Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Can the Aggies run the table in the WAC?

Just two schools in the history of the Western Athletic Conference have ever run the table in league play.
That fact alone should provide enough motivation for the 2013-14 Aggies, even if the other schools that now make up the league, can't.
Players and coaches alike won't touch the topic, preparing for each game as it comes.
"If we drop one or two or three, we drop but we have to take them one at a time," said Menzies, who is 65-31 (68 percent) in WAC play. "I know it's cliche, but it's so true because there is no other option. You can't speculate on the next level."
But consider Menzies' first three NCAA Tournament teams and the level of competition the Aggies faced in 2010 (70-67 loss to No. 5 Michigan State), in 2012 (79-66 loss to No. 4 Indiana) and last year (64-44 loss to No. 4 Saint Louis). By virtue of two quality wins in non-conference play, the Aggies enter WAC play with a Top 50 RPI. If the Aggies manage to go unbeaten in league play, it would keep them on the national radar with a 23-game win streak by that point. It could mean the difference between a 14 seed or possibly a No. 12 in the Big Dance.
But lose a game, and that chance would likely be wiped out as the WAC is currently ranked the No. 22 conference by RPI according to RealTimeRPI.com.
"We would like that but we look at it like one game at a time," Aggies point guard K.C. Ross-Miller said. "We don't want to get ahead of ourselves and skip over a team. That's how upsets happen."
There has been precendce in recent years in the WAC, although the makeup of the conference was vastly different. Utah State was an at-large selection in 2010, finishing 14-2 in the WAC regular season. Utah State won 17 straight games before losing to NMSU in the WAC Tournament championship game. Utah State did not have a quality non-conference victory in 2010, but finished with a 34 RPI and a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
A sustained win streak wouldn't be a new phenomenon for this group of Aggies, either. NMSU won 12 straight games last year in WAC play.
Putting together a win streak is no easy task considering conference play consists of two games against every team, there are six new additions to the league and road games are always a challenge regardless of the venue.

But NMSU's makeup this season seems more focused, and the level of competition is nowhere near as difficult on a nightly basis making the idea more realistic than most years.

Monday, December 30, 2013

South Alabama: Three keys unlocked

Sorry for the delayed posting from Saturday's victory, but here we go:

Keep it rolling: It was positive to see the Aggies blow out a lesser opponent at home. South Alabama closed to within 10 a couple times in the second half, but the Aggies were able to respond each time, pushing the lead out to 18 early in the second half and winning by 18 to win their fourth straight game entering WAC play. One of the question marks New Mexico State fans have endured each year it seems is wondering what the mindset of the team would be each night. I think that this year's team seems focused each night regardless of the opponent and they are deep enough to make up for it if one player is saddled by foul trouble like Bhullar was with four fouls or just has an off night, which nobody did against an inferior team, shooting 64 percent.

Rebounding: NMSU dominated on the boards on Saturday, out rebounding South Alabama 38-24 and doing it all in man to man, which is a good sign since smaller, quicker teams have hurt the Aggies on the boards this year and the WAC is full of smaller quicker team.

3-point defense: Another category where South Alabama mirrors some WAC teams. S. Alabama was 0-5 from 3 point range in the first half and finished 3-14, 21.4 percent.

"Our defense has been very strong for us and challenging the 3 will be something that we have to take a lot of pride in going into conference because that is the great neutralizer," Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said. "The one thing that got us in trouble tonight was foul trouble."

Saturday, December 28, 2013

South Alabama: Three keys and a prediction

South Alabama is one of the better teams to come to the Pan American Center the past couple years. South Alabama played the Aggies tough last year (a 58-52 Aggies win) at their place, out rebounding the Aggies 38-37.

This year's South Alabama team may be even more undersized and that has been the kind of team that seems to bother the Aggies. But NMSU is on a roll right now.

