Friday, March 30, 2012

Is Tony Delk conflicted about Final Four matchup?

Not at all.
Delk is all for his alma mater bringing another title back to Kentucky.
"I went to Kentucky and I just left there," said New Mexico State assistant Tony Delk from New Orleans on the eve of Saturday's Final Four game between Kentucky and Louisville. "Anyone who knows me knows who I am pulling for."
Delk does have strong ties to both programs, although he is and always will support Kentucky, where he starred as a player under current Louisville coach Rick Pitino.
Delk's club beat current Kentucky coach John Calipari's UMass team in the national semifinal on the way to the 1996 national title.
Prior to coming to Las Cruces this season, Delk spent the previous two year's on Calipari's staff at Kentucky, where he still ranks fifth on the school's all time scoring list.
"You have two guys who have impacted my career with Coach P as a player and Cal putting me on his staff," Delk said. "Both are great guys.
"I texted both of them congratulating them for making it and Coach Cal called me three weeks ago when we made our run to the tournament. Cal helped me more with my coaching career as far as running a program and I played for Pitino so I didn't get a chance to be around him like that."
Delk said the Kentucky/Louisville rivalry wasn't much of a rivalry during his time at Kentucky. Delk's team beat Louisville by 30 his senior year, he said.
"It's great for the state of Kentucky," Delk said. "It's two teams that play extremely hard and will play until the buzzer sounds."
What will be the difference in the game?
"Louisville has problems scoring but they defend so if they aren't scoring, you're not going to score," Delk said. "The difference is guarding the 3-point line. They have had good tests against Iowa State and Indiana and if it's a half court game, Kentucky can play either style."
Following this weekend, Delk said he plans to continue improving as a coach.
"Of course I'm going to do some recruiting and try to watch some Olympic practices this summer," he said. "Just try to learn my craft."

Early look at next year's roster

I'm operating here with the understanding the NMSU still has two scholarships to fill and assuming that everyone is coming back.

I believe next year to be similar to the up and down season when Jonathan Gibson was a junior and Jahmar Young was a sophomore. I think there is talent there, but they will be very young and inexperienced, but should be among the top 3 teams in an improved WAC.

Unlike this year after Christian Kabongo left, the Aggies will have depth in the backcourt and on the wings so the Aggies should be able to play the same type of pressuring defense throughout the course of the game that they did early on in the season. The question will be if the Aggies want to play that way. That will depend on the fitness level of Sim Bhullar and Chili Nephawe. I think the Aggies could still pressure and do all of the things we have come to expect in transition if Bhullar and Nephawe play nearly 20 minutes per game with BJ West spelling them.

It goes without saying the Aggies would be well served to get at least one shooter and possibly a polished post player.

KC Ross-Miller and Terrel de Rouen will each be coming off of injury issues. de Rouen seemed to be reaching that confidence level that it takes freshmen a while to develop. Then he got hurt. Ross Miller has also been rehabbing from offseason knee surgery, although not as serious as de Rouen. I don't see Ross-Miller as a lights out scoring point guard, but is apparently better at driving and creating opportunities for teammates. de Rouen's strength is his athletic ability, and I think he can really make an impact defensively but the question is can he get healthy.

Daniel Mullings has a big off season ahead of him. While it would be nice to see him knock down the 3, I don't want to see him settling for 3s next  year. He's so good driving, hopefully he works on pulling up and knocking down midrange jumpers and shooting free throws, where he was a 62 percent last year — 46 percent in WAC play.

Feinberg wrote about Bandja Sy on his blog. I wasn't a fan his first two years, but it's been remarkable to watch Sy's improvement on the court and just a better all-around awareness about the game. For example, that big block on Phillip McDonald in Albuquerque. Sy knew the Lobos needed a 3, Sy was patient on defense and waited for his chance to block the shot without fouling. He was steady on defense all year and that's the important thing. He has a nice touch from 3 point land as well, but for some reason only shoots from the baseline. I would like to see him develop more confidence and aggressiveness going to the basket and getting to the line more as well. I don't know where Sy would be most effective next year, starting or coming off the bench but he will certainly be an important player. Tyrone Watson has been in the starting lineup the past two years and I've written about how important he is to the team. He can play multiple positions and is good at distributing the ball but lacks a scoring punch. Again, not sure whether he should start or come off the bench next year.

Remi Barry has shown he can at the very least, hit the occassional long range shot. He should improve with an offseason under his belt after playing competitive basketball for the first time in three years. Eric Weary had impressive numbers in high school and according to some also has the ability to shoot. Between these two and perhaps one or two additions, the Aggies will be more of a threat from 3- point range.

Post players
Wendell McKines leaves a gaping hole in terms of production at the four spot and leadership. I'm going to go ahead and say that I would like to see Renaldo Dixon come back at the power forward. I think he's just as confident shooting the jumper as McKines was and he's got more size than Wendell. Hopefully he returns with his head right after essentially losing his sophomore year. I also would think the Aggies have the ability to bring in an additional power forward with one of their two scholarships available.

The mix of Sim Bhullar, Chili Nephawe and BJ West is intriguing, if not extremely unproven. Will Bhullar return from  a foot injury, can he get fit enough to get up and down the court? If yes, could you imagine a lineup with Bhullar and Nephawe together for short stretches. I was down on Nephawe for most of the year, but he played very well late in the season as he got completely healthy and showed a little fire to him. BJ West is more athletic at the center spot and can spell either center and could likely help close games out since he's more capable of getting up and down the court.

Monday, March 26, 2012

McKines embarks on next stage of basketball career

Following is a story on Wendell McKines that will run later this week. McKines will play in the NABC senior All Star game in New Orleans on Friday and in April, he will play in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament. PIT rosters haven't been announced but here is a website that had him as a projected participant with more background on the event.

I have no idea on McKines' prospects of a NBA career, but he was very honest I thought when I spoke to him. It's not NBA or bust for him. At 6-4 he's well aware of what critics and/or potential scouts have to say. As a fan of basketball however, it seems that every NBA team has a player like McKines, who specializes in rebounding but brings that effort and energy that not all players possess. I wonder how NBA teams measure those things that McKines brings to the table that won't show up in a stat sheet or individual workout.

"I don't get frustrated that I'm not a projected draft pick," McKines said. "It's best for them to see me live right in front of them. There are 30 NBA teams. I feel as though one of them will love me, my passion for the game and my passion for life in general."

