win streak, the UtAgs seem well on their way to a fourth.

Idaho causing trouble: I was worried about Idaho entering the season after the team lost its best player in point guard Mac Hopson, as well as one of the top defensive big men in the conference in center Marvin Jefferson.
I don’t want to take anything away from the Vandals, who started 5-1 in conference play.  But I can’t help myself. Of Idaho’s first five wins, the Vandals’ opponents were a combined 9-23 entering Saturday’s games. Only Nevada, at 3-3, was .500 or better. 
The Vandals fell to Boise State by three on Saturday to move both clubs to 5-2.
Idaho is second in the WAC is scoring defense (60.9 points per game) and first in field goal defense, holding teams to 38 percent shooting.

WAC staying put: The WAC has a conference RPI of 15, according to Not bad, but not great and it won’t get any better. Utah State (43 RPI) is the only conference club in the top 150, but the UtAgs have a schedule strength of 205. Boise State has the next highest RPI at 158.

First half all stars: If I was voting for a first-team All-WAC right now, here it is.
La’Shard Anderson (Boise State point guard) — Anderson’s 2.8 steals and 5.2 assists per game lead the WAC. In conference play, he’s also second in scoring at 17.9 points per game.
Adrian Oliver (San Jose State guard) — Oliver has the two highest scoring outputs of any WAC player of 42 and 35 points. He leads the conference in scoring at 23.3 points per game.
Troy Gillenwater (New Mexico State forward) — Gillenwater is second behind Oliver in scoring with 19 points for the season, shooting 36 percent from 3-point range in WAC games. He’s also seventh in rebounding with 7.1 per game.
Tai Wesley (Utah State forward) — Wesley has taken leadership of the UtAgs, scoring 16.3 points and pulling down 7.1 rebounds per game in WAC play.
Dario Hunt (Nevada center) — Hunt has responded to the challenge of adding offense to his game as a sophomore, scoring 13.3 points per game in league play and shooting 65 percent (second in WAC). He’s also fourth in rebounding with 7.9 and first in blocked shots with 2.3 per game.


Coyote said...

It seems that one of the primary stategies of the aggies is to work the ball into Hamidu under the basket. What is the probably that he walks, that he bobbles the ball away, that he misses a layup? What is the probably that it is a wasted possession?

Anonymous said...

Jason, how can your halfway point assessment not include an assessment of the coach?

Anonymous said...

Where would this mediocre team be with out Troy Gillenwater?
Kid can flat out play!

Aggie fans have already mailed it in.
I look forward to seeing the Mckines/ Gillenwater tandem, give em hell next year.

There's always next year Aggie fans.

El Guapo

Anonymous said...

Gotta have some stones to be a good rebounding team. Until the Aggies find some, it ain't happenin'.

Anonymous said...

So what about Menzies?
You gonna give him a mid term grade?

I think you lack the onions to give him a bad grade because he might snub you for a story, right?

Jason Groves said...

The onions? I didn't give the team or any other player a grade. Unlike most of the people who post here, I don't blame everything on the head coach. The Aggies just aren't as good as we thought they were going to be. The easy way out is to blame the coach because that takes the least amount of thought.

Anonymous said...

Jason - excellent reply and I think you are right on the mark. Coach is doing a good job, the fans are not.

Big Al

Anonymous said...

Jason, doesn't the coach have a little something to do with how good the Aggies are compared to "how good we thought they would be"? How would you rate MM as an in game coach? Do you think he manages the game well, makes necessary adjustments during the game, etc? What do you think MM does well, what do you think MM does poorly, both on and off the court?

I will give you an example, at home against UNM, Alford had Gary run the high pick and roll over and over. We continued to try (ineffectively) to play over the screen and have the big man hedge out. Over and over Gary got in the lane and got to the FT line or created a shot for someone else. He only took 2 and missed both 3 PTs all game. Why, not try playing below the screen and daring Gary to take the 3. Especially, since the Lobos were setting the pick at least 5 feet from the 3 PT line.

What about how after every single loss, MM laughs about it on the radio with Jack? What about how MM let's Kabongo take bad shots and not hustle without any consequences, but one mistake for Sy or Dixon and it is straight to the bench? What about when the coach says on the radio after being blown out at home by St. Mary's "I've never won more than seven games since I've been here in non-conference so I'm one short of the most I've ever won,"? As if going 6-7 in non conference is an accomplishment. And then he puts the same thing in the Sun-New in his guest commentary.