 I think the Aggies win comfortably, 77-60

Keep it rolling: NMSU should be well rested. Daniel Mullings will play tonight. Marvin Menzies said he could have played against Northern New Mexico. This could be the best team the Aggies play until March with WAC play opening next week. It's a good way to get into conference mode against a team that will mirror many of the teams in the WAC, undersized, quick with more than one guy capable of hitting shots.

Rebounding: South Alabama's biggest player in the rotation is their leading scorer, 6-7 senior forward Augustine Rubit, who averages 18 and 10. I think the Aggies have a good chance to hit the offensive rebounds tonight.

3-point defense: Around Rubit, South Alabama has five players with at least 25 3-point attempts. South Alabama scores 41 percent of their 73 points per game from 3 point range, shooting 38 percent from long range. Guards Mychal Ammons and Antoine Allen each average about 10 points per game and both are shooting over 40 percent from 3-point range. Since South Alabama is a smaller team, I don't know how much man to man the Aggies will play, but they have been doing well defending the 3, holding teams to 34 percent for the year.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

UNM: Three keys unlocked

New Mexico State gutted out a 67-61 victory at New Mexico on Tuesday, showing a toughness that I hadn't seen yet from this year's group.

NMSU did everything it needed to do, jumping out early with defense and playing inside-out and defending well enough to hang on.

Finish in the Paint: The Aggies did this very well, starting with center Chili Nephawe, who scored 14 points with six rebounds, five offensive rebounds. Nephawe and center Sim Bhullar scored 10 of the Aggies first 13 points, NMSU shot 41 percent in the paint and grabbed 14 offensive rebounds.

Hit open shots: The Aggies post game opened things up for open 3s. Kevin Aronis made 3 of 5 3s in the first half as the Aggies were an unbelievable 7-12 from 3 point range in the first half. The Aggies were 0-5 in second half but the ability to hit open shots helped establish an early lead.

Pick your poison: I thought perhaps NMSU would focus their defense on Cameron Bairstow, but it seemed like they focused more on Alex Kirk, doubling him in the post and hounded him into 4-14 from the field with two turnovers. Couple that with Kendall Williams not being aggressive offensively for some reason, and the Aggies held the Lobos supporting cast to 8 points.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

UNM Round 2: Three keys and a prediction

I think that beating Drake over the weekend and going straight to Albuquerque the past two days were important factors for New Mexico State entering tonight's contest at rival New Mexico. Had the Aggies let that game slip away for their fifth straight loss entering a game against a team that has beaten NMSU four straight times and 11 of the past 12, they would likely not be competitive.

Tonight is the Aggies last chance at a quality win in the regular season. South Alabama is a good team, but not in the Lobos class.

Getting a victory would be nice, but it's supposed to be a sellout at the Pit, which is worth anywhere from 5-8 points. Moral victories don't count, but it would be good to see the Aggies within five in the last 5 minutes, just to see them get over the hump and be competitive in the second half after playing teams like Arizona and Gonzaga tough in the first half.

Fatigue, The Pit and the losing streak are all legitimate factors to me picking the Lobos 78-71

Finish in the paint: NMSU needs an offensive post presence to help offset UNM's duo of Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow. Chili Nephawe missed three gimme shots early in the Lobos 79-70 victory here in the first game. Nephawe and Sim Bhullar were both 2-8 from the field in the first game. Both players had double doubles against Drake but they have not been productive on the offensive end against quality big men with size. Bhullar was blocked three times in the first game against the Lobos. Hopefully his 22 point effort against Drake can get the big fella rolling a little bit on offense. Nephawe said he learned how to play against Cameron Bairstow in the first meeting. Aggies fans hope so because Bairstow is a handful. Bairstow can put the ball on the floor, hit the midrange jumper and get players in foul trouble. Ags need to make him play defense as well.