LAS CRUCES — Wendell McKines has no regrets as he moves forward as a basketball player.
McKines leaves New Mexico State as one of the most talented and accomplished players to put on an Aggies uniform.
But now the real work begins, starting with the NABC (National Association of Basketball Coaches) College All-Star Game this week and the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in mid-April.
“My goal since I was a kid was to be a NBA player,” McKines said. “I look at games on TV and know that I can play with them. I’m going into this process expecting to get drafted, but if it doesn’t happen, I still have a college degree in my hands and playing overseas is an option.”
McKines and a handful of other college seniors from Division I programs were invited to play as part of Final Four weekend in New Orleans.
McKines leaves Wednesday and the game takes place Friday at 3:35 p.m., at the New Orleans Superdome, site of this weekend’s Final Four.
“I look at it as an honor,” McKines said. “It just proves that all of my hard work pays off and it’s the icing on the cake.”
While there will certainly be exposure at the biggest weekend in college basketball, McKines is looking forward to the All-Star game as an opportunity to relax before he focuses on becoming a professional.
“All-Star games are supposed to be fun,” he said. “It’s more of a gift.”
McKines will turn up the intensity for the Portsmouth  Invitational Tournament April 11-14 in Portsmouth, Va.
Rosters have not been released yet, but McKines said he received his invitation by mail prior to the Aggies’ departure for Portland for their NCAA Tournament second-round game against Indiana.
The top senior NBA Draft prospects are invited for an eight-team, 12-game tournament. 
“That’s for a job,” McKines said. “All the NBA teams and teams from overseas are there as well. It’s going to be very intense and I’m looking forward to it.”
McKines said he plans to participate in the graduation ceremony on May 12 with a degree in marketing. Following graduation, he plans to return to the Bay Area and train for potential workouts with NBA teams with the hopes of hearing his name called in the June 28 NBA Draft.
McKines, who has hired BDA Sports Management to represent him, said if he is not drafted, he hopes for an invitation to NBA summer leagues in either Las Vegas or Orlando. If not, he’s open to play overseas.
“I’m playing for a job and to provide for my family,” McKines said. “It’s still basketball but it’s more of a challenge.”

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

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spinning it forward (How do the Aggies win in the NCAAs?)

Following is my column trying to spit it forward a bit. I know Lobos fans are waiting for Sweet 16 appearance. Along those same lines, NMSU is still trying to get out of the first round (I refuse to refer to the Round of 64 as second round games unless I have to in print). It's not all NMSU's fault. The Mountain West and soon to be MWC/CUSA merger has been and will be more highly regarded than the WAC or likely any league the Aggies end up in, making a higher seed more difficult than the Lobos, who were seeded fifth after winning the MWC while NMSU ended up at No. 13 after winning the WAC. I think that the Aggies have some things going for them in that they now have a group of players who know what it's like in the NCAA. That and perhaps winning those marquee games on a more consistent basis could result in moving up a line or two in the bracket.

Winning NCAA Tournament games is hard.
At a school like New Mexico State, the odds of advancing in the Big Dance are stacked against the Aggies. In its 19 NCAA Tournament appearances, NMSU has typically played against teams, with better rosters from top to bottom, that play in better leagues, under coaches who are well-versed in postseason preparation.
This year saw NMSU reached its third NCAA Tournament since joining the Western Athletic Conference in 2005-06.
Aggies coach Marvin Menzies enjoyed his finest season at NMSU. The Aggies' 26 wins is the most since 1992-93, one win shy of the program record. Menzies got the Aggies to the NCAAs for the second time in three years.
With that level of success over time comes increased expectations to all programs.
The question now seems to be what do the Aggies need to do to not only get to the NCAA Tournament, but also win a game once they're there?
Following Thursday's 79-66 South Region second-round loss to Indiana, NMSU has now lost its last six NCAA Tournament games. The list of teams reads like whose who of college basketball - Cincinnati, Oklahoma State, Kentucky, Texas, Michigan State and now Indiana.
With the exception of NMSU's three-point loss to Michigan State in 2010, the other five losses have been by double digits.
Mid-major leagues are limited in terms of receiving high seeds. The Aggies actually finished the season with a respectable strength of schedule rank of 115, yet their best win by far came in the second game of the season at New Mexico.
But there were also a handful of missed opportunities throughout the season. NMSU lost a pair of games to NCAA Tournament program Southern Mississippi. Southern Miss finished the season 25-9 with an RPI of 21 and a strength of schedule of 48. The Aggies also lost a competitive home game to Arizona. Arizona had a down year by its lofty standards, but perhaps a home win over the Wildcats could have carried some weight on Selection Sunday.
It's possible that earning a split with Southern Miss or beating Arizona could have been worth a higher line or two in the bracket.
NMSU faces unique scheduling challenges year in and year out. The Aggies enter the season with four games taken against UNM and UTEP, plus a BracketBuster game and payback game.
NMSU doesn't necessarily have to schedule tougher, but the Aggies need to find a way to win the handful of games the NCAA could consider "quality wins."
Regardless of who they play, the Aggies now have a more considerable list of players who have contributed on an NCAA Tournament team.
Tyrone Watson and Bandja Sy will be two seniors on next year's roster who have each been a part of two NCAA Tournament teams. Sophomore center Tshilidzi Nephawe and freshman guard Daniel Mullings also played considerable roles on this year's club. Not to mention potential impact players Sim Bhullar and KC Ross-Miller were also on campus all year and should join the fold knowing what it feels like to play on a team with expectations.
Now the Aggies just have to put it together.
It's just the next step.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Crean acknowledges McKines

Here are Indiana's postgame press comments

Here are New Mexico State's postgame press comments

I was speaking with Wendell McKines in the bowels of the Rose Garden when Indiana coach Tom Crean was walking by. He stopped and said the following to Wendell.

"That man is a pro player right there, make sure you write that," Crean said. "You are a heck of a player. We spend as much time preparing for you as anybody we see. And the Draymond Green (comparison), that's a big compliment from where we come from because he was player of the year in our league and an All-American. We have a lot of respect for what you do. You have a great future."

McKines was held to four points in the first half. He finished with 15 and 7 in his final game. Daniel Mullings had 10 points and Bandja Sy had 12.

"It was Wensday awareness," McKines said. "Every spot I went to, I got some attention, which I expected. I worked so hard to be the type of player I am today so I guess it comes with the territory."

When asked to sum up his personal career spur of the moment, McKines told me, "I enjoyed my time as an Aggie. I never took a play off for this team. These are memories I'm going to cherish the rest of my life."

Bandja Sy on the mood of the team at halftime
"We felt like we just had two offensive rebounds so we talked about going hard to the offensive glass. We played good defense and just keep moving the ball on offense."

Sy on the first 10 minutes of the second half
"It was slightly different environment. After a couple runs, it just felt like a home game for them."

Tyrone Watson on the mood at halftime
"We were pretty optimistic but they are a tough team. They were working hard and knocking down their 3s. That was one of the emphasis of the game was to stop them from hitting 3s but they kind of got going and it just kind of got out of hand."

Tyrone Watson on the ball screen at the top of the key
"I think we struggled on a few ball screens from the get go and then they just kept going back to it. We hard a hard time getting the hedge and a hard time recovering and they start knocking down shots. We help over and then they rotate. That did hurt us."

Watson had seven of the Aggies' 13 turnovers in the first half. He didn't have one in the second half and the Aggies had four
"It wasn't so much the pressure. I was trying to make a play. I overdid it. I put the blame on myself for those turnovers. Sometimes I didn't see half the guys when they picked off my passes, they are so quick."

