Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Slumping offense leading to closer games

New Mexico  State is 1-1 in its last two games, scoring 60 points in a loss to Nevada and a win over Fresno State.

Three games ago, the Aggies scored 87 points in a four-point loss at Hawaii. So what is the ideal pace for this team, which seems to have leveled off a bit from an offensive standpoint.

"We just want to run all day," NMSU junior wing Tyrone Watson said. "We emphasize not running a set or offense. We just want to get the ball and go. If we can score off the fastbreak or transition. I think we let a lot of outside things get to us. Just the fact that we are playing in big games. We kind of fear our opponents a little bit too much and don't play our necessary defense. We don't emphasize it enough to each other, player to player."

Opposing teams have been able to dictate tempo to the Aggies recently, forcing NMSU to play from behind.

"That's how things have shaken out lately. It's tough to play how we want to play when they aren't playing that way. It's hard to force them to play that way when they are playing 3-4-5 different defenses a game," Watson said.

Offensively, it all starts outside, where the Aggies are shooting 28 percent from 3-point range in the WAC. We all knew coming into the season the Aggies weren't going to be a great shooting team. But for whatever reason, the Aggies aren't converting offensive rebounds, opposing turnovers or chances at the free throw line (at least against Fresno State, where NMSU was 7-18) into offense.

NMSU got back into the Hawaii loss and the Nevada loss by increasing the pressure.

"That's our style of play, getting turnovers and forcing them to take quick shots," Watson said. "We are waiting for them to make mistakes but if people are making shots, it's tough to do so we have to just grind it out."

I understand that NMSU doesn't have depth across the board to be able to play that way for an entire game, but I also think NMSU could have pulled away from Fresno earlier by extending their pressure early and then banging away at them on the interior. My first thought, and I doubt that coaches would talk about it, is that the Aggies are saving certain things in the arsenal for the second round through WAC play. Saving legs, saving certain looks.

"I don't know if we have that luxury anymore without the depth that we had earlier in the year," NMSU coach Marvin Menzies said. "Having the two guards out who were quick defenders who could score in the open court. We will still push when we can and look to do that. The full court pressure back to man to man, I think we will have to mix some things up and do some things a little differently and play to our strengths. We still have to make shots. We are trying to pound the ball inside and take advantage of our physical size."

In the meantime, NMSU is facing some variation of zone defense every night, clogging the paint and taking away the drive for players who thrive on it like Watson and Daniel Mullings.

"We add stuff game to game, day to day according to how teams play us," Watson said. "Practicing that stuff has helped. Seeing film and the open spots and how we can be more effective rather than taking early outside shots. When they back down and give us shots, you want to shoot the ball. They are just baiting you. I think we have seen all the defenses that is in basketball so I don't think anything else is going to surprise us."

The Aggies are shooting the ball 46 percent from the field for the season and Wendell McKines (35 percent from 3) and Hernst Laroche (44 percent from 3) are actually decent options from outside. The Aggies need at least one more guy who needs to heat up from here on out.

"I say we have to shoot the ball and that's a given," Menzies said. "The other thing is the free throw line and the turnovers. There are other areas we can shore up I think to give ourselves an advantage."

I asked about Remi Barry on Tuesday, who seems to have taken steps to be able to contribute. Another option is Bandja Sy, who is streaky at best, but is on a downward trend at the moment, shooting 0-10 from 3 prior to the Hawaii game (3-6) and is 1-8 since. The flip side to Sy, is he is much better defensively than Barry at this point.

"Remi still has a ways to go," Menzies said. "He's out of place a lot and is still getting familiar to the system. ... He's getting there. He's not to that point yet where he has a total comfort level but it's coming. I've always said that if he can get on a roll of being consistent of going hard in practice, in the classroom, and get that discipline going, he could be somebody maybe we could look to in the second round of league games. ... There is no doubt. He is in the mix now. We are going to look to, like Tyrone, Bandja, Mullings. Which is good. He's another weapon. The underclassmen are kind of an x factor for us and I think maybe the driving force of how far we go."

To their credit, the Aggies have remained solid defensively, which will keep them in games. But it's hard to count on their ability to win close games when the reality, a lack of offense recently has made some games closer than they should have been.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Aggies draw Drake in BracketBuster

I believe the Aggies won televised BracketBuster games in each of their WAC Tournament championship seasons. They beat Ohio at home in 2006-07 and then beat Pacific on the road in 2009-10.

Drake is 13-9 overall and 6-5 in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 97 in the RPI with a 66 strength of schedule and the Aggies are currently No. 90 with a SOS ranking of 117.
Drake has Top 50 RPI wins over Wichita State and Iowa State this season. Sophomore guard Rayvonte Rice leads the Bulldogs with 17.3 points per game with six rebounds per game and junior forward Ben Simons is scoring 16.2 points per game.
The Missouri Valley Conference is currently No. 8 in the RPI and the WAC is No. 12.
Drake will be the Aggies first game against a current MVC school since a 1996 game against Southern Illinois.

NMSU has a Top 50 win over No. 44 New Mexico. 

Nothing sticks out from a team standpoint. Drake shoots 35.7 percent from 3-point range, score 70 ppg, shoots 46 percent from the floor while opponents are shooting 44 percent against them. They average 13 turnovers and 10 assists per game. They do average 7 steals per game.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

BracketBuster coming

I spoke with WAC commissioner Karl Benson about the Aggies' prospect of getting one of the 13 televised BracketBuster games.

"New Mexico State is still in the running for a game," Benson said. "Nevada has locked one up but I'm still hopefully New Mexico State would be in the running. Getting in the TV package, ESPN creates whatever interesting matchups. If not, it's the best possible matchup with the geography considered."

The TV games are announced on Monday.

Thanks to this link, we can see see that New Mexico State (92 RPI according to Basketball State) currently has the 13th best RPI among the host teams. The 13th best RPI visiting team is Indiana State of the Missouri Valley Conference.

Indiana State would be a very interesting matchup for current and historical reasons. The Missouri Valley is currently the No. 8 conference and the WAC has moved up to No. 12. Indiana State is 12-9 and just 3-7 in the MVC. It would be a throwback game to the Aggies' MVC days. Either Indiana State or Drake would be a good matchup for NMSU for next year's return game, as well as the WAC this year as the MVC is No. 8 RPI)

My dream matchup early in the year when the Aggies' RPI was hovering around the Top 60 was Long Beach State. That matchup would also have some history behind it, but Long Beach State has skyrocketed to the 30s while the Aggies have fallen into the 90s.

That leaves us with other potential opponents such as:
Lamar  111 RPI (13-8, 4-3 in the Southland 28 RPI)
Valparaiso 124 RPI (14-9, 8-3 in the Horizon 15 RPI)
Drake 109 RPI (13-9, 6-5 in the MVC 8 RPI)
Buffalo 91 RPI (11-6, 5-2 in Mid American 16 RPI)
Old Dominion 118 RPI (14-9, 9-2 Colonial 17 RPI)
Cal-Santa Barbara 144 RPI (11-7, 6-2 in Big West 24 RPI)

After this list, it seems like it gets dicey in terms of high RPIs, records and conference RPI disparity. And remember that once you get past the ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3 type games, geography plays a bigger factor.

Aggies win ugly, in second place at WAC halfway point

It's going to be tough to pass 7-0 Nevada for first place. Nevada had road wins over NMSU, Utah State and Idaho in the league's first half so they get all those games at home in the second half.

NMSU found a way to get past Fresno State 60-56 on Saturday to enter the second half 5-2 in league play. They have to travel to Nevada, Utah State and Idaho in the second half. Playing these close games is a double edged sword. Winning close games is important this time of year, but letting Fresno State hang around and dictate the pace was confusing. NMSU had 20 offensive rebounds but they also had 17 against Nevada. Doesn't seem like those offensive boards are being converted into points in back to back 60-point games.