Hit open shots: Albuquerque Journal reporter wrote today that UNM guard Hugh Greenwood is "day to day" with a wrist injury on his shooting hand that he suffered against the Aggies. Both teams started in zone in the first game and the Lobos were the first team to hit open shots and Greenwood made two of those 3s. Greenwood is an experienced player, a great rebounder at his position and he takes care of the ball. If Cullen Neal picks up Greenwood's minutes/shots, Neal isn't strong in any of those categories and Deshawn Delaney, and Cleveland Thomas didn't look that comfortable shooting either. On the flip side, the Aggies have to make open shots. UNM didn't need to come out of their zone. Kevin Aronis and Matej Buovac each showed signs of life from long range against Drake and DK Eldridge has obviously had some big games shooting the ball although he's extremely streaky.

Pick your poison: Alex Kirk is not having a bad year, but it appears like teams have focused on him and allowed Cameron Bairstow to get rolling. I expect the Aggies to continue to pay most of their defensive attention on guard Kendall Williams and try to limit Bairstow as much as possible. I think NMSU needs to get the ball out of his hands by doubling when he gets the ball at the high post, especially if Nephawe is on him because Bairstow proved he can get by Nephawe. The ideal situation is to get one of those three in foul trouble, but that happened in the first game and the Aggies couldn't take advantage. Leaving Kirk one on one is a dangerous proposition as well. He can pull Bhullar away from the rim and is a great pick and pop player. he also drove around Bhullar a couple times off the dribble. But it's better to me than surrendering open looks for Williams and allowing Bairstow to get into the paint at will.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Arizona: Three keys unlocked

Rebound: Fairly comfortable here saying the Aggies didn't get it done. Opponents have averaged 16 offensive rebounds per game against the Aggies the past three games and Arizona had 16 offensive rebounds and 21 second chance points. As I wrote in the original blog entry, the Aggies have a hard time keeping wings off the glass because they don't have the same length they had with Bandja Sy and Tyrone Watson in the past. Rondae Jefferson had eight rebounds off the bench and he also had a dunk that ended up on SportsCenter. Arizona out rebounded NMSU 38-22 for the game as the Wildcats entered the game out rebounding teams by 14 per game.

Match up with Gordon: The Aggies mixed it up on Gordon. Daniel Mullings at 6-2 was matched up against him for stretches in man to man. All in all, the Aggies tried to make other people beat them and Arizona is a very balanced offensive team so Gordon's numbers were limited to 11 points and 4 rebounds on 5-12 shooting, but the Wildcats didn't need him on Wednesday.

Transition defense: Arizona eventually turned this game into a dunk contest but the Aggies did better in the first half, getting back, denying point guard TJ McConnell the ball. But like Arizona coach Sean Miller said postgame, the Aggies were so focused on slowing the tempo down and running the shot clock down that they weren't giving up easy baskets but they also weren't scoring easy baskets and Arizona is much more balanced offensively.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Arizona: Three keys and a prediction

I remember  a conversation with an Arizona writer that said Sean Miller would likely not return to Las Cruces after the Wildcats escaped with a victory in 2011. Miller likes playing the Aggies, but not enough to risk taking a loss. This year's Arizona is better than that team, but NMSU is receiving $95,000 for tonight's game.

It's a tough stretch for the Aggies, who between taking losses aren't able to spend much time practicing to correct whatever mistakes they are making. In games like this, mistakes loom even larger.

Wildcats win 82-67

Rebound: Normally I would consider this a strength of the Aggies, but you consider NMSU opponents have averaged 16 offensive rebounds per game that past three contests. All of the aspects that those other teams have is multiplied tonight. Arizona is out rebounding its opponents by 14 per game this season. The Wildcats have athletic big men, including a so called undersized power forward Brandon Ashley (12 and 7) and a center that can move in 7 footer Kaleb Tarczewski. Undersized post players have killed the Aggies this year. The Wildcats also have a big size advantage on the wings with 6-9 star freshman Aaron Gordon and fellow freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson off the bench, who at 6-7, is a driver slasher similar to Gonzaga's Gerard Coleman, who scored a career high 21 points against the Aggies, may coming from put backs.