I could go on, but what takes less thought is just writing an article that summarizes the Aggies record and what has happened in the WAC so far this year. What takes real thought is actually addressing why the Aggies are worse than we thought, and acknowledging that the coach shares the blame.

Anonymous said...

The fans do not play. All these kids and coaches set goals for themselves before the season. When they made those goals they did not have the fans in mind. The team is the way it is because of the coach and the players. The MM has continually failed to get his teams to continually play at a high level. The players don't take pride in the things they need to so that they can be the dominant team that they have the potential to be. We can not blame the fans for their short comings that is not right.

Anonymous said...

Here is just one example of Menzies coaching inadequacy. Aggies up 19-18 on the road in the most hostile environment in the WAC. 17 straight points by Utah St. before Menzies calls a timeout. Game over...well done coach.

Another example. 2 nights before, Laroche picks up first foul with 1:12 to go in the half, 22 seconds later he turns it over and commits a foul. While Laroche is not our best player one could argue he is our most important since he is our only viable point guard. But Menzies is asleep at the wheel as usual, and leave Laroche in. 9 seconds later Laroche gets foul number 3 in the first half.

Anonymous said...

A good coach wills his team to find a way to win.

Reggie Theus inherited a 6 win team and willed his team to a 16-11.
It wasn't pretty but, had the team playing good "D", team ball and getting those tough wins.

Coaching has everything to with it.

I also agree that I'm fed up with Menzies post game chuckles after a loss.
Reggie was fuming after a loss and Menzies tries to laugh it off.
I can't wait till he gets fired, let's see him laugh it off!

Jason Groves said...

Anon 9:34, I understand the fans frustration with a perceived indifference in Menzies' demeanor in postgame interviews. I talk to him often and know the losses get to him. It's almost as if NMSU fans care more about the coaches personality than the wins and losses. So you would rather have a Reggie Theus, who was fiery and good with the media but said from the beginning he wanted to be a NBA coach and bounced when the first opportunity came along. How is that not talked about more by NMSU fans? Or the fact that due to a number of circumstances, the Henson era cost the Aggies a scholarship in two of Menzies' four years?

I believe if and when Menzies leaves Las Cruces, NMSU fans will complain about his replacement and write about how great a coach Menzies was.

I thought my column did address why the Aggies are not as good as we thought they would be — the biggest reason being they don't have any consistent scoring threat outside of Gillenwater and that Hamidu Rahman needs to step up.

If you want me to rip the head coach, I could do that but fans in this town would come to his defense when the Aggies reach the semis or championship game of the WAC tournament.

Let me ask you this. When was the last time you were blown away by any of the current coaches in the WAC outside of Logan Utah? Verlin has done a good job this year at Idaho, but he also fell off the map last year with a more talented team. Carter couldn't get to the WAC final with two NBA draft choices, Cleveland had a loaded roster last year with a NBA pick and has gone 0 for his last 4 this season, La Tech has regressed, San Jose remains the same.

I understand the NMSU fan base wants to beat UNM and UTEP and Menzies' record against those teams has been reported by the Sun News. NMSU played the league's toughest non conference schedule. Would you rather play cupcakes like Utah State and rack up wins? There is an argument to be made there since learning how to play together while picking up wins and building confidence can pay dividends later on. But it won't get you an automatic bid. Utah State has to win the league tournament this year. If NMSU could have done better in the non conference, they played the schedule that could have been beneficial. Scheduling is part of running a program as well, and NMSU had a great schedule and a great home schedule but couldn't take advantage of it.

When UTEP beat the Aggies here this season, I wrote on this blog that the NMSU coaches were outcoached in the second half. I've also written about the stagnant halfcourt offense that seems to revolve around pick and roll or pick and pop or the weave at the top of the key. You are right that he is the head coach so is therefore accountable for the success of the team, but the bottom line is that the team is 4-3 and could very easily be 6-3 after the weekend and in contention for a No. 2 seed, to which the tone of the fans will likely change...again.