Onto the post game comments
Tyrone Watson on his late turnover on an inbounds pass and coming back to convert a one and one to seal the game.
"The turnover was a miscommunication. I knew they were going to deny Hernst. I was trying to get the ball to Wendell but there was too much pressure and I couldn't get the pass off. I ended up inbounding it and they stole it. ... I'm at home so I didn't feel any pressure (on the free throws). I was doing my normal routine."

Wendell McKines
"We feel good about the position we are in. We are just preparing ourselves to finish strong. It's not about how you start, it's about how you finish. We are looking to finish strong and see what happens."

"It's about how we defend. However any team wants to play us. If you want to run up and down, we can do that, if you want to play slow, we can do that as well and just pound it in. We are accustomed to playing ugly games and today was definitely ugly. We just came out with the win. That's what it's all about."

Marvin Menzies
"This is a very good team that we beat tonight regardless of their record. They have been fighting everybody tooth and nail. They were up on Nevada at the half. They are a very good team. I commend my guys for staying together, playing together and executing down the stretch when we really needed to get some stops and some good looks in winning time."

On free throw shooting 7-18 (38.9 percent)
"As long as you make free throws when you really need them, that's a good thing and we have done that for the most part. Tyrone wasn't very good tonight (4-9) but he was good in crunch time. ... They took a lot more than we did."

On if Remi Barry playing 12 minutes was the lineup shakeup he referred to after Thursday's loss to Nevada
"At the end of the game on Thursday, I was frustrated. I still like our substitution pattern when we are playing well. It's just a matter of getting the guys to start with a little more urgency on defense. The zone has been hurting us because we haven't been shooting it well."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Playing for second?

I talked about this in my last post. There is still a lot of basketball to be played, but Marvin Menzies even acknowledged Nevada as the best team they've played so far in the WAC after Thursday's 68-60 loss at the Pan American Center.

"It would have been great to win this game and we have a lot of games in front of us but we need a little help now from somebody else," Menzies said.

Nevada won its 14th straight game and looks the part of a WAC Championship team. NMSU, after another slow start, trailing by 14 at halftime, not so much. Nevada is now 6-0 in WAC play with road wins at 4-2 NMSU, 3-3 Utah State and 4-2 Idaho. Nevada also beat Hawaii at home.

"We didn't play like a championship team at all," Menzies said. "A lack of execution, a lack of urgency to start the game defensively. Offensively, just out of sync. Wouldn't execute what we drew up out of timeouts. Didn't adhere to the scouting report. All of those things add up to a loss."

For the second straight game, NMSU rallied in the second half to make the final score look closer than the game really was.

"I just don't have a good feeling about how we are playing that first half," Menzies said. "We have to come out with better execution, especially after timeouts. It's frustrating. We have good kids, we have talent. Just have to get them to understand that if you want to be efficient you have to play together and play within the system and play harder on both sides of the ball."

Nevada led by 18 with 708 to play. The Aggies made it a game with full court pressure, begging the question why not do it for longer stretches. Easy answer....no depth with the departure of Christian Kabongo and the season ending injury to Terrel de Rouen.

"Wendell fouls out, Hernst was subbing in and out. It's a double edged sword. Losing Terrel really hurt. But that is what it is. We have to be able to string together games strategically without having to play 10 or 11 guys and still get it done. We can spot pressure in places. It's either that or get these guys in much better shape and go back to what we were doing in the beginning."

A lack of depth in the backcourt takes away from creating transition baskets for the Aggies, which they need. NMSU was 5-22 from 3-point range and Hernst Laroche made four of them. We knew that NMSU wasn't a 3-point shooting team, but when they fall behind, that weakness is exploited even more.

"You can praise them for their effort and comeback but that song is getting old," Menzies said. "We have to start the games off with some urgency both offensively and defensively in terms of execution. Until we do that, we are going to be in an uphill battle every game. We have to rebound quickly and get ready for Fresno State."

Time will tell what lineup changes are coming. Bandja Sy doesn't seem like he's earned more playing time. He took some bad shots, reached in transition to lead to an open 3 from Story and finished 2-9 from the field. Remi Barry was 0-3 in five minutes, all from 3-point range.

"We have to do something to start the games with more urgency, especially when you are saying what they do and then you lay off guys and they go 6-for-9 (from 3-point range) in the first half," Menzies said. "you can tell them where to go and what spots to be in , but at the end of the day, you have to come out with a little more younger."

Pure speculation at this point but something I wouldn't mind seeing the Aggies play with is going small from the start with McKines, Watson, Sy, Mullings and Laroche. Fresno State doesn't have a lot of size so it would be a good game to start out with considering that's essentially the lineup that got the Aggies back into the Hawaii game.

Other postgame comments
Hernst Laroche: "We are trying to get a win next game. It's unfortunate that we lost but we are trying to get wins. We are looking ahead for Fresno. There is nothing we can do, it's past. We lost."

"they got Burton going, they got Malik going. They had some easy things down low too. ... They don't shoot college 3s, they shoot NBA 3s so it opened up the zone more."

Marvin Menzies:
"A lot of times, they just outplayed us. That's a big time team. There is a half of me that is just pissed off. The other half, I have to give them credit. Deonte Burton is a pro. He's a NBA player. We have to get a better strategy on how we are going to guard him next time. He hit some that was so deep, it was like, 'Are you serious?'"

"They challenged us to shoot the ball and we didn't do that well. ... I think we let them get going. Their first few shots they made were very unchallenged. We woke up and started to challenge them. We did a very good job in the second half because that was all we talked about at halftime. But that was all we talked about before the game too."

"We have to bounce back. We have to put these games behind us and look at the positives. We have to shake it up to get a better offensive execution. I don't know what it means right now. I have to watch film."

"They are the best team we have faced to this point for sure. We lost by eight but they are really good. They have a lot of tools in their first six guys that can get things done, both from deep and inside. It was disappointing but I'm optimistic we will play better."

Keys to NMSU vs. Nevada

Slow Burton: Nevada point guard Deonte Burton has averaged 25 points per game in five true road games this year. He was the key for the Aggies last year defensively and they held him to 5-of-20 shooting in the Aggies two wins over Nevada last year.  Obviously Burton has improved in his second year, and it's hard to take the ball away from a point guard, but I wouldn't mind seeing the Aggies double him in certain situations tonight, even late in the game if it's close. I'm not sure Evans and Czyz want the ball in their hands when the game is on the line, but I know Burton does.

Wen must win: There are probably two power forwards in the WAC who are skilled enough offensively to get McKines in foul trouble. Hawaii's Thomas and Nevada's Olek Czyz. Against Hawaii, McKines doesn't have to guard Thomas. I'm not sure if the Aggies have many options other than McKines to guard Czyz in man to man. Tyrone Watson could, but that would put McKines on a wing player. I think McKines needs to reach his averages while Czyz is held below his 11 and 6 averages or get Czyz in foul trouble.

Come out ready: NMSU showed against Hawaii that they are capable of coming back, so that was good to see. But they need the home crowd tonight and playing from behind big would make that difficult. NMSU can come back, but the Aggies are much more effective in close games because they get out in transition and get to the foul line.

Evans as a X factor: Malik Story can't loose for 3s like Zane Johnson did. Most of his 3s come in transition or spotting up off the drive or inside out touches. Nevada doesn't run stuff like Hawaii, USU or Idaho. But Story is a good shooter and will knock some down. The Aggies can't let Jerry Evans hurt them. Evans is the overlooked piece to the Nevada puzzle. Evans is shooting 55 percent from 3 in WAC play but is only 0-2 from long range in the last two games since going 5-6 from 3 against San Jose. The SJSU game showed what he's capable of, but the Aggies need to make sure he stays around hjis 6 ppg average.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Is Thursday a must win??

I think the term 'must win' is thrown around too loosely these days.