Both teams were 8-10 from the foul line. NMSU averages 30 free throw attempts per game
"Usually we get the calls and they weren't called. I'm not going to say the refs were bias or anything. It was an aggressive game, which we liked. There were a couple bumps and hits that we didn't get but that's just the game of basketball. We expected a lot of those to be calls but it was just tough basketball."

Marvin Menzies  on halftime
"I felt like we had a chance. We had our opportunities. They are a good team and they just made shots. Everytime we make a run they respond. It kept them confident and we never got close enough to maybe rattle them a little bit."

Menzies on defending ball screens
"they got a lot of stuff coming off of that. the scouting report was to have the five help and kind of lay off. He was a little slow to do that at times. we switched it up and changed it. It worked a few times and we got a few stops out of it, but not enough."

Wrap up from the Rose Garden

Indiana is the best team New Mexico State played all year. I would say behind Louisville, Indiana could be the best team in Portland this weekend.

Like I said in my story, New Mexico State did not quit playing, but they were outplayed by a better team, simple as that. The Aggies played well offensively, Indiana was great. Rebounding, free throws, offensive rebounds were all a wash, all categories the Aggies probably needed to win in order to keep up in the second half.

The difference were seven made 3s for Indiana to 4 made 3s from Indiana.

NMSU finished the season one win shy of the best win total since 1969-70, which also happens to be the last NCAA Tournament victory the NCAA recognizes.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lobos fans cheering for Aggies in Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. — Ryan Miller is a fourth year assistant under Steve Alford at New Mexico.
Miller's parents made the trip from Albuquerque to not only support the Lobos, but they bought tickets to both sessions to cheer on UNM rival New Mexico State.
"I'm here to support New Mexico but I like basketball," said Miller's father, Tom Miller. "I think (the Aggies) are really good, especially inside. I saw them play versus New Mexico (the Aggies beat UNM 62-53 at The Pit in the fourth game of the season) and I picked them to win their conference."
Miller and his wife, Sheryl, seemed to be common among Lobos fans gathered behind the Lobos' bench at the Rose Garden prior to UNM's tip against Long Beach State.
"They (the Aggies) are from New Mexico and we want a good showing from our state," Sheryl Miller said.
Phillip Pina's son in a student at UNM.
Pina lives in Chama and is a season ticket holder at The Pit.
"If we could get some tickets, we would go see both teams," Pina said. "It was hard catching a flight out here so short in advance, but that would be nice if two New Mexico teams win."
Ron Jones, another Lobos season ticket holder, said he was impressed by the Aggies in Albuquerque. Jones also has tickets to both sessions at the Rose Garden.
"We had tickets already, but we are always Aggie fans when we are not cheering for the Lobos," Jones said.

Question, can the Aggies get to the line?

Indiana coach Tom Crean discussed it yesterday and from watching the first game between Louisville and Davidson, one thing has become apparent to me.

NCAA Tournament officials let these guys play.

Not saying the Aggies will shy away from physical contact, we know thats not the case. But I doubt the Aggies will get 30 free throws tonight, which means it's doubtful to count on Cody Zeller getting in foul trouble. Zeller plays in the Big Ten and has fouled out just once this year. Chili has fouled out eight times.

Not to mention, Indiana isn't a slouch at getting to the line either. The Hoosiers average 19 made free throws per game.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

All Wen, all the time

Some classic lines from Wendell McKines, who is clearly enjoying his last glimpse of the college spotlight.

McKines on possibility of being intimidated
"Teams that are intimidated and are infatuated with playing bigger name schools those are the teams that lose by 40"

McKines on the comparison of him and Michigan State's Draymond Green
"From a rebounding and scoring and means a lot to the team perspective, yes. I dont' really like to compare myself to nobody. I'm special."

McKines on playing against different defenses
"I'm pretty sure there isn't a defense that I haven't seen. I know how to go about being successful."

McKines on the team's swagger
"Swagger, I wouldn't necessarily use that word. It's just the aura of our presence. You can feel that something special is going to happen."

McKines on possibility of being the focal point of the Hoosiers
"I'm a middle child so I enjoy the attention. That just means my teammates have an opportunity to get involved early. As long as they are playing at a high level, I will feed off their energy."

Indiana quotes

Cody Zeller
They are very athletic reason why they are in te NCAA Tournament. They like to crash the boards. We are going to have to do a nice job and get defensive rebounds. … My parents are going to go watch Tyler in Greensboro because he is the favorite. … We can't get in foul trouble. So we've got to do our work early, keep them out of the paint. Keep them off the boards. We played against some teams that get to the line quite a bit this year. We're going to have to do all the little things it takes to win. ... 

Christian Watford
We've got to put a body on them. Me and Cody will be down there the majority of the time, but we've got to get all five guys in there helping us to rebound. ...

Tom Crean
When you talk about being relentless on the backboards, we can talk about that with teams in our league. They take a backseat to nobody on that. They are sending three or four every time. I I think that's where they get a lot of their fouls is on second chance. ... Every team you face this time of year when you get in the tournament, they are more than likely to have a pro. I don't think Wendell McKines takes a backseat to anyone. He's one of the better, undersized, but also undervalued forwards probably in the country. He can score. He can shoot the ball. When you look at his numbers over a four year period of time, incredible the rise that he has made statistically. He's somebody you have to account for every posession. I don't know their players, but they have really good togetherness on the court. And it looks like they've got really solid leadership on the court. And I bet Wendell McKines has a lot to do with that. ... We can't do anything about the lack of experience we have in the tournament. There is no way around it. What we have to do is we've got to go up there and take advantage of the 33 games of experience that we have this year and do the very best we can with that. ... I think they do more than that. Those  (rebounds and free throw attempts) are the numbers that stand out with bright, neon lights. But I think they are a very good 3 point shooting team. They don't have a lot of gys maybe that attempt them, but they come off the bench and they shoot the ball very well. ... We know what they are capable of, and they are very good defensively. They make it very hard for you to score. ... (Not fouling) is about positioning, technique and awareness. The plus minus of when Mullings is in the game alone right there is strong. He's a guy that maybe doesn't take a ton of shots. but when you watch him play and see the aggressiveness of him, the way he drives it and gets to the backboard, you know you have to do a phenomenal job of keeping him off. ... We've got to have great verticality. They create contact. They jump into you. We come from a great league that has excellent officials. These guys have adjusted all year long. .. We're not going to spend a lot of time putting doubts in their head. It's not about don't foul. It's more about move your feet, have verticality, be in position. We're trying to create positives by giving great reminders."

How do upsets happen?

Upsets are possible but I think for them to happen, specifically for the Aggies, the following things need to happen.

 Aggies have to play above average:
The Aggies are the more experienced team in Thursday's matchup with Indiana, but players aren't dwelling on that.

"One thing we do that works for us is just to focus on us," Aggies senior forward Wendell McKines said. "We focus on our strengths and go about the game that way. We are going to study Indiana as far as their personnel and what ways we can attack them on the basketball court but as far as their youth, we cant focus on that as opposed to focusing on our strengths, which is our experience."