To answer your personnel questions, Kabongo lost his starting spot because of his shot selection and Sy is often yanked not after one mistake, but after a string of bad turnovers. The three players you mentioned are two freshmen and a sophomore who are going to be up and down anyway. None of the young guys have been good enough to leave in the game so why not see if Sy or Kabongo has the hot hand. If not, they are pulled. I liked your UNM example. Obviously you watch the Aggies closely, so you know the NMSU centers don't play the pick and roll very well at all this year.

Jason Groves said...

I didn't include an evaluation of Menzies because other things have stood out to me, both at NMSU and league wide that I thought deserved some recognition and that NMSI is still in contention. I didn't mean to insult readers saying that bashing the coach doesn't take a lot of thought. It's just always the first thing people go to. Is Menzies the best game coach NMSU has ever had? Probably not. Has he kept NMSU relevant in basketball? I think so. Perhaps not to the fans' expectations, but rarely will any coach, player or administrator live up to those expectations.

Anonymous said...

Jason, you made many fair points. I realize NMSU is in a tough situation...go after guys like Reggie and we are stepping stone. Go after guys like MM and who knows what you get. Scheduling is also difficult...schedule up, lose a lot of games, have terrible attendance. Schedule down, no chance at at-large, but most likely have better attendance because Las Cruces as a whole likes a winner (no matter the quality of opponent). Not how I am, but how the lion's share of the community is.

Now a couple of things:

"It's almost as if NMSU fans care more about the coaches personality than the wins and losses."

No, its that fans care about wins and losses, but also want the coach to be good in all aspects including off the court.

"I thought my column did address why the Aggies are not as good as we thought they would be — the biggest reason being they don't have any consistent scoring threat outside of Gillenwater and that Hamidu Rahman needs to step up."

Doesn't MM have something to do with this? Either his recruiting is lacking or his player development is lacking.

Bottom line I am not happy about the coaching, but I will still be one of the less than 5,000 fans in the Pan Am tomorrow and every remaining home game.

Anon 9:34

Anonymous said...

The biggest blow this year has been the loss of Wendell McKines...bottom line. Not only has losing his 10+ rebounds and 12+ points hurt, but more importantly, his leadership on the court. The Aggies would be 6-1 in conference with Big Wen and probably could have beat UMASS, USC, and split with UTEP and UNM.

We can talk about MM, CK, and HAM, but we lost the heart and soul of the program when Wen went down.

But ask any coach (including Stew) in the WAC who they DONT want to play in March. It's NMSU.

The fans in LC suck...


Napoleon D. said...

El Guapo -
Next year's success won't mean near as much to you if you don't suffer as a fan through the lean times. Who wants to win more than the players, but what Menzies is holding them back? They can't get the ball through the hoop right now. You can go along for that ride with them by attending games. For fans who just want to follow a coach, how's McCarthy's career coming along (which is not to say that I didn't enjoy his success)? Cannot believe that a fan who has mailed it in bothers to check JG's blogsite. Rest of you who brag that you don't attend home games to assuage your ego's - - it's only a game... ggyaah!

Anonymous said...

no, don't play cupcakes. Remember two years ago all the complaints were about Boston, Menzies and the weak schedule. This year they had far and away the toughest preseason schedule, overall good for the team's progress despite L's, and what you hear is more complaints from the same vocal whining minority. Serving up instant milk to these folks ain't possible. What's Theus coach now? ..AAU still? He'd be all but forgotten in Las Cruces it wasn't for Knauber and a transfer from Prairie View A&M and a throat punch to Coby Karl. Glad to see that Menzies isn't entering melees or jumping on the scorer's table with his own cult of personality.

Anonymous said...

Aggies must play with a little more of a chip on their shoulder to get in there and box out for boards. Hustle for loose balls is good but down low is where games are won/lost. Anon 1:55 is correct. That's what Wendell brings to the team. If somebody shows Chile how to channel his emotion he'll be an automatic double-double. Soft hands for a big guy.

Anonymous said...

Could be the last time you get to yell "Noonan" in the Pan Am. Maybe the guy will miss from the charity stripe before he graduates. Can't believe he was sticking JY at the end of the triple OT tourney loss after JY dropped 33 on BSU his freshman year. Ags kept Noonan off the glass though. They need to work on him and Montreal and they can factor in the WAC outcome.

Anonymous said...

Sitting at the game...why don't the ags ever take the hard foul on the breakaway layups? Playing weak!