Aggies senior Wendell McKines shined a lot of light on what these games mean to players on Tuesday. I asked him about the magnitude of Thursday's WAC game against Nevada and he said that players could drive themselves crazy if they thought about what winning this game but losing that game means.

"At the end of the day, we have to play basketball," McKines said. "As long as we approach the game with a sense of urgency, executing and do what we do, we should be fine. It's just basketball at the end of the day."

In terms of winning the WAC regular season title, winning Thursday is important from a theoretical perspective. Mathematically the Aggies could lose on Thursday and still be alive. But if you consider then that Nevada would then have road wins at Utah State, NMSU and Idaho with only Hawaii remaining, Nevada would be in the driver's seat.

I wrote entering the season that reaching some sort of postseason is important to this team. Preferably the NCAA, but the winner of the regular season gets invited to the NIT.

So is it a must win or not? Who knows, but at this point, it is for first place against an obvious contender.

"At this stage of the game, the records tell the story," NMSU coach Marvin Menzies said. "It's a game for first place in the WAC. I don't think there is much motivation going into that. As a coaching staff, we are going to tell them what they need to hear, but it's on the floor. This is why you play the game, to be in a position to be the best at any juncture."

McKines is facing Nevada's Olek Czyz for the first time. McKines plays at both ends of the court regardless of the matchup, but the Aggies can often put him a weaker player. Nevada relies so heavily on four players, that there is really not many power forwards in the WAC that can make McKines work on the defensive end and potentially get him into foul trouble. People get excited about individual matchups, but players look at it differently.

"I respect his game," McKines said. "He can finish around the basket. He's really versatile, athletic and he has a motor. I'm looking forward for not only playing him, but the challenge of playing Nevada as a team. Every game is a challenge, not only him but every team and every player. My approach doesn't change in how I approach the game and how I want to play. Once we get the scouting report, I'm going to study him and study the whole team and see where we go from there. ... As players, our approach to the game doesn't change. We follow the scout, how our coaches believe how we should execute to win the game. How we attack the game is not going to change."

This is last time McKines, Hernst Laroche and Hamidu Rahman play against Nevada in the Pan American Center, and it's the first game of the second semester where the students will be in attendance.

"I don't think the fans realize what type of role they can play. When we are tired, and don't want to make that box out on that particular play, that energy they bring can keep us in it," McKines siad. "For us to have a nice showing, it would be huge to get that experience to do that together. There is nothing like the student section, that young energy all over the opposing team. We need a good showing from the students because we all do it together. We all have classes, we eat at the cafeteria and we are all eating top ramen noodles. .... I was looking at the schedule and we only have nine more games in conference and 11 total. We just have to take it one day at a time and stay consistent and approach every game like it's my last. We all had goals coming in and that clock is ticking now. You can't take a day off and hopefully it's going to turn out good."

Outside of Czyz and Dario Hunt there isn't much in terms of depth for Nevada's front court. Nevada doesn't have depth anywhere (They only have three players who average more than 10 mpg off the bench) but especially in the frontcourt, which so happens to be the Aggies' deepest position.

"Getting to the bench could be an advantage or not," Menzies said. "With teams that have some talent sitting there on the bench, it doesn't mean they can't give you quality minutes. You have to be prepared for those top seven guys. I don't think that should be your scouting strategy. You have to beat their best and prepare for their best."

It's no secret though, even for Nevada coach David Carter, who tells his players not to take silly fouls.

"It's important for them not to get in foul trouble," Carter said. "At least with a silly reach in foul or over the back. I tell them that you aren't going to stop the other guy every time. Just make them work for it."

NMSU has done a good job defending the 3, but Nevada has the third best 3-point shooter Malik Story, Deonte Burton and Jerry Evans, all shooting 36 percent or better. Story is shooting 49 percent.

"Once they get going deep, I don't care what you do," Menzies said. "HOpefully the mistakes we made against (Hawaii's Zane Johnson, who hit 7 3s vs the Aggies) we can work on and do a better job against them, not just Malik, but Jerry and Burton. We just have to  be ready to cover their guys personnel specific. We have a job cut out for us with the talent they have."

Story was not as dependable last year. He shot 38 percent last year, still decent, but Carter said his shot selection has improved.

"Last year he took a lot of shots out of the offense and tough shots," Carter said. "This year, he is just taking better shots."

Monday, January 23, 2012


Upward — 3-point defense —Teams are shooting 34 percent against the Aggies from 3-point range. WAC teams are holding teams to 33.9 percent. I realize that Hawaii's Zane Johnson just went nuts against the Aggies, making seven of Hawaii's nine 3s for a 52 percent night. But that was the highest percentage, by far, since the Lobos shot 50 percent against them. That includes games against good 3 point shooting teams such as La Tech (17 percent) Utah State (18 percent) and Idaho (33 percent)

Hamidu Rahman —Rahman has been good this season after recovering from injury. But he's stepped up in WAC play on the offensive end, increasing from 10 points to 14 ppg. Rahman's 63.4 percent field goal percentage is 19th in the country. The biggest knock on him is his free throw shooting, where he is a 49% shooter. He's improved to 58.3 percent in the WAC.

Hernst Laroche —Laroche needed to be a bigger threat offensively this year and he has been, slightly, increasing from 11.5 to 12.1 ppg this year. In WAC play, he's at 14.4 ppg with nearly three steals per game. Laroche seems to have become more comfortable behind the arc as the season has progressed. He's shooting 43 percent for the season, but is a 50 percent shooter in conference play. Actually wouldn't mind seeing him more aggressive from long range if the game calls for it.  Would also like to see more assists from the senior, who sits at 3.5 per game, sixth in the WAC.

— Turnovers — The Aggies only had 12 against Hawaii, but they worst in the league with 14.6 turnovers per game. Part of it is due to the pace the Aggies play I'm sure. They had 18 against Idaho, 20 against La Tech, and 17 against San Jose. So in three of their five WAC games, they have averaged 18.3. I think they will be so much more effective in the 12-15 per game category.

— Rebounders in the WAC — We all know about Wendell McKines, but I think there are more good rebounders in the WAC this year than in recent years. McKines is 16th nationally with 10.5 rebounds per game and he plays for a NMSU team that ranks sixth in the country but he is one of four WAC players in the Top 66. Hawaii Vander Joaquim's 9.7 rpg is 26th, Nevada's Dario Hunt's 8.9 rpg is 45th. San Jose State's Will Carter is 66th with 8.4 rebounds per game and Idaho's Kyle Barone checks in at No. 101.

— Louisiana Tech —La. Tech is a scrappy little team. The Bulldogs picked up their first two WAC teams, both on the road, over the weekend led by WAC pLayer of the week Raheem Appleby's 28, La Tech beat an undermanned Hawaii team and then Appleby scored 19 against San Jose State. All three of the Bulldogs losses (NMSU, USU and Idaho) were by 10 points or less. The Bulldogs have Fresno at home on Thursday with a chance to get to .500, and Nevada on Saturday.

— San Jose State — I don't want to pile on here. I'll just state the obvious that SJSU is the only winless team in the WAC, which is rated the No. 14 RPI in the country. The Spartans rank last in the WAC in scoring defense (73.1), Field goal percentage (38), seventh in field goal defense (44) and rebounding margin

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Aggies show fight, but win streak ends

Big picture, NMSU's 91-87 loss at Hawaii isn't the end of the world and they will still be in first place in the WAC with a win at home over Nevada on Thursday. The Aggies' small lineup and pressure got them back into the game but they dug too big a hole for themselves.

