Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tuesday press conference

Here are five keys to Thursday's game at Nevada.

I would add rebounding to these keys. New Mexico State is third in America in rebounding percentage, grabbing 58 percent of available rebounds. Nevada is second in the WAC at 53 percent. NMSU outrebounded Nevada 38-25 in the first game with 17 offensive rebounds, but for some reason, the Aggies didn't turn those offensive boards into points. They have been doing a good job of getting back to that lately.

Following are comments from Tuesday with Marvin Menzies and Wendell McKines

Marvin Menzies:
On the perception that Nevada is on a downswing while the Aggies are on an upswing
"I think they are winning. They get every team's best shot. I think the teams that come to play them are playing on a mission. ... That's why those guys are playing more minutes, their games are a little tighter as the games go on. I just know they are 11-1. I wouldn't mind having a whole bunch of tight games and being 11-1."

On the last road trip
"This will be an interesting trip for a lot of reasons. The opportunity to get better going into the WAC Tournament. There is still a glimmer of hope here that things can shake out in our favor. We have a lot of incentives to play well and improve upon our play. For no other reason we need to have a solid performance. ... I know they have a white out going. I'm sure they will have a great crowd with an opportunity to win the regular season championship outright."

On Nevada defensively:
"The common perception when you judge a team is to look at the offensive end but you always hear that defense wins championships. They have been playing great defense. They are blocking shots, they are guarding the ball and keeping guys off the free throw line. They are doing what they need to do to win and if that's defense, you have to tip your hat to them. They have a lot of offensive weapons but they are really locking up the ball and making it really tough for people to score on them. I think that is our concerrn, what do we have to do to execute to get scoring opportunities."

On the last game (Nevada's 68-60 win in Las Cruces)
"The worst part of our game is that we didn't bring it early. We played pretty well those last 25-30 minutes. Even then we probably didn't give them our A game."

On turning Nevada over (Nevada had 16 TOs in Las Cruces)
"There is no team in our conference that handles really good pressure well. One of the reasons La tech has done a good job this year is because they pressure the ball. I think it can be effective for you but I don't think it can be relied on for the course of the game."

On Nevada coach David Carter:
"An  indication of if a coach is doing a good job is when you win close games. It means those games could have gone either way. ...He's going to the right players at the right time. Coming off last year with the trials that they had with such a young team, they had high expectations this year and he has lived up to them so you have to give him credit."

Wendell McKines:
On the first Nevada game and his first matchup against Olek Czyz
"With Cyzy I was looking forward to the matchup but as soon as the game started, he was face guarding me and then they played a packed in type of zone. Before you know it I have two fouls and never really got into a rhythm. ... They jammed me up whenever I tried to set a screen for Hearnst. Later on they played this packed in type of zone. They are well coached. He’s talented. He has a little bit of a motor. I respect him. I was looking forward to the matchup but going into this game I know thats not going to happen."

On the highs and lows of this season
"I felt as though we got comfortable. At the beginning of the year, we felt like we were the underdogs and we wanted to attack everybody. We started 4-0 and started to feel ourselves a little bit and took some losses in the process. After certain situations occurred, as a team we started playing together, started focusing. It all starts in practice."

On Hamidu Rahman level of play recently:
"Especially after the San Jose game. I believe if Ham plays like that, we can play with anybody in the country. He knows. It's just up to him to do it every game."

On how vital the Nevada game truly is:
"We play this game to win. I know I'm not going to be happy if we play good. We play to win. When we go to Reno tomorrow, I know the coaches are game planning for us to come out with the victory. We are going to practice like we are going into a big game. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Seeding scenarios from Wasson's blog

If Nevada were to lose to both New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech they would still earn the 1-seed due to a sweep of Hawai'i. The Aggies and Wolf Pack would have split the head-to-head meetings and both teams split with Idaho. (WAC Tiebreaker Regulation 4). The Aggies would face Fresno State in the first round.
The Aggies would face Louisiana Tech in the 1st round if the loss came to Fresno State AND Fresno State also defeated Louisiana Tech (the two teams meet Thursday). If the loss came to Nevada the Aggies would face Fresno State in the 1st round.
The Aggies would earn 2-seed if Idaho lost at either Hawai'i (Thursday) or San Jose State (Saturday). The Aggies would face Louisiana Tech in the 1st round if Louisiana Tech lost to Fresno State on Thursday but would face Fresno State if Louisiana Tech were to defeat Fresno State on Thursday.
Not exactly the kind of momentum the Aggies would want heading into the WAC Tournament but the Aggies went 0-2 in the final week of the season in 2009-10 and wound up winning the WAC Tournament.
The Aggies earn 3-seed in this scenario if Idaho were to go 2-0 this week defeating Hawai'i and San Jose State. The Aggies and Vandals split the regular season meetings but Idaho would own the tiebreaker due to their split with Nevada. (WAC Tiebreaker Regulation 3). The Aggies face Louisiana Tech if Fresno State defeats Louisiana Tech on Thursday. The Aggies face Fresno State if they lose to Louisiana Tech.

Read more: http://www.bleedcrimson.net/node/5145#ixzz1nc359Vxd

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Where does this year's senior class rank?

I think Jack Nixon said it best in my story on Saturday, when describing where this year's group of seniors ranks all time at NMSU. 

"Lacey, Collins and Criss kind of put Aggie basketball on the map nationally and captured people's hearts here in Las Cruces," said Jack Nixon, longtime radio voice of NMSU basketball. "This group of seniors has quietly done the same thing in four years and they will be remembered with greater significance than people realize right now."

Wendell McKines, Hernst Laroche and Hamidu Rahman led the Aggies to a 79-68 victory over San Jose State on Senior Night Saturday at the Pan Am. Here is a photo gallery from the game and postgame ceremony.

When it's all said and done, I believe this class ranks second behind the great 1970 class of Lacey, Collins and Criss when talking about classes consisting of four year players.

Please add your opinion if I'm missing anyone, but as far as classes of four year players, there could also be Richard Robinson and Dexter Hawkins (74-77) and Slab Jones and Greg Webb (1977-80) As far as individual seniors, there was Eric Channing (1998-02) and Jonathan Gibson (2006-10).

I don't think anyone touches Lacey, Collins and Criss. They did reach the 1970 Final Four after all. From Saturday's story.

"Lacey and Collins are littered throughout the NMSU record books, including the most points scored in a season by two players with 1,305 in 1970.
Collins is third all-time in scoring, fourth in average at 19.5 points per game and his 754 points in 1969-70 stands as the single-season record, all before the 3-point era. Lacey is ninth all-time in scoring and career scoring average (16.27 ppg) and is the unquestioned king of the boards. Lacey holds every Aggies rebounding record, including 27 rebounds in a game, 493 in the 1969-70 season and 1,265 career rebounds. He holds three of the highest rebounding seasons ever at NMSU and his 14.2 career rebounds per game is nearly three rebounds higher than second-place George Knighton. The 5-foot-8 Criss averaged 12.4 points on the Aggies' 1970 team that went 29-3."

But in terms of winning games and leaving their marks in significant statistical categories, this year's group has been extremely successful in their time in Las Cruces.

Laroche has started all 129 games at NMSU. He said he was lucky, coming here at a time when frankly, the point guard spot was up for grabs. Once he gained a foothold as a freshman, he never relinquished it. He's five steals behind William Benjamin's school record of 209. He won't catch Sam Crawford for all-time assists, but he sits in second comfortably at 526.

Hernst Laroche:
On his freshman year
"It was hard but Gib and JY got me into it. I was working out with Gib late at night. It was hard, especially speaking mostly French. That was the story of my freshman year but it went well. "

Laroche and Tyrone Watson were the first of the Canadian movement to NMSU
"I'm proud of it. Bring some diversity here to Las Cruces. That was cool."

