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.


25Aggie said...

Great thoughts. I've been thinking about these things as well. I'd love to see the Ags take that next step next year and get some quality wins, hopefully translating to an 11 or 10 seed. Ags should be able to take care of business in the WAC next year.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jason,

Thanks for bringing this up.

I think seeking to join the West Coast Conference with Gonzaga, etal. would be great! Rejoining the Missouri Valley Conference would be some travel but it would be great. The ideal conference would be one with UTEP and UNM, but that seems politically impossible to make happen.

The problem is that the WAC offers such limited competition night in and night out. I would rather NMSU win the conference once in 10 years and really be competitive in the dance than to sweep through against Fresno, Hawaii, LT....I mean, come on! The big margin of victory looks good on paper, but it is a far cry from the WAC of a few years ago when we had to go through JC Carrol & Co in dramatic fashion, at home no less. The WAC is not coming back, I think. We need to put ourselves in an environment that brings out the best in us.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Not losing games they should win would be a start. I can see a loss to Nevada at Nevada. What kills us is losses to a weak UTEP squad in El Paso along with losses to Hawaii and Idaho. Getting blown out by the Lobos also doesn't help.

Anonymous said...

Menzies is building something good in LC. His focus on international players is a unique way to acquire and develop talent, allowing him to field an experience-laden team year in and out. I think a few years down the road this is going to be viewed as pretty smart, maybe even mini-revolutionary. What is even better, or at least as important, is that Menzies seems to (or at least he says so) really like LC and wants to stay and build a lasting program for the community. I would love to see people realize this and start to support the Aggies en mass next year -- make the Pan Am a place to be feared, as it once was. It really is a gift to have a dedicated coaching staff and team.

You're right--they just need to improve their play for the entire season, take care of those quality wins, and work towards that breakthrough moment come tourney time.

Anonymous said...

One thing I believe is a big plus is that the young men being recruited are pretty stand up guys. That's worth a lot.

Anonymous said...

I think people really need to stop the whole "lets change conferences". NMSU Athletics is not a profitable brand and its the reason why we generally get left out of realignment talks. Leaving the WAC just because we want a better basketball program wont happen.

I think this is right. Indiana, Nevada, Utah St., Idaho, Arizona, UNM, Southern Miss, San Francisco, Cal State Bakersfield, McNeese St, Drake. Teams we played this season that made it to some sort of post season tournament. 9 wins, 8 losses. 1-4 against teams that made the NCAA Tournament. 0-3 against teams that made the NIT. 8-1 against teams that made the CBI/CTI. 0 teams from power conferences played during the regular season.

The question should not be how do we win in the NCAA Tournament, but how do we win before we get to it. If we cant beat teams that go to the NCAA/NIT Tournaments during the regular season, we wont beat them when we get to the tournament. They need to focus on actually beating the good teams they playing during the season and stop piling up wins against bad opponents. So how can we improve during the regular season to increase our chances of winning in the NCAA Tournament?

Better competition from within. You need a deeper rotation. Keep bringing in 4 year players. Menzies needs to not be out coached so often. Continue playing in some sort of tournament during the season. Slowly but surely drop a bad team and add a better team to the schedule.

I dont think UNM/UTEP bring a challenge to our scheduling. Those are four games against quality programs that we cant beat consistently. If you cant have a winning record in those four games then there is no reason to call it scheduling conflict. I'd rather take the losses than pile up more meaningless wins.

A win in the NCAA Tournament comes either by complete surprise or by having a good team that can compete against whoever they play. Judging by our record against quality teams, it wont come by luck.


Anonymous said...

NMS is an equestrian school stop pretending that you belong in the NCAA Tournament.

J.D. said...

Watson, Sy, Nephawe and Mullings is not a bad core. Let's see what the Aggies can put together next season and what the new guys can do.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the thoughts of anon 11:39. When you are recruiting to a non power conference team like NMSU. You need to find a recruiting niche. That niche appears to be the international players. Anyone remember the JUCO pipeline that ran through NMSU in the late 80's and early 90's? Those teams were talented and athletic. The community and the fan base need to reward MM with our support.

Anonymous said...

I remember watching Indiana State and Larry Bird knocking down shots in the Pan Am. I also remember seeing at the same venue, Cliff Livingston, Antoinne Carr and Xavier McDaniel --- all at about 6'10", and looking like the future pros they were --- bringing the ball up court; very impressive sight. I remember seeing Larry Johnson and the rest of that killer Las Vegas squad that won the national championship, but lost to the Aggies that year in the PAC.

The big difference between then and now, besides the obvious talent on the floor that is, is the students or lack thereof.

Back then, the students were given the middle section of the west side of the Pan Am. From top to bottom they rocked the house. They also did a good job at each end of the court too. There was a lot of them.

If we really want the Pan Am to be a place to be feared as it was, we need to somehow engage the students. Until that time, the Pan Am will remain a shell of its former self...and that doesn't intimidate any visiting team (unless they are intimidated by cavernous silence.) No students, no atmosphere.

Anonymous said...

I am excited about the future of Aggie basketball with MM in control.

Anonymous said...

The combination of a weak conference (which will be weaker when Nevada, et al depart)and MM has head coach are too much to overcome. I don't see us being better next year w/o McKines unless Mullings substantially improves. Even then, that's only one player. The lack of development by Rahman since his sophomore year is a bad omen for Nephawe and Bhullar; that's coaching. Other mid-majors have success and win in the tourney as 10-14 seeds (even two 15 seeds this year!); should happen at NMSU too. Almost happened three years ago, but keep in mind that competitive team was led by RT recruits Gibson and Young. There is little hope for NMSU fans. What's sad is UNM is on the come, and UTEP will be much better soon.

Anonymous said...


Another energy guy with great athletic ability. That's what McKines was (at a different position). Mullings will be the star for the next 3 years. Sy should be good next year too. I like the chances of another tourney run. At least they will be a fun team to watch again.