Hawaii played with more urgency at home on Saturday, keeping slim hopes for a conference title alive while ending New Mexico State’s six-game losing streak.
Hawaii held off a late NMSU rally for a 91-87 victory in Hawaii on Saturday to hand the Aggies their first conference loss of the season, falling behind unbeaten Nevada into second place in the Western Athletic Conference.
NMSU fell to 14-6 on the year and 4-1 in the WAC while Hawaii improved to 3-2 in conference play.
After missing Hawaii’s loss to Louisiana Tech with the flu, Hawaii senior Zane Johnson put the Warriors on his shoulders.
Johnson finished with 29 points on 10-of-17 shooting and 7-for-13 from 3-point range. Trailing by 10 at halftime, the Aggies closed to within six early in the second half but Johnson drained a triple. He put Hawaii up with another 3 off an inbounds pass from the top of the key to open a 63-46 lead with 14:24 to play. Hawaii led by as many as 19 with under 11 minutes left to play.
Also returning to the lineup for Hawaii was point guard Jeremiah Ostrowski, who returned after missing Thursday’s game with a staph infection to finish with nine points, eight assists and four steals.
NMSU closed to within four on a Bandja Sy 3-pointer that climbed over the rim with 26.1 seconds left. NMSU went small and turned up the pressure, clawing back into the game with an 18-8 flurry in the last 2:49.
Sy led the Aggies with 17 points to go with 10 rebounds as NMSU had 19 offensive rebounds and finished 40.7 percent from the floor. Senior center Hamidu Rahman finished with 16 points, Wendell McKines had 14 points and nine rebounds, Hernst Laroche scored 13 points and Daniel Mullings scored 12 points. Tyrone Watson finished with nine points and led the Aggies with five of the team’s season-high 18 assists.
Hawaii shot 46 percent from the floor and 9-for-17 (52.9 percent) from 3-point range.
Despite two fouls to Hawaii center Vander Joaquim in the first half, the Warriors led 44-34 at halftime thanks to 18 first half points from Johnson.
NMSU trailed 23-11 after a 16-1 Hawaii run. The Aggies closed to within one on a Sy dunk, but Hawaii outscored NMSU 8-0 to end the half and push the lead back to double digits.
Johnson was 4-for-7 from 3-point range in the first half as Hawaii shot 39.5 percent from the field in the first half.
After a slow start, NMSU got into the paint and finished the first half shooting 34 percent from the floor. Without Joaquim in the post, Rahman scored 12 points in the first half and Sy scored seven of his 11 points in the first half. Not only did NMSU get Joaquim into early foul trouble, but backup center Davis Rozitis fouled out in the first half with nine points, five rebounds and three blocks.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Quick note

Former NMSU guard Christian Kabongo has landed at Southern Mississippi I believe. Southern Miss makes a return trip to Las Cruces next year during the non-conference, but it will likely be in the first semester, meaning CK will not yet be eligible to face his former teammates.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A road sweep would be nice, not neccessary

If NMSU wants to compete for WAC champion, the Aggies must best San Jose State tonight. They can, however, afford to lose at Hawaii on Saturday. Which is a distinct possibility, but as long as the Aggies split with Hawaii, Nevada and utah State, they will be right there. Easier said than done, as Hawaii is a good team and other than Nevada, the only team in the WAC with size that matches up with the Aggies. Josten Thomas will make McKines work on both ends and VJ is a tough post scorer who also defends. NMSU certainly has size at center, but VJ is probably the best center in the league right now.

Another big player for Hawaii is Zane Johnson, who is a knock down shooter. I think with the Aggies guards and wings this year, players like Johnson, who need space to get their shot off, will find it difficult against the length, strength and quickness of guys like Daniel Mullings and Bandja Sy. Mullings did an excellent job coming off screens all weekend against Utah State and Idaho, and did a nice job of shutting down Preston Medlin, who I think is a similar player to Johnson.

Notice how I'm completely looking past tonight's San Jose game? It's a luxury the Aggies don't have.

One thing that would be nice for the Aggies though is to blow out the Spartans, allowing key players to get rest, bench players to get experience and allow for some confidence heading into Saturday.

One player who could benefit from a blowout is Renaldo Dixon, who rejoined the team this week.

Marvin Menzies on Dixon, grades and injuries

"Injury wise we are good. Renaldo is back after going through missing some practices and some games and trying to sort some things out, we sat and had a long talk so he's back with us practicing and will make the trip. we are happy to see that things are well with him. Grades are fine. I'm not expecting any surprises. I spoke with him over the weekend. He's always been in a good place, he just had some things he needed to work through. They guys are happy to have him back. It will be a positive injection for sure in the way of depth, in the way of practice. He's got to earn his stripes again so to speak. He just has to get back in sync. He's not under punishment but we are playing well right now. You want to make sure you keep moving in a forward direction and have him compliment what we are doing right now."

On the possibility of sweeping this road trip and setting up a matchup of two unbeatens next week vs. Nevada
"It would be very beneficial to get this sweep on the road. We've got talent to do it its just a matter of going out and doing it. It wouldn't be the end of the world if we dropped one either. You can't win them all until you win the next one."

Wendell McKines on his trip to the Bay Area
"If you count just random people thats been following me since high school, I would say this trip at least 100. San Jose is always interesting trip. Off the court people asking for tickets and random things. On the court, it's just business as usual trying to get the win."

McKines on the challeges of this road trip
"Its pretty interesting for me. We usually are coming from Hawaii going to the Bay or going to the Bay and then going to Hawaii. I always look forward to it. It's definatley more difficult playing at San Jose then playing at Hawaii. I would prefer to play at Hawaii first and then fly into San Jose. just from a travel standpoint, I want to get there two or three days earlier, get acclimated to their time zone and then play the game opposed to playing at san jose and then the next moring leaving to play saturday."

"We've been through changes throughout the year. This is a time we are having fun playing with each other and finding an identity within ourselves. Its just a matter of consistecy at this point and not having any losses."

On avoiding looking past this weekend to Nevada
"The Nevada game doesnt hold as much weight if we dont win at San Jose and if we dont win at Hawaii. We can definatley look ahead and look forward to it if things pan out that way."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Idaho postgame ramblings

You don't think of Idaho as a quality basketball program, but the Aggies 80-68 victory over Idaho on Saturday was NMSU's best conference victory of the season. Yes, even better than the Utah State win on Thursday.

Idaho is a good team, with tough guards that are more versatile than Utah State's pairing of Pane and Medlin. They have skilled post players and have multiple players who can shoot the 3. Their 1-2-2 zone is also hard to score against.

But NMSU held the Vandals to 33 percent shooting from 3-point range, outrebounded the Vandals and shot 70 percent from the foul line, getting to the line 32 times. 

Postgame comments from Tyrone Watson, Hernst Laroche and Marvin Menzies

Tyrone Watson:
On veteran leadership: "Being here a couple years now, we are much more experienced and know how to handle certain adversity. Conference games mean that much more. We knew it was going to be a tough game even though we beat Utah State by 20. We weren't coming in thinking we were going to beat Idaho by 20. We were thinking they were going to give us a run for our money. We had poor execution in the first half with turnovers and we lacked in rebounding. We came together as a unit and we talked about our mistakes. We came out and gave a better effort in the second half."

On three seniors: "I've been playing with Hernst for three years now so I want him to leave on a good note, I want him to leave positive and I want to get one more ring with him before he leaves. Me and Bandja are the only seniors, we are going to take on big roles next year so we are just learning a lot from these three this year."

On free throws: "We don't shoot free throws good overall as a team so we knew that was a staple and that they were going to foul. They were staying in the zone the whole game so we had to attack. They fouled and we had to make free throws."

On defense in the second half: "We didn't really change anything. Just more of an urgency type thing. We need to understand who did what more and when to do certain things. We had our matchups correct in the second half and we kind of knew their plays and what they liked to do so we took them out of that in the second half."

On the team's physicality at all positions: "We have physical guys and we use that to our advantage. The other teams have advantages too. They have quick guys so they have me running all over the place. I have to run around with all the little guys. We are versatile and we are comfortable with guarding the wings and the perimeter. It helps us as a team because we can guard multiple positions with multiple guys."