 With five blocks on Saturday, Rahman now is second all-time by himself with blocked shots with 129. Rahman's size has been his biggest strength and few teams in the WAC have been able to match up with him in his time at NMSU. 

"I have known Wendell for five years and Laroche for four years. They are the only two guys I have been playing with since I got here. Laroche has developed into a great point guard and got better each year and so has Wen."

We all know about Wendell McKines joining Lacey as the second player to ever score 1000 points with 1000 rebounds. McKines will leave NMSU as the second leading rebounder and he's been an automatic double-double in the two seasons he played from start to finish. Here is the list for the most double-doubles in the WAC since 1999-2000.

68 - Paul Millsap, LA Tech 2003-06
62 - Nick Fazekas, Nevada 2003-07
55 - Michael Harris, Rice 2001-05
43 - Wendell McKines, NMSU 2007-pres
26 - Olu Ashaolu, LA Tech 2009-11
25 - Melvin Ely, FS 1999-02
23 - Quinton Hosley, Fresno State 2005-07
23 - Reggie Larry, Boise State 2006-08
22 - Luke Babbitt, Nevada 2008-10
22 - Dario Hunt, Nevada 2008-pres
20 - Chris Oakes, San Jose State 2007-10

It begs the question....what is the best NMSU starting five??

I'll start.

I would go with Crawford, Collins, Channing, McKines and Lacey. 

I could be bias since I saw McKines' entire career. But his development over time has been impressive yet he's consistently hit the boards. On this five, I wouldn't need a power forward who can score, but it's nice to know my four can step out and create or hit a 3 if we need it.

Wendell McKines:
McKines has had an interesting career to say the least. He nearly left NMSU, came back. Missed part of a year for grades, missed all of last year to injury. 

On last year
"It was another opportunity to better myself as a basketball player and learn another life lesson that basketball isn't promised. It made me value my education way more. I'm proud to say I'm graduating in May. It was just another life lesson and another situation I had to overcome."

On his numbers:
"The numbers show what type of player I am as far as winning and how far we go, that shows what type of person I am and how much I'm willing to sacrifice for the better of the team. That is what I have been thinking about lately."

On his senior teammates:
"That just shows growth and development over time. this is our fourth year playing. We have each had a role on each team we've been on since we have been here. That is growing and developing. The numbers speak to that."

Marvin Menzies:
On Laroche:
"If I would put a word to it, I would say his character would be the thing I will most remember. Just what a pleasure it was to coach him and be around him every day."

On Rahman:
"I look at him as somebody I thought was an unselfish warrior. A guy that went about his business through criticism and accolades. Neither one affected  him too much. He just was a journeyman who took pride in being an Aggie."

On McKines:
"His passion. I think we will really miss Wendell's passion for the love of the game, his heart and his level of intensity. It has been unmatched by anyone I've coached. Those are intangibles you need."

Gordo Castillo graduated last year as the first senior under Menzies, but Gordo committed under Theus. This is really Menzies' first group of seniors.
"These three obviously spending an extra year with two of them, I think it just speaks volumes to what we put in place a while back."

Friday, February 24, 2012

Mullings was great, but.....

Saturday night belongs to the seniors, but freshman guard Daniel Mullings was clearly on center stage in New Mexico State's 115-73 victory over Hawaii on Thursday.

More on Mullings in a second.

But while myself and the rest of the Pan Am were counting Mullings assists and watching the Aggies put up their highest point total since scoring 122 against Texas Tech in 1996-97, there are some numbers that got lost in the shuffle.

This didn't happen against Western New Mexico folks. This game was for second place in the WAC. The Aggies have now overwhelmed Utah State in Logan, a good Drake team and Hawaii in their last three games that count.

The final attendance was listed at 5223. Props to those who came out. Where was everyone else. Second place on the line, second to last home game? I don't get it. Maybe Saturday? 

The game was over at halftime. It became a laugher about 10 minutes into the second half. Yet in a game that was so lopsided, Hawaii still had to work to get 70 points. Also, the Aggies had a season high 26 assists on 41 made field goals. Marvin Menzies mentioned the 14 turnovers, but I believe that to be an acceptable number for the Aggies (between 10-14 the way NMSU plays) in a competitive game. Once games get out of hand, bench players can turn the ball over, players lose focus etc. That didn't happen on Thursday. Also, the Aggies were tremendous in transition, scoring 38 points off 24 Hawaii turnovers, which was a season high for Hawaii — 11 of those were a result of NMSU steals.

Back to Mullings. NMSU said Mullings was the first Aggie since William Benjamin in 1992 to record a triple double. Earlier this summer in another blog post, NMSU told me that Benjamin's triple double came in 1990. It was only the third triple double in school history. At any rate, it all started with his work on the defensive end and a lot of those points came in transition. Mullings finished with 28 points, matching Wendell McKines for the largest scoring output of the season. He was 11-15 from the floor and 6-9 from the field. He finished with 10 assists, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. He also had five steals and a blocked shot. It was a fun performance to watch and it came from a freshman against a quality team in a league game. Apparently, Mullings was sick throughout the week. I asked him if he had ever had a triple double before and he said he wasn't sure......perhaps in high school.

Daniel Mullings:
"Like three minutes left, I just kept hearing them say one more, one more pass. They called me over to the sideline and told me I had one more pass for a triple double. that was kind of the objective. ... It's big for me. It just proves that hard work pays off. I just worked hard on both ends, taking pride in rebounds. My teammates were just feeding me on outlets and I was able to score and get to the line. My teammates were just scoring when I got them the ball. They were just in a rhythm early. I found them in the pace of the game and they finished well. ... We did a great job on Zane Johnson (2-for-8, 8 points, 1-2 3-pt) Especially Bandja. Bandja did a lot better than I could have done. He is a lot taller and long. He was right there. Zane Johnson couldn't breathe. He wasn't able to fly off all those 3 pointers. We all rotated and took responsibility on the defensive end. ... At one point in the second half, it was getting heated. A lot of words were being exchanged. We were about to get into it with them but we calmed down. We talked about it not to let it ruin our game. It ruined their game. They fell apart. Joston (Thomas) fouled out. That was a big bonus for us. I think after he fouled out and they got a couple technicals, they just broke up and we capitalized. ... This is big. We have been ready all week. This has been in our minds, especially the last effort we put up against them even though we came back late. Just remembering they got us at their house. We came in with a focus that we are not going to let them jump on us like that. I think it worked. ... I think without the seniors, we wouldn't be this strong. They have put in a lot of work. It's good to see them for the last night. I will be excited for them."

Marvin Menzies:
"This was a very good team that we beat tonight. I didn't expect it to unfold like this. I thought it would be much closer. Sometimes when it rains it pours. It's one game and we have to keep it in perspective. ... The guys were just on fire. It was fun to coach, it was fun to watch. It was good to see the seniors play well. to show the fans the future and Daniel is part of the future. Bandja did a great job on Zane Johnson. That kid is a big time shooter. He only got two shots from the 3 point line. That was our goal to limit his attempts. ... Having six guys in double figures just speaks to the teamwork and having 26 assists. I could just go on and on. As a coach, I see the blemishes as well. We turned it over 14 times and could have shot better from the 3. The offense is for the fans. the defense is for the coaches. ... It just speaks volumes to the future. We have some good players returning and good players coming in. ... Playing Nevada, or this team on a neutral court, it's a different game. You can't let your ego or your previous games dictate how you play your next game. ... I've always said I hate playing against teams that are laden with seniors and now we are one of those teams. It's a good feeling. ... The good is that our guys know they can do it. You can't see yourself playing great games unless you have something to visualize. This is a great reference point. We use UNM at UNM as a reference point for a lot of games. We say we have to do this like we did at UNM at the Pit. So now we have a new reference point. To get it this late in the year, I think is a good thing. ... Wendell barked something out, just pumped up and passionate. It calmed him down. They wanted to set the tone that they didn't want to deal with any nonsense. They came out and really hit us in the mouth to begin the second half so I challenged our guys after a timeout and we came back out and Hamidu probably took it out of context and was jawing a little bit and got dinged with a tech. that's part of the game. I didn't think our techs were overboard but I thought they were both good calls by the officials to control the game."