Outside of three starters who played in the NCAA's in 2010, the Aggies experience will take them just so far against a quality opponent. I think the Aggies match up decent enough. Different people I've talked to here have told me that Indiana is a so-so defensive team, meaning perhaps the Aggies can score with them. Indiana opponents are shooting 45 percent from the floor against the Hoosiers, who should be longer than the Aggies at nearly every position. 

The difference here will be finding a way to get to the offensive glass like they have throughout the season (15 orpg) against a Big Ten team that is well-versed in what the Aggies do well.

Perhaps a way to find offense to make up for a below average to average night on the offensive glass is the 3 ball. Indiana makes just over 6 3s per game. NMSU has to either match or surpass that mark from 3, shooting over Indiana's size. 

The Aggies also have to get back in transition, especially the centers. McKines talked about Cody Zeller's knack for rushing out in transition.

Indiana has to have a slightly down night:
The Aggies can't focus on getting Cody Zeller in foul trouble. Zeller's going to get his.

But NMSU has to find a way to drop Indiana's 3-point percentage from 43 down at least 10 points. Jordan Hulls is a great shooter, but he's 6-feet tall. After that, Indiana has size all over the place. NMSU has to identify Indiana's shooters, especially in transition. I actually wouldn't mind seeing NMSU relax a little on the offensive boards, at least early in the game, and run back in transition, similar to what Hawaii did to the Aggies when the Warriors made their run in the WAC semis.

Somebody has to be special:
Indiana's players, coach, Wendell McKines, everyone seemed to talk about stopping Wendell.

With that in mind, three players come to mind who have to play out of their mind for the Ags to pull the upset.

Bandja Sy, Hernst Laroche and Chili Nephawe. 

Bandja is capable of turning a game by himself and I believe he needs to knock down two or three triples, as does Laroche, who has shown glimpses of becoming a decent scorer. I think Laroche needs to be in the 15-18 point range. Nephawe played great in the WAC tournament, Rahman not so much. It would be nice if they were both effective, but I'm going with the hot hand. Chili needs to be in double double territory.


Guest Blog Entry: Looking back at the 1992 NMSU Sweet 16 team

The following blog entry comes from Sun-News features writer James Staley. Staley did a wonderful job marking the 20th anniversary of New Mexico State's run to the 1992 Sweet 16.

Read Staley's complete story here:

Following are some notes that did not make it into the story that James was good enough to share:

NMSU 1992 Sweet 16 notes
A few tidbits that didn’t fit into the story.
The Aggies were in the middle of a five-year NCAA Tournament run when they took the floor in Tempe, Ariz. As strong as coach Neil McCarthy’s program had become — NMSU finished 1991 ranked 15th, and had been has high as 11th — it hadn’t won on college basketball’s grandest stage.
Looking back, players and coaches I talked to for this story mentioned the luck factor. Breaks are a part of sports, and NMSU benefitted in 1992. In previous years, on teams that many considered to be better than the 1992 team, that didn’t happen.
For example ...
1990: McCarthy’s first NCAA Tournament starts with a game against Loyola Marymount, a team that was a sentimental favorite nationally after the stunning death of star Hank Gathers. The Aggies played the Lions in Long Beach, Calif., LMU’s backyard. And the selection committee dropped the Lions significantly after the death of Gathers, which pitted his teammates against the No. 6 seed Aggies.
1991: This might have been McCarthy’s best team — it had NBA champion Randy Brown and another guard that spent some time in the league, Reggie Jordan. But No. 11 seed Creighton was the perfect antagonist for NMSU. The Aggies relied on getting 20 offensive rebounds and forcing 20 turnovers then. Creighton was strong and smart with the ball, and forced NMSU to shoot jumpers, not their strength.
Contrast these years to 1992 ...
NMSU was never ranked that season, though it came close after a 13-1 start. The Aggies went into the tournament as underdogs, and No. 5 seed DePaul couldn’t contain Sam Crawford. In the next game, Southwestern Louisiana, a 13-seed, dropped No. 4 seed Oklahoma. NMSU, known as a mediocre (at best) free throw shooting team, hit its final 16 shots to seal its trip to Albuquerque.
When I found out that not too many Aggie fans made the trek to Tempe, Ariz., I wondered if it was because the fans were frustrated by the previous postseason letdowns — after all, tickets were available the morning of the DePaul game. That might have been some of it. But some people were hoping the Aggies would get to Albuquerque, and planning to watch them there.
That turned out to be more difficult than anticipated. Tickets in Las Cruces and Albuquerque sold out and many were being illegally scalped for as much as $300 (face value was $45), according to Albuquerque Journal classified ad archives. Police arrested 10 for scalping, including two Lobos assistant coaches and a prominent UNM booster.
From the Sun-News archives ...
Before NMSU hired Neil McCarthy in March of 1985, some of the reported possible Aggie coaches were ...
• Current coaches Tim Floyd (UTEP) and Mike Montgomery (Cal) 
• Nolan Richardson, Tulsa’s coach at the time, who later won a national title at Arkansas
• Jerry Pimm, who coached at UC Santa Barbara and Utah. He was the coach that McCarthy loved to beat the most, according to one source
• Former Aggies Rob Evans and Jimmy Collins
NMSU signed McCarthy to a six-year deal worth $55,000 per year. That was a significant increase over what Weldon Drew, the coach McCarthy replaced, was making. But it’s nothing now. In 2007, NMSU signed Marvin Menzies to a deal worth $325,000 per year. For comparison’s sake, UNM paid Richie McKay $500,000 a year when it signed him a decade ago.
Speaking of UNM, some reports suggested that NMSU hurried to sign McCarthy because there were rumors the Lobos wanted him. But, as it turned out, the UNM coach at the time, Gary Colson, didn’t leave till 1988
McCarthy had a knack for getting players to play hard. I got the sense that many players didn’t like him, but McCarthy could motivate them. No question about that.
Chris Hickman explained this in an email: “He was really good at babying the guys that needed to be babied, screaming at the guys that needed to be screamed at and leaving others completely alone.  However, I will tell you that once he written you off, you were done.  He would get inside a player’s head that he had written off and do exactly the opposite of what I referenced above.  If they needed to be babied, he’d bully them.  He didn’t have to ‘fire’ people, they quit once he got on them.”
When I talked to McCarthy, he seemed to be enjoying the life of a retiree, which for McCarthy and his wife Vivian means, grandkids, reading and watching sports on TV. He said he watches the Aggies on “channel 61” — I looked it up, he was right. We spoke in January, and he asked about the departure of Christian Kabongo. When I mentioned that NMSU seemed to play better without Kabongo because of better ball movement, McCarthy said, “he did have sticky hands.”
McCarthy didn’t sound bitter, though he did have a few jabs for Lou Henson, who replaced during his contested ouster. First McCarthy said Henson took the job “supposedly out of the goodness of his heart.” Then said, “how many schools have a coach that gets them on probation, then hire him back 20 years later?”
Some of the more vivid memories the players recalled during interviews were from the Pit in Albuquerque.
Marc Thompson said his most vivid memory was seeing then-Indiana coach Bob Knight outside the locker room before NMSU’s game against UCLA. Thompson remembers being struck by Knight’s size — he’s about 6-foot-5, huge for a coach, and his reputation makes him loom larger — as Knight shook the hands of NMSU’s players and wished them luck.
Then, Thompson said, they went on to the floor and heard the fans. At that point he was caught in the moment.
Reserve guard Brian Sitter remembered the practice the day before, when he estimated 10,000 fans watched the Aggies practice. Sitter said when McCarthy saw and heard the spirited mob (certainly some were Lobos fans, cheering for the Aggies) he ripped up his practice plans and told the Aggies to have fun.
For Eric Traylor, what stood out was what happened after the loss to UCLA. He said there weren’t too many tears. Said Traylor: “If we would have taken the one-and-done aspect more seriously, I think we would have beaten UCLA. We were just excited to get to the Sweet 16.”
I asked each of the players I reached about their reaction to the 1995 NCAA sanctions that officially vacated NMSU’s NCAA Tournament wins in 1992 and 1993.
As it pertains to the 1992 team, the NCAA reported that NMSU assistant Chris Nordquist wrote eight papers for a player in the summer of 1991 (two newspaper reports named that player as Chris Dinkins, a reserve forward).
McCarthy was cited for lack of institutional control. One of his top assistants, Gar Forman, was accused of setting up the cheating, while another coach executed it. Basically five other players were obtaining fraudulent grades from correspondence courses. Forman was later cleared in an appeal. Forman’s employer, the Chicago Bulls, didn’t respond to interview requests.
Nordquist didn’t respond to emails for the story either. In a 1999, he told Sports Illustrated: “When you’re in that position, there are a lot of psychological (pressures). I feel like I had a choice, but didn’t have a choice. “
Here were some of the player reactions ...
Chris Hickman: “The sad thing about all of this is that the NCAA, in and of itself, is just a ridiculous institution. The whole process is a joke. There’s no way a school can protect itself from the actions of one individual.”
Ron Putzi: “Honestly, I had not heard that news until right now. Funny, not sure what to think.”
Marc Thompson: “I was disappointed coach was involved and some players I went to war with were ineligible.”
Brian Sitter: “Honestly, it didn't really affect me...I wasn't aware of any of those things that they said were going on...I know that we worked our tails off in the gym...I have great memories and great far as I'm concerned, we went in and won those games so they are still wins in my mind...I'm not a big fan of the NCAA so whatever they did after I left doesn't really matter to me.”
John Bartleson: “No reaction from me. We earned it and it can never be taken away.”
The NCAA vacated NMSU’s 2-1 record in the 1992 NCAA Tournament, which means, officially, it didn’t happen (which is different from a forfeit, in which the opposing team is awarded a win).  To me that’s a ridiculous punishment. It has no real meaning. More recently, some teams the NCAA punished had to return postseason earnings. An NMSU official said the school didn’t have to return the reported $116,883 it earned for that NCAA Tournament appearance.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Two keys, rebounding and 3-point defense