Hernst Laroche: 
On shooting: "I just have the confidence. I'm in the gym with Tony Delk and (paul Weir). I just have confidence so when I come here and step on the line, I know I can make it."

On closing the game out: "We have veteran players, Tyrone, Wen and Hamidu. We know how to close out games. We just had to slow down the game because they were doing a good job in that zone. They played a similar style (as Utah State) We just had to have two guys on top and one guy running, just trying to move the zone out and try to go inside. The zone is designed for us to shoot but we are trying to go inside, trying to get fouls."

On Tyrone Watson's big three point play: "They denied me and I just went and screened him and I have confidence in Tyrone. He went in and did what he was supposed to do."

Defense in second half: "Just more talking. We had some mental errors in the first half but we corrected it."

Marvin Menzies:
"At the end of the day, in the WAC, it's about winning and losing and tonight we got the 'W'. It wasn't as pretty as we would have liked but at the end of the day, it's about winning. When you get to conference, it doesn't matter who you are playing, you have to get the 'W' to be able to reach your goal of competing for a WAC championship, WAC Tournament championship. Those are all goals still in front of us. We took a step towards it. We have to make sure we stay on target. ... We have a lot to clean up. We went from six turnovers to 18 turnovers. Were they unforced? I know there were some. did they bait us into some of those passes with their sagging 1-2-2? Probably. You have to give the Vandals some credit for turning us over 18 times as well. I think they took us off our pace a little bit with the 3/4 court. We should have been more aggressive attacking it."

On Idaho's future in the WAC and the Idaho program, which Menzies is now 9-1 against:
"They got a split this trip so I think they are in the upper echelon in my mind. They have to protect the house. They lost to Nevada at home and that's the one that is going to beat a lot of people. they have to go steal a couple on the road. ... It has been dominance, but let's face it, the honest answer is resources. Regional things factor into it but I don't know if they have the history and tradition that we have and our resources I think are better than theirs. All of that plays into matchups and a series with teams."

On seniors: "We were really good in the second half with free throw shooting. I told them to step to the line and concentrate. You guys are at home, relax and do what we do in practice."

On defense: "I thought we did a much better job in the second half of getting out to their 3-point shooters. In the first half, they were 4-10 but three of them were against underneath out of bounds in the zone. I wanted to change defense based on need and we needed to."

Idaho thread

NMSU should beat Idaho tonight.

Three things to look for:
Battle in the paint, 3-point defense, letdown??

I don't know why, but Kyle Barone is one of my favorite players in the WAC. I might have to let that go if NMSU's centers can shut him down. Barone is one of three Idaho big guys who are more skilled I would say than anyone on Utah State other than Reed. They are good at clogging the paint and blocking or altering shots on the defensive end.

through two WAC games, NMSU opponents are shooting 17 percent from 3-point range. Idaho is the seventh best 3-point shooting team in the country but NMSU's guards and wing players are likely longer and more athletic than most Idaho has faced to this point.

You always worry about a letdown. NMSU is coming off a big victory over Utah State. Reasons I doubt a NMSU letdown are veteran players for the Aggies, too much length and quickness for Idaho's guards to get loose and the fact that Idaho is coming on an overtime game in Ruston on Thursday so you would think home court could work to the Aggies' favor.

Friday, January 13, 2012

End of an era?

Maybe it's too early to write off Utah State for good. But one thing is certain. Unless the top teams in the WAC finish around .500, Utah State's 80-60 loss at New Mexico State likely ended their chance for a fifth straight conference championship. Utah State lost just its third WAC game in its last 33 conference game. USU is now 1-2 in league play while Nevada (3-0) NMSU (2-0) Hawaii (2-0) remain unbeaten.

I think Utah State will improve, but check this quote out from Shawn Harrison's game story, where Kyisean Reed said of NMSU "showboating" after a Wendell McKines 3 when the game was all but over.

"If that doesn't bother anyone on this team, then I don't know who we are," Reed said of the showboating. "It's something to remember when they come to our house."

What Reed should remember instead is A. scoring just six points in the second half...ahem, B. The USU interior players getting dunked on, allowing 14 offensive rebounds and a 52-14 NMSU advantage in the paint. This was a beat down. I don't think it's going to be like that when the teams play again in Logan, but like I've written before, this is a different Utah State team. The interior players outside of Reed are not that skilled. NMSU has long, quick guards that can take away Pane and Medlin (3-10), leaving a bunch of players left to take big shots when none of them want to. USU was 3-16 from 3-pt range, NMSU committed a season low six turnovers with 14 assists. The 14 offensive rebounds helped create 11 more shot opportunites than Utah State. Other stats that stood out, USU was 7-17 from the foul line in the second half after going a perfect 10-10 in the first half. conversely, the Aggies were 3-9 from the line in the first half and 14-20 from the line in the second half. NMSU committed a total of 37 turnovers in their previous two games. NMSU had a season low six turnovers on Thursday with 14 assists on 30 made field goals. 

Wendell McKines:
On Daniel Mullings "The sky is the limit for this man right here. He has a motor, all out energy. He's the best I've ever seen at attacking the rack and he crashes the glass, he's relentless on defense, he's very athletic. Wow, I'm impressed. I'm just glad I have the best seat in the house."

On closing it out: "There was a stretch in the second half where it could have gone either way. We just stayed within our system and played hard on our home floor."

On turnovers: "Not only against Utah State, but we know that if we take care of the ball and rebound on both ends of the floor, we can play with anybody. ... We emphasize it in practice, playing with each other and we executed it."

On four game win streak: "Getting our momentum at the right time and Utah State, beating them I guess is just the icing on the cake. No matter who we play, we always have to stay within ourselves."

Second half offense: "With them double teaming the post, it made easy lanes for our guards to penetrate. It was good to see."

On NMSU interior players; "At this point in time, it's just all about consistency. As long as we play hard and play within ourselves, I feel as though the sky is the limit. We create lanes and open shots for our guards, as long as we play with each other, sky is the limit for this team."

Daniel Mullings:
"Our size is a big plus for us. Adding the experience we have with some of our seniors, it helps other players like me coming in as a freshman and sophomores. It helps us settle down and play within ourselves and continue to dominate, which we did tonight."

On turnovers: "I think it was just priding up. In practice, it was brought up a lot by the coaches and we brought it up amongst ourselves. We just decided that we are going to change starting with this game and take care of the ball."

Second half offense: "We knew they couldn't defend us one on one on ball or off ball so we took it in. They double teamed the post."

On guards defending Pane and Medlin: "We knew coming into the game, Pane likes to get into the paint , push it in transition. We said that he's not getting into the paint anymore, take him out of his game a little bit, have him shooting more jumpers than he wanted to. We did a good job getting out on Medlin and the other shooters. I think we did well as a collective unit."

Marvin Menzies
"I think we took a step, key is to keep taking steps forward. Win or lose, you want to play as a team, play together and play well."

On turnovers: "The treadmill is an amazing tool when used properly. It was a focus obviously to take care of the ball. The guys were punished severely in practice when they turned the ball over. I think they got the message. Just a matter of concentrating and making it an emphasis."

On zone: "I didn't expect to stay in it as long as we did but when they weren't hitting the 3, it was obviously valuable for us. ... They were only 2-for-6 at the half. It was something that kind of made us go to it a little bit. ... We got comfortable with what they were running against it. Even their 3s, we were challenging every shot and that's how you bring a percentage down. I was happy with the way our guys executed the defensive game plan. This team is a lot better than how they played tonight. It was one of those games where once we got ahold of the lead and got a nice solid lead, we were able to make solid decisions down the stretch."

 "They are a different team at home. Nevada jumped on them early and got a lead. You have to execute down the stretch if you do get a lead. We won the battle tonight. ... You have to look at what teams did prior to you that were successful."

On Idaho's win over La. Tech: "A lot of similar things we will see. La. Tech was shooting the lights out and was really climbing into them. Idaho just kept plugging away much like Utah State and were able to get back into the game. We have another tough test."