Match up with Gordon: It's easier said than done, but the Aggies need to find a way to force Gordon to shoot jump shots. Part of the reason he's playing on the wing is for his development as a NBA player, but I'm not sure that's his strongest part of his game but he's still shooting 6-13. Renaldo Dixon could be an intriguing matchup on Gordon, or even Matej Buovac because of his length, but those are bench guys. I expect NMSU to play zone to keep their limited post player rotation out of foul trouble. If that's the case, Gordon has a significant height advantage over whichever wing player the Aggies put on the bottom of the zone, likely 6-2 DK Eldridge. Games like this, you realize the important that Bandja Sy and Tyrone Watson had on this team, both were big enough and strong enough to match up with mostly anyone at the 2-4 spots.

Transition defense: I haven't even talked about Nick Johnson yet, who happens to be the best player on Arizona's team. Johnson beat the Aggies up and down the floor in Las Cruces as a freshman. He's shooting 36 percent from 3-point range. I think the Aggies need to get back in transition because other than Johnson, the Wildcats are an average shooting team, although Gabe York comes off the bench (42 percent 3-point shooter). Point guard TJ McConnell and Johnson probably get the majority of the touches in the half court. I think those are two spots where the Aggies do match up, but they have to keep McConnell out of the paint and pick him up early.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Aggies vs. top-ranked Wildcats

From what I've been able to gather, with the help of others, is that Wednesday at Arizona will be the third time New Mexico State has played the No. 1 team in the country. 

The Aggies lost both Big West meetings to the defending national champion UNLV in 1991 where the Rebels were the preseason No. 1 and went unbeaten until the Final Four. From what I could gather, UCLA was also the No. 1 team when the Bruins beat NMSU 53-38 in the 1969 NCAA Tournament.

I don't expect an Aggies win on Wednesday. I understand the frustration from NMSU fans with the Aggies 0-3 record during this stretch, where I thought that two wins would be a success but that included a home win over the Lobos. I still think this weekend's road game at Drake is a NMSU win, but travel and the home loss to the Lobos make a win at the Pit unlikely.

I will say this however. Despite the losing, can you honestly look at this year's team and not see growth from last year. I would say every other NMSU team under Marvin Menzies would have been blown out at Colorado State and Gonzaga. I will grant you that failing to show up at home against the Lobos was a low point this season, and the Aggies certainly have their challenges. One that has surprised me has been on the boards, giving up 16 offensive rebounds per game the past three games, and the lack of a consistent backcourt scorer to help Daniel Mullings. It's too bad that the Aggies couldn't have those issues resolved by now because the WAC will offer little resistance.

I also think the fact that the Aggies have played these teams should help them once they step on the court in the NCAA Tournament. Without the hope of getting quality wins, the knowledge that they can compete with these teams could be the only positives the Aggies can take away from it. Lets hope so at least. It's a low standard, I admit. But I have a better feeling about this team than I have in years past. But I could be off.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Gonzaga: Three keys and a prediction

Three-point defense: Against the Zags, this also means transition defense. Gonzaga is the most efficient offensive team in the country with 1.28 points per possession on 69 possessions per game. The Zags score 36 percent of their 92 points per game from 3-point range. Kevin Pangos shoots 48 percent from 3-point range and is one of four players who shoot at least 47 percent from 3 with at least 20 attempts and a lot of them come in transition. When the Zags are in the half court, they spread the court similar to UNM, but they don't have a pick and pop center like the Lobos do so perhaps Sim Bhullar and Chili Nephawe can still protect the basket.

Get the big guys going: Sim Bhullar and Chili Nephawe got early touches against UNM but they were ineffective offensively against two big players. Gonzaga 7 footer Przemek Karnowski is a quality center who shoots 73 percent from the field. If NMSU struggles again to guard the four position (6-9 Sam Dower 14 ppg) hopefully the Aggies go to Renaldo Dixon more.