Hawaii coach Gib Arnold:
"You just tell them it only counts as one loss and you get back on the horse. We got beat, got beat good. They played great. We have to go get one on Saturday. ... Against the Aggies (Vander Joaquim) has gotten in foul trouble early. The first game it didn't hurt us as bad. It definitely hurt us tonight. We were in a lot of foul trouble and playing different lineups against a big aggressive team and we just didn't have it. ... It's hard to guard the foul line. ... I thought they came after (Johnson) and did a great job on guarding Zane. They switched off on him and did a nice job. He was struggling to find his shot. ... I thought we came out, played with some passion for those first four minutes. We fouled quite a bit in the next span and hit some free throws. It went from there. They kept going inside. If they didn't score it, we fouled them. We just couldn't get in a rhythm. We tried different lineups, different defenses. Nothing really worked tonight. They are playing great ball. ... We looked tired tonight and I thought we played tired. Maybe that is something we need to figure out. We have been playing good basketball on the road so we know we can win on the road. Tonight, it seemed like we were a step slow. You hate to make an excuse so we wont but it looked like we had tired legs. We weren't very bouncy tonight."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Keys to Hawaii game

Fatigue — Hawaii has been away from home for a week now. They lost at Montana 94-79 on Saturday, flew to El Paso where they have been since Monday. Gib Arnold's relationship with UTEP coach Tim Floyd from their USC days helped Hawaii have free reign of UTEP's facility. Hawaii then goes to La. Tech on Saturday for a total of 11,000 miles traveled when its said and done. The Aggies' pressure late in their game on the islands helped get the Aggies back into the game. It would be nice to see the Aggies pressure more at different times tonight. But players and coaches seem to think the Aggies will be better off going at Hawaii playing to their strength of size and strength on the interior with guards who are long enough and athletic enough to stay with Johnson.

Joston Thomas vs. Wendell McKines — I believe there are two teams in the WAC that make Wendell McKines play defense and can potentially get him into foul trouble. Nevada and Hawaii. Perhaps the Aggies could get away with putting McKines on a weaker player and letting TyroneWatson guard Thomas when the Aggies are playing man to man. But Thomas is a strong kid. He had 17 and 9 in Hawaii. McKines had 14 and 9.

Keep Zane Johnson in a slump — The last game around, I was way off believing the Aggies guards would make life difficult for Johnson. Or was I? Johnson had one of his best games of the season against NMSU, scoring 29 points on 7-13 shooting from 3-point range. Since then, he's  12-for-47 (26 percent). He hasn't been in double figures in the past three games and four of the past six games. Johnson is a 37 percent shooter from long range on the year. I thought the combination of Mullings, Sy and Tyrone Watson would be too long and physical for Johnson to shake free for open looks. Johnson got going last time out vs. NMSU. Can he do it again?

Following are some comments regarding the Hawaii game:
Tyrone Watson:
On the seniors
"It will be sad to see these guys go. I built a relationship with Hamidu, Wendell and Hernst. Those are kind of the only guys who were here with me when I came so going into next year, I really won't know anybody as far as I knew these three. Hopefully they are still my friends after they leave."

On playing small against Hawaii
"It was catch up mode, but at certain times, playing small is better because we get to run faster and certain teams can't guard 1-through 5 if I'm at the five. It can be an advantage or a disadvantage. It's an emphasis. That is what got us back into the game. As the game went on, we came back very fast."

On the importance of the Hawaii game for WAC seeding
"Coach said if we drop this Hawaii game, they would be second and we would be third. We can't afford to drop any games period. This is a big game because it could make a difference in the tournament in who we play first. We would like to be the first seed and hope Nevada gets a loss and we beat them at home. If not we just want to secure the second seed."

On Zane Johnson in the first meeting
"He's at home, it's his rims. It was a big game for him. He's a great shooter and a great player. We were playing defense on him the majority of shots he took. He was just on fire. What that did for them was our awareness on him was so much that it freed up all the other people to get baskets. we just have to stay within ourselves and not freak out like that. ... I don't think he's going to hit 7 3s with the Pan Amaniacs in the Pan Am. We will be ready for him."

Hamidu Rahman:
On Hawaii's Vander Joaquim
"That was the plan was to go at him and get him in foul trouble. I respect his game. I like playing against him because there isn't a lot of doubles. We just go man to  man."

Marvin Menzies:
On Hawaii:
"They took advantage of our miscues, our turnovers. Offensive rebounding, we didn't block out well and they did a good job of crashing the glass and they outrebounded us in that game. They did some things that we take pride in, they did better than us. We have to do a better job in areas that we are pretty good at and hang our hat on a little bit. They are a good team, no matter how much we closed the gap, they beat us and they beat us handily. It's our challenge to see if we can protect our home court."

"We got them in foul trouble because we got a lot of inside touches but we didn't capitalize on it afterwards."

On shooting the 3
"You want to finish above 33 percent from 3 on the season. 33 percent is 50 percent from the field on a 2 pointer. If we end up above 33 percent, as much as people say they had their shooting woes, it's a good year. ... You need to shoot the ball well to win. When you get to these type of games, those are games where the defense is going to do it for you. That's what we have to continue to keep our focus on is our defense and rebounding. Then if  are shooting it well, we are even better."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Seeding scenarios two weeks out

I spoke to Sam Wasson, who was good enough to share the following seeding scenarios. As you can see, the Aggies are very much alive for a No. 2 seed with outside chances to finish No. 4, as well as win the league with an epic collapse at Nevada.

The point is that Thursday's Hawaii game is big in terms of splitting with Hawaii to finish second.

4-0 -- 2-seed, finishes with better record than both UH and Idaho

3-1 -- L to SJSU and Idaho finishes 3-0, Aggies No. 2  b/c of sweep of Fresno State (UH finishes w/at least 5 losses)

3-1 -- L to Fresno St and Idaho finishes 3-0, Aggies No 2 b/c of higher RPI. because NMSU would have split with the same four teams

3-1 -- L to UH, UH finishes 3-1 or worse, Idaho finishes 2-1 or worse, Aggies No. 2 b/c only have 4 losses.

3-1 -- L to Nev and Idaho finishes 3-0 then NMSU No. 3 (UH finishes with at least 6 losses)

3-1 -- L to UH and Idaho finishes 3-0 then NMSU No. 3 seed (Idaho splits with UH, UH finishes with at least 5 losses)

3-1 -- L to UH and Hawaii finished 4-0 then UH No. 2 seed b/c of H2H sweep and Aggies No. 3 seed b/c Idaho finishes w/at least 5 losses.

2-2 -- L to UH, L to Nevada, NMSU Finishes 4th if Idaho finishes 2-1 (losing to UH, season split) and UH finishes 3-1 (L @ LT or vs. USU).

2-2 -- L to UH, L to Nevada, NMSU finishes 3rd if Idaho or Hawai'i lose only 1 game.

Monday, February 20, 2012


With two weeks left, here are some developing trends with the Aggies and in the Western Athletic Conference.

Trending upward:
NMSU RPI: The Aggies improved to No. 66 in the RPI, up from 74 entering the weekend. If the Aggies win the WAC Tourney, RPI could help improve the seeding, although not by much. Aggies were No. 51 in the RPI in 2009-10, earning a No. 12 seed. Their RPI was 69 in 2007, also a No. 12 seed. If it doesn't work out in Vegas, this web site has the Aggies hosting a NIT game vs. Oregon. 