On Idaho's bigs: "They are  a little more athletic. They are a different type of big. They can run and are more versatile. You have to be cautious in your driving and penetration."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hungry Utah State team coming here Thursday

First of all on Renaldo Dixon, Menzies had this to say on Tuesday,
"He's trying to make some decisions on a personal note. As soon as I have some information that I can share, I will share it. Right now, it's status quo as things have unfolded the last few games."

It sounds like to me both sides are trying to figure out the next step. Sounds like Dixon initially fell in line with his friend CK, but he's obviously not released yet. Menzies said he hopes Dixon will still be in an Aggies uniform. 

My keys to Thursday's Utah State game:
Rebounding, pound USU inside and limit turnovers

Two NMSU players who can have an impact for the Aggies are Hamidu Rahman and Wendell McKines. First with McKines, there is no reason why he can't improve on his ppg in WAC play. Few teams have a four that can hold him. Utah State could in jc transfer Kyisean Reed, who I'm looking forward to seeing in person. But he's still getting used to Division I basketball and McKines is a fifth year senior. 

Rahman has returned to form it seems. He's shooting 64 percent and averaging 9 and 7. The last two games, Rahman has played well but hasn't had much chance to be involved because the Aggies played undersized teams. Utah State has some size in Morgan Grim and Jordan Stone off the bench and the UtAgs want to play at a slower pace. I think Rahman can have a big game.

Stew Morrill: "(Rahman) is so big and they throw it to him a lot"

In Nevada's victory at Utah State, the Wolf Pack outrebounded USU by 10 with 13 offensive rebounds. The Aggies are the No. 6 rebounding team in the country. NMSU averages 14 offensive reboundes per game. 

Stew Morrill: "Wendell averages over 10 rebounds per game so you have to put a body on him. It becomes a lot harder if you rotate or they penetrate or if you're doubling the post. We basically have to try to gang rebound."

Utah State doesn't turn the ball over. They average 12 TOs per game. NMSU averages 17 per game. The Aggies had 20 turnovers against Louisiana Tech. Although La. Tech wants to play at a faster pace, NMSU turnovers kept La Tech in the game.

"If we limit those, it makes the game a lot easier for us," freshman guard Daniel Mullings said. "Our turnovers really kept them in the game. If we limit them, we will be good."

It's easier said than done, but the Aggies will try to get the ball out of the hands of senior point guard Brockeith Pane. Moreso than past USU teams, the point guard is even more important since there are new players around Pane. It will be interesting to see who Mullings guards, either Pane or sophomore shooting guard Preston Medlin.

"From what I'm hearing from teammates and staff, they have been ruling the WAC," Mullings said. "This will be a good test for us and we are just looking forward to the game. One thing I know about them is they set a lot of screens so we have to be ready for that. We have to come in with that mindset to see screens and talk to get through screens."

Medlin redshirted last year and is averaging 15 ppg and shooting 49 percent from 3 pt range.

"We had three seniors on the wing. Preston had quite a bit of potential but those kids were seniors coming off a championship and were going to get a lot of the shots," Morrill said. "It was a good move to redshirt him. He had a tough game at Corpus Christi but since then has emerged as a guy who thinks he can play and he's right. He's good at passing the ball and makes a lot of plays for his teammates. He's slight of build but more athletic than you might think."

Even though there are new players at USU, Morrill has a system in place that is obviously successful. 

"We knew what Tai Wesley and Pooh Williams did and we were comfortable with those guys playing them year in and year out," Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said. "I think as you get new players they are going to be there for awhile, you have to adjust to them. The way Utah State plays, their system is as important in understanding because of the consistency that Stew has."

Morrill said that USU coaches have primarily been studying film from the Aggies last three games after the departure of Christian Kabongo. 

"Mullings has come in as a starter and looks very capable," Morrill said. "He's athletic and he's doing some good things. Kabongo was taking a lot of shots and it seems like there are more shots to go around."

Lastly, Utah State enters the game a bit desperate. They lost to Nevada at home and Thursday's game is the first of four road games for them. Lose another game could end hopes of a league title. Lose two certainly will.

A home game is important for NMSU and getting off to a good start is important.

"The advantage of playing at home is only as strong as your crowd," Menzies said. "We do need to get the support in here because there is no use of playing at home if you're playing in an empty gym. If we get that, I think that's a big part of giving us potential success."

Monday, January 9, 2012

CORRECTION: Aggies WILL have another transfer on campus

With reports that Pitt transfer Khem Birch is leaning toward UNLV, the Aggies WILL have  another transfer, Virginia's James Johnson is on campus for a visit. Johnson played in high school in California, but is originally from Canada.

Will be here tonight, but he is not on campus as I originally stated. That is all.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Halfway home: Aggies have been solid in season’s first half

New Mexico State basketball fans have the right to expect a conference championship every two or three years.
Yet there is a section of folks who are letting one loss diminish what has otherwise been a respectable first half to the 2011-12 season. 
NMSU is 11-5 at the midway point of the season. 
The Aggies didn’t win their 11th game last year until Jan. 27 in their eighth conference game. Their win over Boise State evened their record at 11-11 and NMSU went on to finish 16-17.
The Aggies open the second half on Thursday in their Western Athletic Conference home opener against Utah State.
Talking around prior to the season, knocks on the Aggies under fifth-year head coach Marvin Menzies harped on a losing record against rivals New Mexico and UTEP, undisciplined play on the court and personnel issues off of it.
Legitimate concerns to be sure.
Midseason departures of players isn’t uncommon in college basketball. At NMSU, it seems to be common and any type of distraction off the court takes away from precious momentum and fan support this time of year.
It was Christian Kabongo this year — a player who showed glimpses of promise on the court but who never seemed in sync with the style of play Menzies was hoping for. Kabongo ultimately decided to part ways with NMSU and sophomore Renaldo Dixon’s status with the team is still unclear at this point. 
On the court, the Aggies are moving the ball again, dishing off 14 assists in their 83-73 victory at Louisiana Tech on Saturday.
Regarding rivalry games, the Aggies won their first two, but lost a game they should have won at UTEP and got blown out at home by the Lobos.
Entering any season, going 2-2 against the rivalry schools is a successful year according to some. Menzies had never split with UTEP and UNM prior to this year, but the way they lost to the Lobos — getting dissected, outplayed and outexecuted, left a sour taste in Aggieland.
Next is the disciplined play of the team. This year’s team opened the season looking like a defensive juggernaut and the Aggies still play solid man-to-man defense while just mixing in the zone that bored people to tears in the past and led to easy baskets for opponents.
The Aggies know their strengths and have played to them, taking advantage of their size to get to the free throw line a NCAA high 566 times and pull down 37.9 rebounds per game — seventh in the nation.
Without senior Wendell McKines in the lineup last year, the Aggies certainly could not be described as a team that played hard every night.
This group plays hard, although the lack of a true shooter is sometimes  hard to watch on offense.
The Aggies are hardly a sure bet to win the WAC this year and perhaps that’s what frustrates people so much. 
But if programs are judged on wins and losses, this year’s team has 11 wins, six road wins, a realistic chance for 20 wins and no bad losses.
The fact that the team started 4-0 and beat the Lobos at the Pit set expectations sky high when the real Aggies probably land somewhere in the middle. 
Which is certainly good enough to win the WAC

Saturday, January 7, 2012

NMSU wins WAC opener at La. Tech

Was it pretty? no. But NMSU picked up its 11th win of the year and sixth road win with a 83-73 victory at Louisiana Tech. I think the Aggies can win the WAC with seven regular players, but not if players foul out. Watson and Nephawe each fouled out on Saturday and Rahman played with four. Turnovers were up to 20 tonight as well and the Bulldogs had 20 offensive rebounds. But NMSU went inside, played to their strengths of size and defense and pulled out the win.