By now ESPN analysts have jumped on the NMSU bandwagon by picking No. 13 New Mexico State to upset No. 4 Indiana. Partly due to the fact that they lost guard Verdell Jones, who by looking at his numbers (7 ppg, 3 rpg, 3 apg) appears to be a bigger loss in terms of experience, leadership and ball handling. 

I think there are two things that must happen for the Aggies to spring the upset. Rebounding, especially on the offensive glass, and defending the 3.  Neither will be especially easy but the Aggies have done well in both areas all season, although not against a team of Indiana's caliber. 

I wrote about rebounding yesterday. 

Indiana is the No. 2 3 point shooting team in the country, shooting at 43 percent. On paper from an offensive standpoint, Indiana doesn't look like a Big Ten team, yet they still have Big Ten size and rebound. The Hoosiers will be able to score with the Aggies. They have a lot of balance with Cody Zeller inside and numerous shooters to play inside out. 

The Aggies haven't played a team yet with so many players capable of knocking down the 3.

"The ones they have can really shoot it and they have a little bit of size as well," Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said. "The point guard is not very tall but he's a very good shooter. That will be a little different for our guys."

Guards in the WAC were bothered by NMSU's length at those positions. That's why the Aggies did so well guarding the 3 point line, limiting teams to 32 percent shooting from long range. Indiana's perimeter players are just as long as NMSU.

"We just try to chase them off the 3-point line and contest everything," Aggies point guard Hernst Laroche said. "Challenge without fouling. Just be aggressive and make them do something they are not comfortable doing. If they are a 3-point shooter, try to make them drive."

Even without Jones, Jordan Hulls is no scrub. The 6-foot Hulls is averaging 11 points per game, three assists per game and shooting 49 percent from 3. Christian Watford is 6-9, averages 12 points per game and shoots 42 percent from 3. Victor Oladipo is 6-5, appears to be more of a driving guard, averages 11 ppg. Will Sheehey is a 6-6 forward who averages eight points and shoots 42 percent from 3. Finally, Matt Roth comes off the bench and shoots 55 percent from 3 in limited minutes.

The Aggies certainly have the size to match up with Indiana at every position, but the point is they can't afford any lapses because Indiana has more players who can knock down shots than any team the Aggies have faced. 

For this reason, plus Indiana's size on defense, it would be extremely helpful if NMSU knocks down five or six 3s as well.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Stats to ponder

Working on a lot of things for the next couple days. Here are some random stats to ponder in the meantime.

Second meeting between the schools. NMSU lost on the road 74-68 in 1961

• 0-1 as a No. 13 seed (lost to Oklahoma State in 1994)
• Never played in the South Region
• Never played an NCAA Tournament game in Portland (they are 0-1 in Oregon, losing to the Ducks in Corvalis in 1960)
• 0-1 vs. Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament (Michigan State in 2010) but beat current Big Ten member Nebraska in 1993 (vacated)

• 2-3 as a No. 4 seed (lost to Kent State in 2001 and Richmond in 1988 in the opening round, but won their first two games as a 4-seed in 1984)
• 6-2 in the South Region (including 5-1 run to championship game in 2002)
• Never played an NCAA Tournament game in Portland
• 2-0 vs. WAC in the NCAA Tournament, both wins against former member UTEP

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Delk not surprised at Kentucky seeding

New Mexico State assistant coach Tony Delk wasn't surprised his alma mater Kentucky was given the No. 1 overall seed. Kentucky also landed in the South Region.

"I think they deserve the top seed," Delk said on Sunday. "For a team that played as well as they have throughout the course of the season, why wouldn't they get a No. 1 seed. That is so ironic that they ended up there."

Should NMSU spring an upset at Indiana and defeat another mid major in either VCU or Wichita State, NMSU is on Kentucky's side of the bracket.

"It's so open right now with so many mid major teams," he said. "Teams that can play with high majors. You don't have a disadvantage."

Delk said that the Aggies played to their strengths in Vegas. 

"Once we do that, we are a hard team to face," Delk said. "Just with the dedication of the seniors and guys who played in big games. The thing about getting there and progress is you don't want to get there too fast. We took steps to get there. We still have a lot to learn but our guys are in it for the long haul."