Aggies 3-point shooting — Here is my story from Monday on the Aggies' 3-point shooting. Against Utah State and Drake, NMSU is shooting 58 percent from long range. Do we expect that kind of shooting to continue? of course not. But knocking them down early can really pay off for later in the game. NMSU was 5-7 from 3-point land in both games and led at the half as a result, letting their size and length take over in the second half.

Tyrone Watson dropping dimes: Watson is averaging 5.4 apg over the last seven games and 3.2 on the season. That includes six against Fresno State, seven twice (vs. La Tech and Drake) and eight against Idaho. By comparison, Hernst Laroche, who is 7th in the WAC with 3.6 apg, is averaging 3.7 apg during that span.

Nevada on the road: Nevada is the only WAC team unbeaten on the road in conference play. The Wolf Pack have survived a few scares along the way, but they are 6-0 on the road with only a trip to 3-8 Fresno State remaining. NMSU and Hawaii are each 3-2 on the road (Hawaii with a big road trip this week, at NMSU and La. Tech). Nevada closes the season against Fres, La. Tech and NMSU.

Kyle Barone: The WAC's Player of the Week has averaged 15 ppg and 9.5 rpg on 56 percent shooting in Idaho's last four WAC games. He just dropped 25 and 8 on Portland over the weekend.

Trending downward:
Remi Barry: At this point, can we agree that Barry's role on this team is as a spot up shooter? He's shown some nice flashes, but has cooled down as of late, shooting 2-8 from 3-point range the past three games. He's got a nice shot and it would be nice for him to join McKines, Laroche and Sy as 3-point threats at this point.

Louisiana Tech: Once a dangerous little team, the Bulldogs have lost four straight WAC games to fall to 3-7 in the WAC and will finish likely at 6th or 7th. La Tech closes the season vs San Jose, versus Hawaii, at Fresno, at Nevada. I would say only one of those is an Auto win.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Aggies showing up on national TV

In their past two games against Division I teams, at Utah State on ESPN2 and in a 71-55 win over Drake on Saturday on ESPNU, the Aggies are 14-24 (58 percent) from 3-point range.

I believe the last two games to be NMSU's best four halves of basketball this season from a total team performance. Is it a coincidence they were both on the ESPN family? Perhaps it doesn't matter.

Hernst Laroche and Wendell McKines explained that it's more a result of NMSU peaking at the right time. But if the Aggies are shooting the ball this well at this time, they will be dangerous since no team in the WAC, nor at least one team in the MVC, can guard this team man to man.

Drake tried to, but two quick 3s from Laroche, one from Bandja Sy, got Drake on its heels long enough for the Aggies to get on a roll. They don't have to shoot lights out, but shooting well early really opened things up against Drake.

Defensively, the Aggies length and quickness overwhelmed a good shooting team. Drake was 3-10 from 3-point range in the first half and it was pretty much over from there. It reminded me of NMSU's 20 point win over Utah State at home this season where shooters just couldn't shake free for long enough to get a good look. Drake entered the game shooting 38 percent from 3-point range and the Bulldogs finished 31 percent on Saturday.

Here is my game story, followed by some post game comments from Laroche, McKines and Aggies coach Marvin Menzies.

Hernst Laroche:
"I think we came here focused, last game too against Utah State. We came focused. We are just trying to win every game. It's crunch time. ... We were hot. I was making shots, Wen was making shots. ... I don't know if they played zone but they were sagging the whole game. I guess it's kind of like a zone. ... We just have to move the ball, swing it. We are going to get the ball inside. If they try to take something away, we are going to do something else. It is just a feel. ... We are not playing hard because of ESPN. We are trying to get better and show what we have improved in. At the end of the day, you have to be at your best at the WAC tourney at the end of the year so that is what we are trying to do."

Wendell McKines:
"I just think we are peaking at the right time. That's my take on it. We are just playing good basketball and striving to get better. ... I think it's because we are taking the right shots. Teams want to jam us in, trying to force us to shoot. With our feet set, shooting with confidence on our home court, there is a good chance it's going to go in. Then with the crowd in it, just feeding off the  momentum. ... They are an out of conference team so at this point in time of the year, they are going to do what they are accustomed to doing from the beginning of the season on. For them to do something that is out of their character, wouldn't have made any sense. They did what they felt comfortable doing. We just fed off that and took advantage of it. I haven't had singe man to man coverage in over a month so I was like a kid in a candy store in the beginning. I had to calm myself down. I was just excited to see it. I got a chance to play real basketball for a change. ... It's time to re-focus. Not only re-focus but feed off the momentum that we do have and getting better every day, playing toward our strengths and making adjustments. That's what I feel we need to do moving forward. ... If we are on ESPN, that probably means cleaning our shoes a little more and getting a nice cut before the game, but that's about it. ... Our size and strength and length is a nightmare for other teams I'm sure. I'm pretty sure they haven't seen our size and athleticism in their conference so I'm sure it bothered them."

Marvin Menzies:
"Anytime you win 20 games it's a good year. It's kind of an unspoken bench mark for all coaches. If you can win 20 games, it's typically you had a successful year. There are a lot of good things that come with it. To reach it this early in the season is a good thing."

"I was happy with how we played defense tonight. I think the guys did a good job executing the scouting report. I think we layed off of guys we were supposed to and challenged shooters we were supposed to. ... I was also pleased with the way we shot the ball, especially from the 3-point line. I think picking and choosing your shots and shooting high percentage shots based on what the defense gives you is critical. By knocking those down, hopefully it gave us a boost of confidence. ... Typically we are usually playing our best ball at the end of February or March. It should continue as long as these guys keep listening to coaches. ... Over the course of a season, a player figures out his spots and when to take those shots and how it flows into the offense. Guys like Gordo Castillo was lights out whenever he was on the floor. As long as he had a bit of daylight he had a green light to shoot it. We don't have those kind of guys so we have to learn what is good shots for individual guys. ... I was really happy with our patience. We showed significant growth in our ability to execute an offensive game plan versus a specific defensive game plan."

Friday, February 17, 2012

Drake will be a challenge

Saturday's BracketBuster game against Drake  could be a fun game to watch. Both teams like to get up and down the court. Drake averages 67 possessions per 40 minutes. Drake makes 7 3s per game and score 28 percent of their points from 3-point range. NMSU averages 72 possessions per 40 minutes. We know the Aggies are not in Drake's class when it comes to shooting, but the Aggies obviously like to push the tempo and due to injuries throughout the season, Drake enters the game as an undersized team. Jordan Clarke is 6-8 and leads the team with 6.9 rpg. He's a good undersized player, but he appears to be the only post oriented player on the team. Drake rebounds 49 percent of available rebounds, NMSU is at 69 percent. Rebounding rate (percentage of opponents missed shots rebounded successfully) Clarke is Drake's best player at 19.98. Hamidu Rahman (18.87) and Wendell McKines (19.47) will be difficult for Drake on the boards, along with Chili Nephawe (13.69).

The long ball will be the key to this game. The Aggies are tops in the WAC in 3-point defense (29 percent). Drake shoots 38 percent. NMSU is accustomed to playing good 3-point shooting teams in the WAC. But I believe Drake's number of skilled guards are better collectively than any team in the WAC. In the past four games, Drake has started Clark, Aaron Hawley (38.2 3 pt), Jeremy Jeffers (46 3pt) leading scorer at 16.3 ppg Rayvonte Rice (24 percent) and Karl Madison at point guard (31 percent). Senior point guard Kurt Alexander (40 percent) gets starters minutes off the bench. Drake head coach Mark Phelps told me on Friday that second leading scorer at 16 ppg and a 41 percent 3-point shooter Ben Simons will not play (Mono). The Drake SID said he believes Simons is traveling with the team, but Phelps said he has yet to be cleared and "definitely not playing" Hawley is similar in body type to Simons but Drake's offense revolved around Simons. Without him in the lineup, Rice will be a key player. At 6-4, 240 pounds, Rice is built like Tyrone Watson and plays the shooting guard position. He's good at getting into the lane, leads the team with 156 free throw attempts and has hit 4 of his last 6 from downtown. 