New Mexico State improved to 7-0 in Western Athletic Conference openers.
The Aggies improved to 11-5 overall and 1-0 in the WAC this season with an 83-73 victory at Louisiana Tech on Saturday.
“This was the ugliest win all season but the most rewarding because it was a conference win and it was on the road,” said Aggies coach Marvin Menzies, who improved to 5-0 in conference openers. “We had 20 turnovers and were outrebounded by two and we won. We really shot the ball well and executed well offensively.”
NMSU started the second half 9-for-9 from the field, pushing a six-point halftime lead to 61-46 with 14:36 to play.
“It’s all about sharing the ball and taking the right shot,” said NMSU senior Wendell McKines, who recorded his ninth double-double with 25 points on 9-for-13 shooting and 14 rebounds. “We all enjoy playing with each other.”
The Bulldogs answered with an 8-0 run thanks to five straight NMSU turnovers as the Aggies finished the game with 20 turnovers. But eight points was as close as the Bulldogs would get in the second half.
NMSU was a scorching 69.6 percent from the field in the second half, finishing the game 57.1 percent from the floor. 
The Aggies had 14 assists on 32 made field goals and had four players in double figures.
“It was just a matter of sharing the ball and executing,” McKines said. “We had one of our highest assist games of the year.”
NMSU senior guard Hernst Laroche and junior wing Tyrone Watson each scored 14 points and senior center Hamidu Rahman had 11 points and six rebounds. Daniel Mullings had eight points, 10 rebounds, three assists, one steal and three blocks.
Louisiana Tech finished 34.7 percent from the field. The Bulldogs (0-1 WAC) had 19 more field goal attempts than the Aggies, grabbing 20 offensive rebounds and outrebounding NMSU 44-42.
But the Aggies were too efficient on the offensive end, scoring 44 points in the paint and shooting 16-for-26 from the foul line.
McKines scored 14 points in the second half and Laroche hit a jumper from the foul line at the buzzer.
“Coach told us that they are a good shooting team and we wanted to challenge all shots, not just the 3-point line,” McKines said.
The Aggies shot 48.5 percent in the first half for a 40-34 lead at the break.
“If you want to win on the road, coach tells us we have to win by 10 and that’s what we did,” McKines said. “Getting off to a good start made us feel comfortable quicker.”
Louisiana Tech shot just 32.4 percent but the Bulldogs’ full court pressure forced 10 Aggies turnovers in the first half.
“It threw us off because we hadn’t been pressured like that in a game so far this year,” McKInes said. “We bounced back and handled it better in the second half.”
NMSU plays host to Utah State at home on Thursday.
“(Winning their WAC opener) is critical and it’s how we want to go about things all year,” McKInes said. “It was a good confidence booster.”

Friday, January 6, 2012

La Tech quotes

Wendell McKines on the Aggies' success on the road this year and what it means to being successful in WAC play. Of course, the Aggies open WAC play on the road on Saturday against La. Tech, a team that is unbeaten at home, as was Cal-St. Bakersfield.

"It's a good sign because that was an undefeated team at home. When you play on the road,  you aren't necessarily playing talent for talent or size for size. You are playing how their chemistry and  their environment how they play. It was their first home loss. That's a testament to where we are  heading. It's a momentum boost for us and a positive note going into the WAC."

One last note regarding McKines, I asked him about the turnover and resulting foul that put Bakersfield on the line with a chance to hand the Aggies the loss since there wasn't video available. He said he turned the ball over as he attempted to go around the back to get past the guard just over mid court. Since it was a smaller player, McKines said he should have just ran past him rather than crossing him over.

Daniel Mullings on what he's capable of moving forward after a 21-point game at Bakersfield
"I knew coming in that I would have to step it up. Hernst and Wen were a little slow getting into the game so I had to pick it up. ... It starts with offensive rebounding, giving ourselves more chances to score and moving the ball and playing more inside out because we have advantages with our bigs."

Marvin Menzies
On WAC outlook. There have been more marquee wins it seems this year, but there could have been more.
"We had a couple marquee games that I wish the conference would have done a little better job. Close game against Mississippi State (Utah State) or our game vs. Arizona. Those really help the conference overall. When you get close but you don't win them, it's frustrating. ... In relation to the past, yeah, but we were right there on a few others that could have set us up a few notches in relation to the national conference standings. We got a few, but now it's time to see who is the best of the best."

La Tech is a guard oriented team that can shoot if they get hot. Bakersfield was similar, providing tough matchups for the NMSU big guys. The Aggies went to a zone and rode it out. They could do the same thing against La. Tech for spells at least

Since the backcourt is diminished from a numbers standpoint after Kabongo left, point guard Hernst Laroche needs a backup, and he also has to be careful not to get into foul trouble. Freshman walk on DJ Lewis did a good job last week, but counting on him in the second half in a league game probably isn't ideal.

"We are going to roll with what we have. We just have manage the game a little differently. ... (Laroche) just has to play smart. You can't play on your heels and play passive because you anticipate playing the whole game. You have to be aggressive but you just have to be smart and can't gamble where maybe before he had a little luxury to shoot the gap and go for a few more steals."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Khem Birch visit

Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch arrived in Las Cruces late Wednesday and will leave town on Friday for a visit at UNLV.

"I'm going to make a decision either Saturday or Sunday after the UNLV visit," said Birch, a former McDonalds All-American.

Birch committed to Pitt and has since visited Florida before coming to Las Cruces. While a Mountain West school, UNLV can hardly be described as a mid-major. The line between high-major and low-major has become less clear in modern college basketball.

"The advantages are probably developing at a mid-major," Birch said. "At a mid-major, coaches develop the players more. As a high-major coaches, they want to win so development is not as heavy. A lot of the high-majors have players leave and mid-majors have their players stay so it's basically even."

NMSU has an obvious connection to Canadian players and Birch is familiar with senior point guard Hernst Laroche and redshirt Sim Bhullar.

"Me and Hernst played AAU together four years ago and me and Sim played on Team Canada together," he said. "Me and Sim are really close because we are both the same age."

Should Birch land at NMSU, he would be most talented recruit to put an Aggies uniform on since Herb Pope.

"I like the program," he said. "They develop players. They like to do individuals a lot. I like that. It's kind of different from the East Coast but I like it. It (East vs. West) kind of factors into it a little because I'm more used to the East Coast. But I feel like I can gel with the West Coast. I'm not worried about where I'm going. I just want to be happy and be comfortable."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

WAC revisions

With WAC play starting Thursday, I'm going to take an opportunity here to call a re-do. Nothing crazy, but I present a revised WAC Poll and first team all WAC after the non-conference has been completed.

My initial Predicted order of finish
1. Nevada
3. Utah State
4. Hawaii
5. Idaho
6. San Jose State
7. Fresno State
8. Louisiana Tech

Initial All WAC
McKines, NMSU
Hunt, Nevada
Burton, Nevada
Story, Nevada
Johnson, Hawaii

Revised Poll - Predicted record
1. Nevada - 11-3 (Only team in the league without a head scratching loss. Sweeping Hawaii gives them title)
2. Utah State - 11-3 (Emergence of Medlin and Reed give USU three go-to players)
3. NMSU 10-4 (Style of play will lend itself to many close games, hard to say they will win all of them)
4. Hawaii 10-4 (Talented team, but I think they will drop some road games.)
5. Idaho 8-6 (Idaho will steal games and will be tough in the tournament)
6. Fresno State 4-10
7. La. Tech 3-11
8. San Jose State 3-11

Revised First-team
McKines, NMSU
Burton, Nevada
Hunt, Nevada
Story, Nevada
Medlin, Utah State

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

WAC primer

Nevada (10-3 107 RPI, 218 SOS)
Coach: David Carter
Best win: Washington (83 RPI) Bad loss: None
Last year’s WAC: 8-8, WAC quarters
Key stats: Nevada has offensive weapons at virtually every position, but the Wolf Pack are holding their opponents to 40.4 percent shooting and a league-low 63 points per game. 
Key players: Sophomore point guard Deonte Burton is ninth in the WAC with 14 points, second with 4.6 assists per game and has improved from long range, shooting 38 percent from 3-point range; Junior guard Malik Story was feast or famine last year. Not so this year. He’s hit 50 percent of his 3s this year.
Outlook: Burton, Story, center Dario Hunt and forward Olek Czyz are all capable of winning a game on a given night. The four players account for 49 of the team’s 68 points per game. Without much of a bench to speak of, how far can the Wolf Pack go?