Menzies rewarded for title run

Marvin Menzies received the following bonuses this season.

$10,000 winning a WAC tournament title
$10,000 for 17 or more wins in a season
$20,000 for an appearance in the NIT or NCAA

No. 13 New Mexico State vs. No. 4 Indiana

New Mexico State gets another NCAA Tournament opponent from the Big Ten.

 This time NMSU gets Indiana. A few stats about the Hoosiers worth noting. Indiana led the Big Ten in 3 point field goal percentage at 41 percent. Guard Jordan Hulls shoots 49 percent, Christian Watford shoots 42 percent and Matt Roth shoots 55 percent off the bench.  At 6-6, 200 Will Sheehey was described to me as an athletic player who averages 8.4 ppg and 3 rebounds per game. Perhaps a matchup  with McKines.

NMSU has done a good job guarding the 3-point line since they entered WAC play, holding teams to 32 percent from 3 on the season.

Either way, Indiana has two seniors on the roster but neither plays. NMSU has three seniors and two juniors who play a lot of minutes.

"They are human," Aggies junior wing Tyrone Watson said. "They have lost games and we have lost games. Anything is possible. It will be a good match up. We are not fearing anyone. We are going in full of confidence and just going to play hard."

ESPN Analyst Doug Gottlieb picked NMSU to upset Indiana, citing Indiana's shaky record away from home and failing to handle pressure well. Indiana averaged 12 turnovers per game so it doesn't seem like much of a factor.

This Aggies team built to make noise

I’m going to go as far as to say the Aggies could have gone down the street to the Thomas and Mack Center and given them Mountain West boys a game.
That’s how dominant NMSU was this week.
The Aggies won three games by an average of 17 points per game, and the one game that looked competitive in the final score (Hawaii) was only competitive for about 20 of the possible 40 minutes.
I think it was the result of a focused team all week that jumped on all three opponents and were never truly in danger of losing.

Marvin Menzies said in his postgame comments that players met on their own throughout the week. I asked Wendell McKines if he could share what was said in those meetings. His answer was a simple, “No” but whatever was said was effective.
“We would meet as a team and a staff over scouting reports and then kick us out,” Menzies said. “I don’t know what they were talking about but it must have been efficient and effective because we really jumped on those guys.”
McKines averaged 23 and 10.7 in three games for the Aggies who scored 78 points per game and allowed just 62 points per game on the other end and out rebounded its opponents by 16.7 per game.
“They really defend you,” Louisiana Tech coach Mike White said. “They are so long and athletic. They take it as a challenge to guard you. … They play with a lot of swagger and they have a lot of experience.”
It’s for these reasons — experience and style of play (defense, rebounding) — that I believe the Aggies have a better chance to win a NCAA game than they did in 2010, depending on the match up.
We will see that match up later today.
“Mid Major teams with upperclassmen are dangerous teams in the tournament,” Menzies said. “It’s been proven the past three years. There are teams that have had that recipe. I think we have a recipe. I don’t know if we can experience that much success but it will just depend on who we match up with and how well we play.”

Marvin Menzies
“We relied heavily on our juniors and seniors to carry us to the championship and they did. … I’m still in a surreal place. We have been dreaming about it and thinking about it for so long. … It will probably hit me tomorrow when we are on Selection Sunday.”

On not allowing La. Tech to get back in the game like Hawaii did
“I think we learned our lesson. Throwing the first punch the last couple of games was evident that the guys were really focused. The players came out with a workmanlike mentality. … I feel like the way they handled the lead tonight was much more surgeon like in terms of the execution.”

On the difference between Menzies two tournament teams
“I think we were little bit more guard oriented. We were more capable scorers from the perimeter. We could shoot the ball better and we had a couple more guys who could bounce it. Now what we have is a more balanced attack. We are maybe not shooting it as prolific as that team but we definaely have a stronger interior force. The X factor for us is Bandja, Tyrone, Daniel. We know what we are going to get from our seniors. It’s going to be those other guys who will determine if we will live to play another day.”

On winning his second WAC title in three years
“We had the paradigm set when we took over this job five years ago how we wanted to build it and go the developmental route. Whatever it took so when they leave the institution, they were complete. They good citizens, good academics and stellar basketball careers. I think we have shown that we have done that and this is really the tip of the iceberg of classes to come. This particular class is going to show them what it’s all about. They are going to set the bar and they set it pretty high.”

Wendell McKines
“Just the urgency behind it, not forgetting that it’s basketball. Having fun with it knowing that it’s three games and if we play our game we can play with anybody. Just play with that confidence and look where we are. … In 2010, it was like, ‘Oh my God, we are going to the Tournament.’ Now we know what to expect in the tournament and what to do to win. We know we can play with anybody. We are looking forward to the tournament and making noise.”

Tyrone Watson
“It’s a blessing. For me at least, I was kind of a spectator (in 2010). I was on the bench the first time. I got to play 35 minutes though. It felt good. We worked so hard the whole season for this. We came together as a unit right now at the later portion of the season. It was just us against the world. … I was just prepared this whole tournament. I had a different mentality, a different focus. I knew that I needed to just pick it up scoring wise and defensively. My teammates believed in me.”