While the Aggies haven't played against a player like Rice or Simons, I think they match up well with Drake and should ultimately pull out a victory in a game in the mid-70s. Watson can guard Rice, he's guarded perimeter players before.  Rice has been posting players up and that shouldn't be factor against Watson if the Aggies play man. Rahman and Nephawe should be able to wear down Clark, McKines should have his way on the offensive end against Hawley although Clarke/McKines would be a fun matchup to watch. Alexander is a senior coming off the bench for the freshman Madison. Laroche should do well against either one and Mullings is long enough to guard the 6-6 Jeffers. Jeffers is a freshman so perhaps the Aggies can also take advantage of the versatility and length of Bandja Sy as well.

Drake coach Mark Phelps:
"My first thought was that I knew New Mexico State is traditionally a powerful program and they were having a good year this year. They are very physical and athletic team. They are a big time rebounding team and McKines is a walking double double who does everything."

Phelps went on to compare NMSU to MVC power Wichita State in terms of size, which he gave the edge to NMSU in size and athletic ability. Drake is 2-2 without Simons.

“With Mono, it’s a cut-and-dry thing,” Phelps said. “He’s over the symptoms but until the spleen is down to its normal size, he won’t be cleared. Right now, it’s not. He is definitely not playing and we will keep getting him checked. ... It just took a while for us to play without him. We looked unorganized and had no rhythm on offense. He score it but it's also the type of teammate he is. He's a good passer and all of the intangibles. I feel like we have adjusted well. We have played pretty good defensively the last two games. That is what has helped us."

Drake seems like a man to man team. It will be interesting to see how many ball screens they try to free Rice up and if they front Rahman, McKines and Nephawe.

"Clarke is kind of like the bigs we went against at Southern Mississippi. They have similar games and are successful against bigger players. They are undersized kids who can really play," Marvin Menzies said. "It poses a challenge for them to guard us. We just have to do a good job spacing and getting inside outside looks like we did last game."

Southern Miss was successful against the Aggies on the offensive boards in two of the Aggies 8 losses. Although the Aggies are the No. 3 rebounding team in the country, Menzies said the Aggies haven't been as sharp.

"I don't think we have been," Menzies said. "It's one of the things we have to do a better job of. But we have to whether in man or zone. We have a tendency to be a little more concerned with offensive transition and not securing the ball first. It's a common mistake when guys are a little more concerned with their offense."

Drake is a quality team in a quality league (MVC currently sporting a No. 8 RPI ranking). Drake is a little desperate as well,tied for fourth and trying to avoid a first-day game in the MVC tournament , where they have played the past three years. For the Aggies, Drake is a good transition back into conference play with games against good shooting teams fresno, Nevada, Hawaii and the WAC tourney.

"It's very similar to a lot of the WAC teams," Menzies said. "They put up a lot of 3-pointers and get most of their scoring from their guards. That part of the preparation  will be good for us, especially going into the last few games. We have some teams we have to defend the 3 point line on in Nevada, Fresno and Hawaii."

Here is my preview story on the game and following are some additional comments from Thursday. 

Mark Phelps on the BracketBuster
"I think it's a good concept, especially for us to step outside of conference, just for freshness against another opponent. It's matchups we wouldn't otherwise schedule."

Wendell McKines:
"Every year when the schedule comes out, you know about the BracketBuster game. You kind of look forward to it at this point. Its something different, going against a quality opponent at this time of year. I look forward to it. ... They can shoot it one through four. Its not going to be hard for us to prepare for this type of team. Just have to put the proper amount of focus into this team and this game and just try to have fun. It’s a bracket buster game on ESPNU. ... You get up for every game. This is what pays for our scholarship. But I would be lying if I said the ESPN games isn’t more fun. Its more fun knowing your family is watching and the whole city of Las Cruces is watching if it’s a road game. ... For the most part they are undersized. A lot of teams we play are undersized so our focus remains the same. Get it inside, crash the glass and cut down on the turnovers. That’s a formula for success for us. 

On the prospect of reaching 20 wins
"For the most part, every thing above .500 is a success and 20 wins, that body of work speaks for itself. ... For us, it’s a little different. I don’t know if chasing down Nevada is a focus as much as after this game we have two more games in the Pan Am so we better win them. That’s more our focus right now. After that, it is going to be easier for us to shift our focus to that. ... My journey here has been a little different. To see it start to wind down, it’s funny a little bit. But we are on to the next game and we have to focus on the next game but at the same it, this journey is almost over. Sprinters, I’m pretty sure they know they are on their last lap. I better go harder. You start to appreciate everything day by day."

On sitting out against Northern New Mexico on Thursday
"It was great. I enjoyed cheering on my teammates and watching us get the victory and not having to get treatment after the game on my back and worrying about my foot. It was good to get that rest and get prepared for this final stretch. It was a mutual decision between me and the coaching staff to shut me down. They say I have a motor so I guess I needed a tuneup."

Hernst Laroche
On that crazy sequence where he got tripped, rolled, blocked a 3-point attempt by Utah State's Preston Medlin and got the lay up at the other end.
"It was just survival mode just kicked in. I fell. You just have to get up. I switched on the shooting guard. I got screened from the back and didn’t see it. I was trying to get over it. I tripped and I tripped like a cart wheel. While I was falling, I saw him getting ready to shoot. I just blocked it with the momentum. That was from the back so I just wanted to tip it."

On his career winding down 
"I focus on every game. Every game is the last for me. I’m more about senior night will be senior night."

Marvin Menzies
"Anytime you get chance to play a new opponent you should be excited about that. I think it adds a different flavor to get the guys a little pick me up. Now you look at the potential benefits of winning this game and what that might add at the end of the season. ... I think the fact that we once competed in that league and there is some familiarity with the conference. They are currently in fourth place. It’s a very good conference with potential to put multiple teams in the tournament. Not just playing a new opponent but a very good opponent is critical as well."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Moving right along, Drake next

Tuesday's 100-68 New Mexico State victory over 0-30 Northern New Mexico gave the Aggies a chance to get some individual accolades out of the way, rest Wendell McKines and inflate some numbers (season-high 22 assists, season-high 10 blocks, 44-26 on the boards)

The night belonged to Hamidu Rahman, who finished with 18 and 8 on 7-9 shooting to become the 30th player at NMSU to score 1000 points here. Fellow seniors Wendell McKines and Hernst Laroche did it earlier. Rahman also passed Charles Gosa (1995-99) for third place all time with 117 blocked shots. Rahman could catch Slab Jones for second. Jones has 124 blocks.

Hernst Laroche pulled to within nine steals of all-time leader William Benjamin. Laroche has 200 steals. Also, Marvin Menzies closed to within one win of reaching 20 wins for the third time in five years. It was ugly at times,  and the Aggies gave up some open shots and hit just 5-15 of their 3s, but it has to be hard to get up for a game against a winless NAIA team. NMSU scored 100 points for the first time since the 08-09 season against Loyola Marymount.

Marvin Menzies:
"It's been a great career for all three of them. It makes me feel good that they are all three my recruits or came in under my leadership. We recruited them as a team. There is a lot of pride as a staff in terms of how we feel about these kids. We are going to really miss them but we have some work still left to get done. ... I think it was a good opportunity for (Rahman) to get his numbers and not have to worry about it anymore and just kind of focus on the next game. I'm happy for him. I think we are going to have a lot of the parents out for senior night in a couple weeks so it should be a fun time."

On Drake
"They just had a ESPNU game a couple days ago so I had a chance to watch them. I think (second leading scorer Ben Simons) will be back. He had mono but I think he will be back. We are planning for it either way."