New Mexico State (10-5 96 RPI, 109 SOS)
Coach: Marvin Menzies
Best win: (@ New Mexico (50 RPI) Bad loss: @UTEP (185 RPI)
Last year’s WAC: 9-7, WAC semis
Key stats: Eighth in NCAA at 38.1 rebounds per game, 20th in NCAA in rebounding percentage, grabbing 57.6 percent of available rebounds; NMSU scores 51 percent of its points on 2-point makes and 30 percent from foul line, where they are ranked first with 540 in free throws attempted and 363 makes from the line.
Key players: Wendell McKines leads the WAC and is 13th in NCAA with 10.5 rebounds per game to go with 18.4 points per game (2nd in WAC); Senior point guard Hernst Laroche is averaging 11.3 points, 3.6 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game.
Outlook: The Aggies will lean heavily on McKines, Laroche and senior center Hamidu Rahman from here on out. NMSU is at its best when the game is fast paced and they are focused defensively. Offensive rebounding and free throw shooting will keep the Aggies in most games in conference play.

Hawaii (9-6 259 RPI, 297 SOS)
Coach: Gib Arnold
Best win: Xavier (58 RPI) Bad loss: Auburn (194 RPI), @Pepperdine (222 RPI), @Pacific (255 RPI)
Last year’s WAC: 8-8, WAC first round
Key stats: The Warriors are an efficient offensive team. Hawaii has four players who average in double figures and they average 73.5 points per game. They do it in just 61.4 possessions per 40 minutes.
Key players: Senior guard Zane Johnson is fifth in the WAC with 15.1 points per game and shoots the 3 at 35 percent; Junior center Vander Joaquim is 12th in the WAC in scoring with 12.1 points per game and second in rebounding at 9.2 boards per game.
Outlook: Hawaii has one of the WAC’s best non-conference victories, defeating Xavier at the Warriors’ tournament. They also played No. 17 UNLV tough, losing 74-69. Hawaii certainly has enough talent to win the league but they were 3-5 away from home in WAC play last year and started league play 0-5 with essentially the same core group. Travel is always a factor for Hawaii.

Utah State (8-6 150 RPI, 208 SOS) 
Coach: Stew Morrill
Best win: BYU (64 RPI), Kent State (84 RPI) Bad loss: @ Pacific (255 RPI), Texas A&M Corpus Christi (314 RPI)
Last year’s WAC: 15-1, WAC champion
Key stats: Utah State is holding teams to 39.4 percent shooting from the field, which is 46th in the country. The UtAgs are 22nd in America in 3-point percentage at 39.7 percent while defending the 3 just as effectively. USU opponents are shooting 30.6 percent from long range, which ranks 60th nationally.
Key players: Senior point guard Brockeith Pane is seventh in the WAC with 3.5 assists per game to go with 11.1 points per game; Sophomore guard Preston Medlin leads Utah State with 14.4 points per game and is shooting 50 percent from the floor. He’s also ninth in the WAC with 3.3 assists per game; At 6-foot-6, junior forward Kyisean Reed is an intriguing player, who seems to have replaced the injured Brady Jardine’s workload with 10 points, including a 27-point performance against Kent State.
Outlook: The defending champs are at it again. USU has won 4-of-5 including a two-point road loss to No. 15 Mississippi State. Utah State seems to be doing it with defense, holding teams to 63 points per game. Pane may be the most experienced player after the loss of Brady Jardine, but Medlin has taken advantage of playing time. Medlin is fourth in the WAC at 48.5 percent from 3-point range.

Louisiana Tech (8-7 236 RPI, 309 SOS)
Coach: Michael White
Best win: Northwestern State (166 RPI) Bad loss: Portland State (221 RPI), Southern Methodist (251 RPI), Southeastern Louisiana (293 RPI)
Last year’s WAC: 2-12
Key stats: Although they score just 68 points per game, the Bulldogs have five players with 29 or more attempts who shoot 33 percent or better from 3-point range.
Key players: Freshman guard Raheem Appleby is 14th in the WAC with 11.8 points per game and is a 42.9 percent shooter from 3-point range; Senior guard Trevor Gaskins and sophomore guard Cordarius Johnson are the only other players in double figures at 10 points each.
Outlook: Louisiana Tech is guard heavy and young. Junior guard Brandon Gibson was the Bulldogs best projected player returning, but Appleby, freshman Kenneth Smith, sophomore Johnson all play more than Gibson. 

Idaho (7-7 237 RPI, 293 SOS)
Coach: Don Verlin
Best win: @Oregon State (135 RPI) Bad loss: Montana (168 RPI)
Last year’s WAC: 9-7, WAC quarters
Key stats: Idaho is 11th in the nation in field goal percentage at 49.6 percent and eighth in the country in 3-point shooting at 42.4 percent.
Key players: Senior guard Deremy Geiger leads the Vandals in scoring with 13.1 points per game and he’s fifth in the WAC in 3-point shooting at 45.3 percent; Junior center Kyle Barone is fourth in the WAC with 8.2 rebounds, third in field goal percentage at 56.8 percent to go with 12.5 points per game.
Outlook: Idaho enters conference play losers of three straight games — all by three points or less. The Vandals are very balanced, both offensively and defensively. Gieger has improved and Barone is a skilled center around the basket. Having four 3-point shooters at 30 percent or better will keep the Vandals in most games. It’s just a matter of pulling out the close ones.

Fresno State (7-8 142 RPI 89 SOS)
Coach: Rodney Terry
Best win: Boise State (132 RPI) Bad loss: Texas-San Antonio (160 RPI)
Last year’s WAC: 7-9, WAC first round
Key stats: Despite boasting the WAC’s top scorer in sophomore guard Kevin Olekaibe, Fresno State averages a league low 66.7 points per game and opponents are shooting a WAC best 45 percent against the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs only average 60.9 possessions per 40 minutes, also a WAC low.
Key players: Olekaibe has the green light. He leads the Bulldogs and the WAC with 18.7 points per game, 3s made (45) and attempted (128). Olekaibe is involved in 31.5 percent of the Bulldogs’ plays when he’s on the floor, also a WAC high.
Outlook: New Mexico transfer Jonathan Willis is the only other Fresno State player to average in double figures and point guard Steven Shepp is one of two seniors on a young team that seems to still be a work in progress.

San Jose State (6-8 287 RPI, 324 SOS)
Coach: George Nessman
Best win: Texas-San Antonio (160 RPI) Bad loss: Montana State (317 RPI)
Last year’s WAC: 5-11, WAC semis
Key stats: San Jose State gives up a league worst 71 points per game. The Spartans are fourth in the league in scoring at 69 points per game despite shooting a league low 39 percent from the field. They are also last in the WAC in rebounding margin as the Spartans are outrebounded by 4.4 rebounds per game.
Key players: Sophomore guard Keith Shamburger is fourth in the WAC in scoring with 15.4 points per game and he leads the league with 5.1 assists per game; Junior guard James Kinney is third in the league in scoring with 16.7 points per game.
Outlook: With Shamburger and Kinney in the  backcourt with senior forward Will Carter (9.9 points and 7.4 rebounds), it’s hard to understand how the Spartans haven’t been competitive in the non-conference. The team relies on jump shots and 3s (121 made 3s leads the WAC) and hasn’t defended well enough up to this point.