WAC Champs

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — There would be no comeback this time.
New Mexico State jumped jumped on Louisiana Tech early and unlike Hawaii the previous night, the upset-minded Bulldogs never threatened.
The No. 2 Aggies won their second Western Athletic Conference Tournament championship in three years, beating No. 5 Louisiana Tech 82-57 in Saturday’s tournament final at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev.
“I think we learned our lesson,” said Aggies head coach Marvin Menzies, whose team improved to 26-9 on the season. “After throwing the first punch the last couple of games, it was evident that the guys were really focused. I thought the way they handled the lead tonight was much more surgical.”
The Aggies secured their 19th NCAA Tournament appearance and sixth conference tournament championship by out muscling a smaller Bulldogs team that advanced to Saturday’s final with upset victories over defending champion Utah State and top-seeded Nevada.
“I think it means a lot to a lot of people,” Menzies said. “We have a fantastic support for such a small town. We had a lot of people come out. There were some people from Albuquerque. New Mexico sports supports New Mexico. The Lobos winning and us winning as well, it’s great for the state.”
The Aggies returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010.
“In 2010, it was like, ‘Oh my God, we are going to the Tournament,’” said WAC Tournament Most Valuable Player Wendell McKines. “Now we know what to expect in the tournament and we know we can play with anybody. We are looking forward to the tournament now and making noise.”
This year’s tournament team is built differently.
“We were more capable scorers from the perimeter (in 2010),” Menzies said. “We could shoot the ball better I thought. Now, I think we have a more balanced attack. We have some guards who can bounce it. We maybe don’t shoot it as prolifically as that team but we definitely have a stronger interior force.”
Aggie junior Tyrone Watson scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half and freshman guard Daniel Mullings added 12 points.
“For me (in 2010), I was kind of a spectator so I got to play 35 minutes so it feels good,” said Watson, who landed on the All-Tournament team with McKines and senior point guard Hernst Laroche. “We came together as a unit right now. It’s just us. It’s us against the world.”
McKines secured a double-double in the first half and finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds on 12-for-16 shooting
“Night in and night out, there is not a more passionate player who I have ever coached,” Menzies said.
NMSU scored the first eight points of the game and led 38-20 at the half, doubling up the Bulldogs on the boards in the first half and limiting Louisiana Tech to 25 percent shooting in the first half.
The lead bloated to as many as 31 in the second half.
The Aggies led by as many as 20 in the first half after a 12-2 run to open a 36-16 lead with 1:53 left in the half.
NMSU finished 55.9 percent from the floor and out rebounded the Bulldogs 46-27 with 13 offensive rebounds and a 56-32 advantage in the paint.
The Aggies started the game 12-for-18 from the floor and led by 13 with 10:52 to play in the first half. The Bulldogs started 7-for-25 and 0-for-9 from 3-point range after shooting 52 percent from 3-point range in upset wins over Utah State and Nevada this week. Louisiana Tech missed its first 12 attempts from 3-point range and finished 3-for-18.
“I felt that off the bounce, I would be more effective,” Watson said. “We scouted them pretty hard. I just wanted to make sure that (Louisiana Tech guard Trevor Gaskins) didn’t get hot early.”
NMSU captured its third WAC Tournament title with a point differential of 17.3 points per game with wins over No. 7 Fresno State, No. 6 Hawaii and Louisiana Tech.
The Aggies will learn their NCAA Tournament destination and opponent along with the rest of the country on Sunday at 4 p.m.
Albuquerque is a first-round site this year.
“That would be our dream site,” Menzies said. “I don’t think it would make a difference as to how we play outside of the fact that we would have more support. But it would be nice.”
For McKines, Laroche and Aggies center Hamidu Rahman, their potential seed doesn’t seem to matter. NMSU hasn’t deviated much from their style of play this year.
Why should they, their 26 wins match the program’s most since Neil McCarthy’s team went 26-8 in 1992-93.
This week’s run through the WAC proved that the Aggies are built for postseason play.
“If we play our game, we can play with anybody,” McKines said. “Look where we are.”

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Aggies take on WAC Cinderella

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing New Mexico State entering Saturday's final is that it has been more than a month since the Aggies played Louisiana Tech, the hottest team in the WAC right now. Although the Aggies swept the season series, this isn't the same team.

"Their personnel is the same, and they are not doing a lot differently offensively, but they are doing it better," Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said.

Louisiana Tech's run to Saturday's WAC Tourney final against New Mexico State has been quite impressive, although somewhat surprising.

The Bulldogs, under first-year coach Mike White, beat arguably the WAC's two top programs. After beating defending champion Utah State on Thursday, Louisiana Tech upended top seeded Nevada 78-73 in Friday's late semifinal. 

Yet Menzies wasn't surprised.

"I told people that if they continued to gel, they would be a force to be reckoned with in the tournament and here they are in the final," Menzies said. 

Louisiana Tech led by 15 in the first half, by 3 at the half after shooting 8-10 from 3-point range in the first half. White said the Bulldogs have increased their 3-point shooting selection as the season has progressed. They have certainly been hot this week, shooting 16-for-31 (52 percent) from 3-point range in Vegas. Louisiana Tech finished 8-14 from 3 point range for the game.

NMSU has been very good against the 3-point line this year, but La. Tech has a player in freshman guard Raheem Appleby, who hit the Aggies for 30 in Las Cruces. The matchup between the guards is exciting to me. Louisiana Tech point guard Kenneth Smith reminds me of Daniel Mullings as far as his speed and quickness. White called him Speedy in the press conference. NMSU will have to guard against penetration because Speedy, Trevor Gaskins can get to the paint and Hawaii's Shaquille Stokes had some success on penetration on Friday.

On paper, the Aggies' size is the most obvious advantage. It's formidable against the Top tier teams. Against a guard oriented team like La. Tech, it's magnified even more. Yet Louisiana Tech is one of five teams this year to outrebound the Aggies. La. Tech did it 44-42 in Ruston.

That makes NMSU's center play important again. I think Chili Nephawe had his best game of the season on Friday. And Menzies said it was good to see since Hamidu Rahman wasn't effective on Friday, but did have a good game on Thursday.

Turnovers are also a key against La. Tech. Louisiana Tech pressures full court. They did it to NMSu in Ruston and forced 20 turnovers.

"They have done it before, but they are more efficient," Menzies said. "They play effective man defense but the guard play has really improved."

It's not the final that myself, or many probably wanted to see. But perhaps the final features the two teams who are playing the best right now.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

La. Tech ends Thursday session with second upset of the day

Fifth-seeded Louisiana Tech finished Thursday's WAC Tournament with the second upset of the day, knocking off fourth-seed and defending champion Utah State 72-70. Utah State guard Preston Medlin crossed halfcourt after a missed La. Tech free throw down by two. Medlin crossed halfcourt with about four seconds left, but he never got a shot up and actually looked like he was looking to pass. This after senior point guard Brockeith Pane missed the second free throw that could have pulled the game even on the prior possession after Utah State trailed by as many as 11 in the second half. The long ball kept La. Tech up (8-17) and the Aggies couldn't get the necessary stops.

The Bulldogs ended the day that began with No. 6 Hawaii beating No. 3 Idaho.

The first half of this game was brutal. SJSU led 14-13 at halftime. San Jose was 28 percent in the first half. Nevada was 21.7 percent. Nevada guards Deonte Burton and Malik Story combined to shoot 7-26 in the game and Nevada had 15 turnovers, but Burton made enough shots in the second half to finish with 16 points to lead the Wolf Pack. Nevada wasn't spectacular, but once again, they won with their defense. San Jose finished the game 32.8 percent from the floor, shooting 1-16 from 3-point range.

NMSU vs. Hawaii

I think New Mexico State beats Hawaii to reach the final. And it's not because the Aggies beat Hawaii by 42 points with Zane Johnson in the lineup. It's partially because I think NMSU is actually the more mature team, capable of keeping their heads in a heated environment. Hawaii is all over the place. Hawaii coach Gib Arnold and wing Joston Thomas got Td up and fouled out, just as he did before in Las Cruces. Hawaii either feeds off Arnold or the Warriors have looked tired, also likely because of Arnold.

I also like the Aggies because of seniors such as Wendell McKines. McKines, and the Aggies for that matter, got off to a terrible start from the field. Even against a sagging man or 1-2-2 zone, McKines put his head down, got into the paint and got to the line, where he was 8-10. NMSU shot 36 free throws on Thursday. The Aggies shot 43 free throws against Hawaii in Las Cruces.

NMSU's pressure was too much for Hawaii in Las Cruces as well, forcing 24 turnovers leading to 38 points.

I do like Hawaii's backcourt though with Jeremiah Ostrowski and freshman Shaquille Stokes. Stokes  had 17 points and Hauns Brereton had 17 and 11.

But Hawaii doesn't present a lineup that the Aggies can't counter.