"I do think it was important. Wendell's body was feeling it a little bit. We have some games left that are very important so we want to make sure he's healthy and ready to go the rest of the way. We will find out how valuable it was as the games unfold in the next week or two."

Renaldo Dixon played 18 minutes with six points and nine rebounds. I wondered about him, but after initially quitting and then coming back, all indications are he's on the same page with the coaching staff. But now he's lost in a numbers game. Any minutes he gets from here on out will benefit him for next year but he's behind McKines and Watson at the PF and Rahman and Nephawe at the center.

"He's the third four and the third five. He needs to play. Tonight, he was a little rusty in the beginning but as he gets going, he gets a little more comfortable. We have to find as many minutes as we can going forward. He will have opportunity."

On getting players up for this type of game
"It was a challenge to be quite honest. Anytime you are playing a team with that record, your guys can come in a little overconfident and not as sharp as you should be. I think we did that the first few minutes but they did a very good job the rest of the way in terms of executing our own system and trying to do the right things to take a step forward for our team."

Hamidu Rahman:
"I feel good about it. I want to thank my teammates. Without them, I wouldn't have gotten it. And also the coaches. ... It feels good. Us being the three seniors and only three players that were here when we went to the tournament, I think we are going to have to lead the team and coach the young guys. ... I think we have three more games in the Pan Am. We are just trying to focus on every possession and get better. ... I think about stuff like that but at the same time, I want to win. If I'm losing, none of that stuff matters."

On Northern
"We had to approach it like every other game because coaches got on us today in shoot around. I think we were slacking and coaches got on us. We knew we couldnt' play around this game."

Conversational thread

Since I don't have much to add on tonight's NMSU vs. Northern New Mexico tilt, I was hoping to prompt some conversation regarding the future of the WAC and Saturday's hoops game vs. Drake.

First regarding the WAC, from a personal standpoint I would love to see NMSU get into the MWC/CUSA merged league from a basketball standpoint, it would add another layer to the UNM/UTEP rivals, bring back former league rivalry with UNLV and make for some great matchups throughout the league schedule, although the Aggies wouldn't be considered a contender for a league title each and every year like they are in the WAC. This and the fact that it doesn't appear to be a strong football league and NMSU doesnt have a strong football program.

Today's news that WAC commish Karl Benson is in fact going to jump ship makes me think that NMSU should do something, even if it doesn't mean the new league. There are some who are glad that Benson is leaving. Perhaps it's because I'm new to the area but I believed Benson to have done a solid job in recent years at least despite the day and age of constant conference realignment. 

Onto Drake. Drake ended a three-game losing streak on Sunday, beating Evansville to improve to 14-12 and 7-8 in the Missouri Valley Conference. Drake now has a RPI rating of 128 but at least according to what I saw on Sunday, it will be a good game for the Aggies. It will be a very tough game if Drake shoots the 3 on Saturday like they did vs. Evansville. But it was a season-high 11 3s and I don't know how good Evansville is. What did stand out is that Drake has three guards who could be productive WAC players and a decent, yet undersized post in 6-8 junior Jordan Clarke, who is averaging 6.4 ppg and 6.5 rpg.Ben Simons is a 6-8 junior who is second on the team at 16.1 ppg and is a 41 percent 3-point shooter but he hasn't played since Feb. 1. The ESPNU announcers said he had mono at the time. If he joins the team that drained 11 3s, watch out. Sophomore guard Rayvonte Rice averages 16.4 ppg, not the greatest shooter but he got into the paint and is a strong (6-4, 240 pounds) slashing type. 

I compare this team to a more skilled version at the guard and PF position than Louisiana Tech. It could be a high scoring game as both teams average at least 67 possessions per 40 minutes.

Lastly, Here is a link that has the Aggies as a NIT lock if things don't work out in Vegas.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A prep school shooter?

Shooting guards are on the priority list for New Mexico State. This time from the prep school level, Croatia international Matej Buovac, a 6-7 wing playing for La Lumiere prep school in Laporte, Indiana
Buovac could come to NMSU for a visit.

Blog evaluation Here:
Matej Buovac: 6-7 SF La Lumier
"Another Croatian prospect that has made his way to the great state of Indiana. Participated with the U18 squad in the European Championships averaged just under 7 points a game. Very good outside shooter, versatile enough to play the 3 or the 2 in college.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Aggies delivered

Up to this point, New Mexico State hadn't done anything in conference play to make others in the WAC say, "Did you see what New Mexico State did lastnight?"

The Aggies did it on Saturday, beating Utah State 80-69, beating USU in Logan for the first time since 2006. NMSU has away wins at New Mexico and Utah State in the same season for the first time since 1994-95.

“It shows the resilience we have as a team and our ability to play in tough environments,” said Aggies senior forward Wendell McKines, who led the Aggies with 20 points and nine rebounds. “I just like the environment. The fans are really into it and it tests you as a player. It tests your poise as a player.” 

NMSU swept the season series with USU for the first time since 2006, hanging 80 points on them in both games. NMSU pounded away in the paint in a 20-point win in Las Cruces. The Aggies saved that for the second half on Saturday, nailing 5-of-7 3s in the first half to hang around and survive a 15-0 Utah State run and USU making 7-12 from 3 in the first half. Bandja Sy was 3-3 from 3-point range in the first half, Hernst Laroche made one and Remi Barry made one.

What the 3s did was force Utah State to come out of zone. Teams in the WAC, especially Utah State this year, can not guard NMSU man to man.

"Eventually we have to start making some shots," Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said. "They were all good looks and wide open. (Sy's) play was significant. With Bandja, Tyrone and Daniel, we need two of the three to play well and tonight that is what happened."

Defensively, the Aggies stuck with the zone and ultimately were too long, too strong and too athletic on the perimeter for Utah State.

"I didn't think they would shoot it that well for the whole game," Menzies said. "We just did a better job challenging shots that we didn't do in the first half. We mixed it up and tried to keep them a little off balance."

When the Aggies were in man, they were suffocating in the second half. Mullings on Brockeith Pane and Hernst Laroche on Preston Medlin. Medlin finished 6-15 and Pane was 1-7 with 2 points.

“(Pane) is a good facilitator,” Menzies said. “We did a good job of containing his offense. That was a big plus for us. He didn’t get out in transition and get easy buckets like he did the first time.”

And who could forget Laroche's flurry at the end of the game to put Utah State away. NMSU outscored Utah State 14-3 in the last 5:34. Laroche scored seven of his 16 points during that stretch, starting with a lay up after a tremendous block of Medlin's 3 at the elbow. 

“That was huge,” McKInes said. “It showed (Laroche’s) focus and alertness. He was ready to get to the next play and he didn’t give up and that’s why he’s a senior and a leader on this team.”

Laroche got tangled with Kyisean Reed fighting off a ball screen at the top of the key. Laroche tripped, rolled over, hopped to  his feet and elevated enough to not only block the 3, but strip it so he could retain possession, race down the floor and lay it in to give NMSU a 73-69 lead. He found Sy on a lob the next time down and also had a steal as NMSU's physicality looked like it took its toll on Utah State in the last 6 minutes.

New Mexico State hadn't had an impressive WAC win this year. Although Utah State is down, anytime you beat Stew Morrill in Logan, it's significant. The Aggies needed it from a standings, confidence and mental standpoint. USU literally looked like they wanted no part of the Aggies in the last three minutes. It showed a lot for the Aggies to regroup after losing a game at Thursday that they should have won, travel all day Friday and win a ESPN2 game against a nemesis. But as McKines said, it's all the same this time of year across the WAC.

"It's all mental at this point," McKines said. "Everyone in conference is tired. The conference doesn't have the best travel arrangements wherever you go. It's the February lull I call it but we were able to get the victory today."

Friday, February 10, 2012

Utah State

This is going to sound kind of idiotic, but stay with me.