Give Mullings some support: I love DK Eldridge but so far he's been what you would expect from a JC guy, up and down. He seems to have been good on the road so perhaps he can match the 6 3s he made at Colorado State. Likewise, KC Ross Miller hasnt been consistent enough offensively either and teams seem to be ready when Kevin Aronis comes on. If the big guys arent productive and the perimeter guys arent, Mullings has shown he can get to rim when he needs to. He might have to do that earlier.

I think the UNM game was the best I've seen the Lobos play and probably the worst the Aggies have played. But I don't know if the Aggies can score at the same kind of clip. Gonzaga wins 87-75

Friday, December 6, 2013

Should Tanveer redshirt? Other notes

I'm having a tough time on this one, but it's an obvious question after Remi Barry's knee injury and how tired the Aggies bigs appeared in Wednesday's loss to UNM.

NMSU wanted to sit Tanveer Bhullar this season, and I believe it's still the best option. I think the one reason Tanveer should join his brother in the frontcourt rotation would be for his personal development. I disagree with most that adding another center isn't what the Aggies need since undersized post players have had big games against the Aggies (Colorado State, W. Mich., UNM)  so far this year, and that other than UNM, the Aggies remaining schedule consists of undersized post players. Although Tanveer showed a different skillset than his brother, adding another slow player doesn't make sense to me.

In the past, the individual player has had some say in this type of situation. Renaldo Dixon should have sat out the 2010-11 season, but he opted to get some limited playing time after Wendell McKines, Troy Gillenwater and Hamidu Rahman were all injured in the same season. I guess we will see what Tanveer Bhullar wants to do if he suits up this weekend.

I spoke with Gonzaga guard Kevin Pangos and Canada and Portland Trailblazer assistant coach Jay Triano about Mullings playing with Pangos over the summer. Pangos played on an Ontario all star team with one of Danile Mullings, younger brothers, Jermaine Mullings. Jermaine Mullings will play at a college in Montreal in January, while 18 year old Tevoun Jacksonhas graduated from high school and is taking a fifth year of high school education/basketball, which is an option in Canada.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

UNM: Three keys (and 1) unlocked

The Lobos won their sixth straight game in Las Cruces, 79-70 on Wednesday at the Pan American Center.

The Aggies were surprisingly not ready to play. I would say that's the first time this season, but in a big game it was kind of a letdown and Marvin Menzies certainly was not pleased.

"We had too many mental breakdowns and didn't handle the pressures of this game, the magnitude and what it means for the city and the college," Menzies said.

It certainly doesn't get any easier. The Aggies play at Gonzaga this weekend followed by a mid week game at Arizona, which will likely be ranked No. 1 in the country after North Carolina's victory over Michigan State tonight.

I know that Aggies coaches didn't overlook any of the Lobos players, but I certainly was surprised by Cameron Bairstow. He is a handful for NMSU, and without Remi Barry in the rotation, Renaldo Dixon called for post players to, " focus on getting in shape so we can play more minutes with Remi out. We try to attack the bigs and get them in foul trouble and get into their bench."

Onto the keys

Transition defense: Sim Bhullar and Tshilidzi were gassed out there tonight. I think Remi Barry's absence will be felt in certain matchups but few teams will have the physical presence the Lobos have with Bairstow and Kirk.

Offensive rebounding: The boards were also basically a wash. NMSU out rebounded UNM 37-36. The Lobos did have 12 offensive rebounds but the Aggies had 15. Both teams scored 11 second chance points.