Hawaii coach Gib Arnold said it has been a tough three weeks.

"We were a little wounded, a little down," Arnold said. "We finally got our heart back against Utah State. We knew we had a chance going in here. Losing Zane was a big deal but these guys rallied together. I felt like we earned it. As a team, and a university, I think we needed this."

Hawaii snapped a five game losing streak that included a 115-73 loss at NMSU on Feb. 23. the teams meet for the second time in the WAC Tournament in a 7 p.m., semifinal on Friday.

"It's a little bit of an understatement to say that it didn't go very well (against NMSU in Las Cruces)," Arnold said. "They smashed us. They absolutely smashed us. We did beat them in our place."

Hawaii senior guard Zane Johnson is not with the team this week, making Thursday's upset seem like a surprise. Yet Hauns Brereton knocked donw the game winner with 3 seconds left.

"We definitely miss Zane Johnson," Brereton said. "But we knew we had to step up because of it."

"Zane spreads the court. We could use him, but it brings on different roles and kind of changes our style," Ostrowski said. "I feel like guys adjusted well. Guys stepped up and were ready to play. We had guys who hardly had minutes in the season."

Like he did against the Aggies, Joston Thomas fouled out and was Td up with about 12 minutes to play. Hawaii center Vander Joaquim and Davis Rozitis closed the game out, playing together at times. Joaquim had 20 and 13.

"Whatever they put on the floor, we will just have make adjustments," Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said. "It's March Madness. It's not March mediocre. You are going to see lineups maybe you haven't seen. We have everything in our system to attack anything any team in the tournament throws at us. When you take care of the ball and rebound, you have a chance to win a game.

With one steal on Thursday, Aggies guard Hernst Laroche pulled even with William Benjamin with 209 career steals.

Daniel Mullings landed hard on his shoulder after a highlight dunk in the second half. He closed out the game but he looked like he had to keep it loose.

"It might be a little bruised but he will be alright. He didn't complain that much. right now he's good."

McKines on his shooting night
"I forced some. Just trying to attack the game. It's my last WAC Tournament. Once I settled down, it was still kind of tough for me to get into a rhythm. I felt like I was helping my teammates and in the flow of the game."

Menzies on Sy's defense of Olekaibe
"He's just a fantastic defensive player. He was charged with the job of shutting down Olekaibe. Anytime you can guard one guy, it frees up other guys who don't have to trap and help as much."

No. 6 Hawaii 72, No. 3 Idaho 70

Hawaii ended a five-game losing streak on Thursday, starting the WAC Tournament with an upset of Idaho without Zane Johnson (illness)

Idaho started 4-21 from the field and shot 10-29 (34 percent) in the first half, trailing 35-28. Hawaii pushed the lead to 11 early in the second half but Idaho opened the second half 5-7, pulling two within two on a Deremy Geiger 3 (Idaho was 6-16 from 3-point range, 5-8 in the second half). Stephen Madison hit another triple to put Idaho up 42-41 with just under 15 minutes to play. Idaho led by five with 7:59 to play.

Hawaii was whistled for two technicals in the second half, one on head coach Gib Arnold and one on Joston Thomas, where he fouled out with nine points. Playing without Zane Johnson, Hawaii freshman guard Shaquille Stokes stepped in with 17 points, pulling Hawaii level at 64-64 with 258 to play. Hauns Brereton scored three straight points to put Hawaii up 3 with 1:43 to play, but Geiger tied it at 68 with 50 seconds left. Brereton turned out to be the hero, scooping up a Stokes pass for a 13-foot baseline jumper with 3.2 seconds left that proved to be the game' winner. Brereton finished with 17 points on 6-8 shooting.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Prediction time (What say you?)

Marvin Menzies said earlier this week he’s going to rely on his seniors and enjoy the ride.
I’m joining in.
I’m picking New Mexico State to win this week’s WAC Tournament in Las Vegas, avenging two league losses to top-seeded Nevada in Saturday’s final.
The Aggies have three seniors who have done it before.
Nevada has two seniors who lost to NMSU in the WAC quarterfinals last year.
There is no doubt that Nevada has enough talent to march through this week’s tournament like the Wolf Pack marched to a 13-1 mark and the regular season title. You could argue that Nevada has four of the Top 5 players in the league. There is not much there after those four guys, however. The question with Nevada remains, will they have enough left to win three games in three days?
But NMSU’s superior depth is not why I like NMSU to advance to the Big Dance.
In defeat, I believe the Aggies have shown glimpses of what a Game 3 could look like if it comes to pass on Saturday.
Turnovers were costly in both games against the Wolf Pack. In the second game, a lack of patience on offense in the first half and a lack of offensive production for much of the second half dug a hole the Aggies still nearly overcame.
Outside of WAC Player of the Year Deonte Burton, the Wolf Pack supporting cast cannot handle the Aggies’ pressure on the perimeter. If Saturday’s final is close, the Aggies will likely take every opportunity to get the ball out of Burton’s hands late.
Offensively, the Aggies need to do a better job converting offensive rebounds into points against the Wolf Pack. NMSU collected 17 and 18 offensive boards in the two meetings against Nevada yet they weren’t converted to points on either occasion with just 11 second-chance points in the second game.
Everyone wants to see Nevada and NMSU play for a championship on Saturday, but neither team has a guaranteed road to the final.
Although NMSU’s first-round opponent, Fresno State, gave the Aggies a scare on Saturday, I think Thursday’s quarterfinal will be a more decisive NMSU victory. From a talent standpoint, Fresno State has one player who could play at NMSU — maybe. Also, the Aggies proved they could come from behind and win, yet the Fresno game provided a wake up call that although talented, the Aggies aren’t good enough to do it time after time. 
Look for a more focused team this week, due to senior leadership.
Hawaii guard Zane Johnson is reportedly not traveling (illness), making Idaho’s first-round game slightly easier for the Vandals. 
NMSU should advance past the Vandals for two reasons. 
First, it’s Idaho. 
The Aggies are 9-2 against Idaho under Menzies, including a 2008 first-round victory. 
Regarding this year’s Idaho team, a quality opponent to be sure, the Vandals’ outstanding balance offensively could play against them. Unlike the other Top 4 teams in the bracket, Idaho doesn’t have that player who can get hot and score 20-25 points to carry the Vandals. Idaho’s strengths is size and 3-point shooting. NMSU’s strengths are size and 3-point defense.
Nevada will likely face No. 4 Utah State in the other semifinal. 
On paper, I like Nevada.
But Nevada fans had to cringe when Stew Morrill’s club wrapped up the No. 4 seed. Utah State is not as talented as past years, but they still have the WAC’s best coach in a neutral court game. Not to mention one of the hottest offensive players in the league in guard Preston Medlin.
Last year, I wrote that the Aggies were not ready to win  the title, mostly due to the absence of NMSU senior Wendell McKines.
McKines was on the bench as the Aggies were bounced in last year’s semifinals.
“It was a free trip to Vegas,” McKines said. “Just being in the environment and being able to suit up with my teammates, I’m just thankful for the opportunity.”

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