Going into the weekend, I thought that a Thursday loss at Idaho would likely mean getting swept on the trip, losing at Utah State on Saturday. No kidding right? I just meant from a travel and confidence perspective. The Aggies have been on a plane or a bus since the early morning hours today (Friday) and they have an early start at 1 p.m., in a place the Aggies haven't won since 2006.

Shoutout to abqaggie49 on Twitter, who informed me that his daughter was born at halftime in 2006 of the Aggies' last victory inside the Spectrum.

I actually think that the Aggies match up better with Utah State than with Idaho, an athletic team of guards with quality big men (Barone had 16 and 8, Madison had 10 and 9 and Bandoumel had 10 and 6 and got free for the game winner with 5 seconds left off a feed from Barone). Utah State has Pane and Medlin in the backcourt, but NMSU guards match up well with them. Pane will probably shoot better at home, but he's not scary shooting the ball, he's better in transition. Medlin was shut down in Las Cruces but I think Daniel Mullings had much to do with that. Medlin is good if he's free but Mullings and Sy have a huge advantage in terms of size and strength. USU forward Kyisean Reed had a good first half in Las Cruces but disappeared in the second half. After that, USU doesn't have much.

Thursday's loss looms large, larger still if the Aggies can't find a way to win in Logan. NMSU still has to play at Reno and home to Hawaii. A loss tonight and there is a real possibility the Aggies could drop to the four spot, maybe facing Utah State in the first round in Vegas. they would be on the same side with Nevada as well.

While Utah State is down in terms of record, considering all of the factors in my last post and above, a win Saturday would do wonders and showing the Aggies have the makings of a championship team. They really haven't proven it thus far.

Just win a big game

You can't take anything away from New Mexico State beating the conference teams they were supposed to win. We all expected them to take care of business against the bottom half teams and they've done that so far. The current road trip provided two chances for good road wins in league play.

I still think the Aggies can win three games in March. But why should I or anyone else for that matter expect them to do so if they can't beat the top half teams? To date, the Aggies' best conference win was against Idaho at home. The Vandals returned the favor on Thursday in Moscow, holding the Aggies to a season low 58 points in a 59-58 victory. To be clear, Idaho is a good team. But the Vandals are a team the Aggies needed to sweep this year. They could have been in contention with splits against Nevada and Hawaii.

Championship teams win these games on the road. Nevada's done it, Idaho has done it. Hawaii beat NMSU on the island.

Fortunately for the Aggies, they have more opportunity to pick up a "big" conference win than any team, starting Saturday at Utah State. USU is certainly down, but it's still Logan and still a venue where the Aggies haven't won in six years.

Pick up a win on Saturday on national TV at Utah State, and it will be a good first step to showing the Aggies are a championship caliber team. Until they do, it is clearly Nevada and everyone else.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Passing the torch (Mullings the next big thing?)

I've never seen another player take an offensive rebound away from Wendell McKines.

But it happened on Saturday in NMSU's victory over Louisiana Tech. But it wasn't a La. Tech player. It was freshman guard Daniel Mullings.

"On one particular play, I felt like, 'I'm about to get the ball.' And I guess he felt that way too and he took the ball away from me," McKines said.

Although they play different positions, Mullings reminds me of a young McKines in terms of energy level, athletic ability, a non-stop motor and an opportunity to contribute as freshmen.

"I have always had and he's always had it," Mullings said. "People are born with it, just that want for the ball. We are similar in that facet of the game, especially when it comes to rebounds. It's just a knack for the ball that we both have. That's good for the team. It's an extra possession and a lot of times, people aren't willing to put their body on the line for that possession. It's good for you if you have one person on the team like that but we have multiple, especially at different possessions."

One difference perhaps is that Mullings has an opportunity to play a larger role to the Aggies' success as a freshman than McKines, who played on a senior laden team that had just been to the NCAA Tournament. Fellow freshman Herb Pope also got more involved as the season went one. McKines started 12 games as a freshman, playing 18.7 minutes per game in 35 appearances and still averaged 6.4 ppg and 5.9 rpg.

McKines sees a bit of  himself in Mullings and genuinely seems to like the freshman from Toronto. Against La. Tech, I noticed McKines pulling Mullings aside on two or three occassions during timeouts. 

"He just has that extra energy, extra effort for the ball and not taking no for an answer," McKines said. "And I'm going to get this play done whether you like it or not. I definitely see that in him. I tell him little things, even if it's in the heat of battle that I think can help him. Hopefully he takes it."

McKines and senior point guard Hernst Laroche are two players who Mullings can certainly take advantage of in terms of experience, just as McKines was able to learn from Justin Hawkins, Fred Peete, Hatila Passos etc.

"Especially being in the starting lineup and practicing with them everyday," said Mullings, who will make his 15th start on Thursday at Idaho. "A lot of times, they take me aside. I am a freshman so a lot of times I make a lot of mistakes. They will give me little pointers here and there for future reference that will help me out and help the team out."

Mullings is averaging 8.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals on the season. He's stood out here and there this year (eight straight points to put La. Tech away, 17 points while shutting Utah State's Preston Medlin down) but he's still a freshman. 

Mullings is shooting 48 percent from the floor, but he's obviously much better around the basket than his jump shot. He's shooting 27 percent from 3-point range and often passes open shots. In the past two games, he's shooting 67 percent from the floor, averaging 15.5 points while providing the perimeter defense that he's played all year.

McKines has turned into the player we see thanks to individual work in the offseason. From all accounts, Mullings is a humble person with a similar work ethic. He also has Tony Delk to learn from in the offseason.

"My jump shot being consistent and getting used to taking shots and being confident in it," he said. "I'm looking forward to this offseason, especially with coaches and Coach Delk. Just having more reps and shooting, taking jumpers and being more confident and comfortable shooting."

Fellow Canadian native Christian Kabongo described Mullings as "oxygen" coming off the bench. McKines described him after one game as "My favorite player." 

Takes one to know one.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Menzies Tuesday comments

"Im happy with the way the guys are playing right now in the sense of getting wins. There are a lot of things we have to clean up. Take a bit more urgency to treat the whole game as winning time, rather than the last four or five minutes of the game. Just being a little less loose. That's what we are working on in practice. Getting up and down a little bit more, practice a little bit shorter, breaking up practice into two practices with shooting and free throws practice and a separate practice later on. Just seeing if we can get our percentages up from the line and our confidence back from the deep ball. Right now, they are pretty clear as to the formula for success, which is basically taking high percentage shots. We have taking a lot of challenged shots here as of late."

On guards defending Idaho's and Utah State's myriad of screens
"We took care of the whole floor against two tough teams. Now we have to do the same task on the road. These guys know who they are going against. They are armed with the knowledge. Its about them coming together and playing for each other."

On Idaho center Kyle Barone, who only had seven shots in the first game.
"They were taking what we were giving them. Barone is obviously a focal point for us. I think we did a good job here."

On trying to get a win at Utah State
"We have to handle the crowd, not let the emotion get to us. Not let the exterior things get to us that come from a road game."

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Weird night in the WAC

It's hard to imagine New Mexico State sweeping this weekend's road trip to Idaho on Thursday and at Utah State, where they haven't won since 2006 on Saturday.

Going into the second half of WAC play, I thought Nevada only had two more loseable games in the rematch with NMSU in Reno and Thursday's trip to Hawaii. It turned out I was wrong as Nevada lost at home to Idaho on Saturday. It came after Idaho lost by 10 at Fresno State (a team that I still believe is No. 7 as far as talent level). Now if NMSU can complete the season sweep of Idaho and Nevada drops one on the island,  NMSU could be tied in the loss column entering a difficult game at 4-5 Utah State.

If there is any motivation to finish at least No. 2, it should have been provided on Saturday against La. Tech. No team wants to face the Bulldogs in the first round if the standings hold out where they are at. NMSU matches up well against all three bottom teams, but La. Tech I think presents the most problems. They started a four-guard lineup on Saturday and one of their better players, Brandon Gibson, didn't play much because he was in foul trouble all night. Anytime a team can shoot like La. Tech, they are going to be tough to handle and Appleby went for 19 and 30 against the Aggies in the two meetings. I watched La. Tech warm up, and they spent the entire time working on jump shots. Teams like that are scary in the postseason, but I could see that four-guard lineup giving the Aggies more problems than Fresno or San Jose.

Daniel Mullings
"We had to stop their three ball and just come together as a team and get rebounds. At one point in the game they were leading us in rebounds. We started collecting rebounds and that helped us pull away."

On the 46-22 margin in the paint
"It was the emphasis the whole game but I think in the second half we locked in. I owe it all to the bigs, getting down there and posting and holding their position. ... It started with (Rahman). We just  have to give it up to the bigs working hard down there."

On his 8 straight points for the Aggies
"What made that happen was our guards on the perimeter swinging and reversing the ball as well as the bigs getting down to the block and also reversing the ball. Seams opened and me being a slasher and cutting, that's part of my game."

On defending Appleby, including a key stop down the stretch
"He's a good player. That was a key stop. I also got help from Wendell, who came up and helped. We got the miss. I think that helped turn his game off a little bit. We went off the fast break and it started our run."

La Tech finished the game 1-9 from 3-point range. NMSU played a lot of zone, chasing shooters off the 3-point line
"We knew they were first in our league at 3s. We knew we had to do whatever we could to chase them off the 3 point line. The 3s kept them in the game. We had to do our best to keep them off."

Hamidu Rahman
"Against them, the best thing we can do is rebound, close out because they were a good 3-point shooting team. We had to work on that and stop them at the 3. ... Coaches were just telling us to get it inside and just finish strong."

On a good game after three off nights
"I really needed that game. I have just been working, staying after talking to the coaches about what I need to do and do better. I needed to start off good to finish great. I just played my hardest."

On free throw shooting (Rahman was 6-15. Aggies were 15-28)
"That's something I need to work on. That's one of my weaknesses but we got the W so that's all that matters."

Marvin Menzies
"Just really impressed with the way we played together, played tough, mentally tough, very unselfish. Played like a team that is growing and getting better. Down the stretch I think it showed. That was a talented team that came in here tonight. Very good one on one team that shoots a lot of 3s. I thought we did a good job challenging 3s late. We have to rebound out of that zone better with all of those long shots, you are going to have long rebounds."

On Rahman
"Hamidu and I had a very good heart to heart talk. I like to think I had a little something to do with his mindset tonight because he was much more comfortable and aggressive. He played more within himself. He was the player we need him to be but he has to do it every night. You just can't show up every once in a while. Especially as a senior. You have to bring that kind of effort day in and day out. Practice included. If he can continue to do that, we will be in good shape."

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Milestone Wensday (By the Way, NMSU matched its win total from last year)

Normally Wendell McKines doesn't lack for words.

But the New Mexico State senior seemed genuinely humbled after joining Aggies great Sam Lacey as the only two players to record 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds for a career after Wednesday's 78-57 Aggies victory over California-Bakersfield.

McKines finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds. He joined Long Beach State's TJ Robinson as the only active NCAA players to reach that 1000-1000 milestone. He's the 12th WAC player to get to 1000-1000, joining this list

Keith Van Horn, Utah (1993-97)2,542 points/1,074 reb.
Nick Fazekas, Nevada (2003-07)2,464 points/1,254 reb.
Bob Elliot, Arizona (1973-77)2,131 points/1,083 reb.
Michael Harris, Rice (2001-05)2,014 points/1,111 reb.
Josh Grant, Utah (1988-93)2,000 points/1,066 reb.
Kenny Thomas, UNM (1996-99)1,931 points/1,032 reb.
Micahel Cage, SDSU (1980-84)1,846 points/1,317 reb.
Reginald Slater, UW (1988-92)1,809 points/1,197 reb.
Al Fleming, Arizona (1973-76) 1,765 points/1,190 reb.
Paul Millsap, LA Tech (2003-06)1,708 points/1,172 reb.
Mitch Smith, Utah (1985-89)  1,628 points/1,036 reb.

Wendell McKines:
"When they announced it early, it kind of put pressure on me to get it tonight."

"It's an honor. It's something I'm going to take with me the rest of my life. I take pride in being an Aggie. I think I'll be able to explain it later on. Right now, I'm just living in the moment and enjoying this ride. ... It's been my foundation since I came to college. I never went away from my strength. I take pride in doing that on both ends of the floor. As the years went on, I guess they just added up. ... I'm into things like that. When I was a kid, I used to always watch NBA's Greatest Games. I'm really into history and looking at the pedigree and for me to be in that class, I'm humbled by it and that's tough for me to say. ... I've always counted rebounds. I don't necessarily count points but I feel as if I can be selfish with rebounds. ... My freshman year, all I wanted to do was rebound and dunk the basketball. I was just enjoying the college atmosphere and living in that moment. I wasn't necessarily thinking about three or four years ahead. If I was, I probably would have snatched more rebounds from Martin Iti and Hatila. ... I have to thank my teammates and coaching staff, just believing in me and giving me that confidence and sticking with me. Sometimes I get frustrated but teammates and coaching staff throughout the whole time I've been here just stuck with me and believed in me and I couldn't have done it without them. "

on the second half of WAC play
"We just have to finish strong. It's a different focus. Everybody has played each other once. You just do things differently. If you need to play harder against a certain team, you do that. It's all about adjustments and execution and effort at this point in time of the year. Our talent is undeniable so as long as we do the little things. The effort, and keeping the ball, and we will be fine.

On La. Tech
"they like to run, get it out quick. They like to pressure the ball. They lost some close games so they are coming in with confidence and we just have to match that confidence if not exceed it."

"We are always prepared to play ugly games. That's the style that fits us I guess, but making shots is just icing on the cake. All about repetition and confidence. We shot better today and if we can do that moving forward I think we will have a good chance."

Marvin Menzies
"Really happy with the way we played, especially the second half. You can point to a few things that we didn't do well as far as careless turnovers but at the end of the day, most of those were the type that we can correct. We have to do it. We have to do a much better job taking care of the ball Saturday night. We made a lot of jump shots tonight. We took good 3 pointers and high percentage 3s and thats why we shot better. We fought back on the rebounding side. I thought the zone was critical for us as well in the second half. They held a very good 3 point shooting team to 17 percent shooting for the game. They had us beat at their place and we knew what we had in front of us."

Bakersfield was the first team in some time to play man for most of the game.
"I think if it had been closer, they would have spotted the zone more. I think that their philosophy was to get back into the game, he didn't want to sit back in a zone. He wanted to try to get after us a little bit. It always helps when you make shots."

On Wendell McKines
"I'm glad I recruited him. he's my first recruit signed so for him to reach that milestone, it's a shared accolade. I feel really good about bringing him to New Mexico State and I'm happy that he was able to achieve that for himself. Now we move forward. Its a great goal he set for himself at the beginning of the year and for him to reach it this early with a lot of games left. Reaching our win total from last year tonight and doing some things statistically that are very good only really can be celebrated if you end on a high note in terms of how we perform in the second round of WAC games."

"We talked about this game being an opportunity to right the ship in some of the statistical areas we haven't done well in and to get our confidence in terms of shooting the ball and I think we did that. Especially on your home floor, you can do that. We will see if I'm correct on Saturday.

On Bandja
"We talked to him about his mid range game and bouncing it a little bit more and getting that one dribble pull up because he shoots that pretty well. He had been settling for the 3 at times. The one he made tonight was a no brainer. Prepared to catch and shoot it on an inside out type of action. he was 4-of-7 tonight so he had good selection."