Go inside early and often: The Aggies did this, getting Alex Kirk in early foul trouble with two fouls. Kirk only played six minutes in the first half, problem was Chili Nephawe missed his first three shots, all from close range. NMSU went inside but Nephawe (1-6 first half) and Sim Bhullar (1-3 first half)

Three point line: A big win for the Lobos here. Marvin Menzies talked about it postgame, but the Aggies 0-5 effort in the first half and  and 4-19 (21 percent) never forced UNM to come out of its 2-3 zone to start the game. With an ineffective post game, Daniel Mullings was the only player capable of mounting any offense. UNM shot the Aggies out of their zone by making their first four 3s (6-12 for the game) allowing Kendall Williams to get into the lane and the foul line (12-15) and forced the Aggies to try to guard Cameron Bairstow man to man, which did not go well.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

UNM: Three keys (and 1) and a prediction

I asked Craig Neal what he thought about the NMSU/UNM rivalry as the now head coach. He said all the right things, but I thought it was interesting that when he came with Steve Alford from Iowa, they were already used to having rivalry games placed on the schedule every year.

"I think the programs have both been in good shape the past six years," Neal said. "It's two really hard games every year against an in state rival so it hasn't really bothered me. When we were at Illinois, we had three rivalry games every year against Iowa State, Northern Illinois and Drake and it would rotate where we played them."

From a series standpoint, the fact that New Mexico has won five straight at the Pan Am sticks out to me more than the three straight Lobos victories or 10 of the last 11. The lone Aggie win was an impressive victory at The Pit in 2011.

I think with the makeup of the two teams this particular season, the Aggies have a better chance than recent years of  catching the Lobos before they really get rolling.

It's going to be tough, but the Aggies win 86-83

Transition defense: NMSU is an excellent defensive team, but the Aggies simply aren't a great transition team simply because opposing teams try to beat Sim Bhullar and Chili Nephawe up and down the court. The Lobos have big men capable of outrunning the Aggies with Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow. Kendall Williams also doesn't mind leaking out and getting the Lobos fastbreak going. It's an approach that Neal brought with him when he took over. He said he hopes for between 70-75 possessions per game.
"We haven't changed much defensively, we still have the same principles but there are more possessions in a game so we are giving up more possessions," Neal said. "We are giving up 8-10 more foul shots this year so we are trying to work on that. I just think that last year, we had droughts where we wouldn't score a field goal for seven minutes. We wanted to free guys up and with guys we had coming back, we trust that they would make good decisions."
It makes it more important for the Aggies guards to not take bad shots or turn the ball over, something they did 21 times on Saturday at Colorado State.

Offensive rebounding: The Aggies are giving up 12 offensive rebounds per game and 17 per game the last two games,. taking away from the advantage that NMSU's 12 offensive rebounds should create. The Lobos average 14 offensive rebounds per game. Aggies lose their advantages as a good defensive and rebounding team when the other team gets that many more field goal attempts off misses.

Go inside early and often: The Lobos are the only team that they play this year where neither team will adjust their lineups. Both teams have two post players who occupy the paint. I have a feeling that either Nephawe or Bairstow foul out of this game, but it wouldnt hurt for Bhullar to be aggressive early on against Kirk in the post because Kirk causes so many problems as a shooter from 3 and around the basket. Bairstow is also aggressive offensively putting the ball on the ground or shooting the mid range jumper but he is prone to foul trouble.

Three point line: I expect both teams to play some zone defense tonight to protect their post players from getting into foul trouble. UNM shoots 6-20 from 3-point range but they are giving up 8 3s per game. Making another 10 3s like they did against Colorado State is asking a lot, but NMSU should be fine if they match their 4 3s per game and keep the Lobos around four or five.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Remi Barry could be done for year

Marvin Menzies said Tuesday before practice the outlook moving forward for New Mexico State junior forward Remi Barry, "Doesn't look good," after Barry suffered a left knee injury on Saturday at Colorado State.
Menzies said he was waiting on final word from doctors prior to practice Tuesday as the Aggies prepare for Wednesday's home game against New Mexico.
"It doesn't look good just from the way he is feeling," Menzies said.
Without Barry, the Aggies lose an experienced player in the interior, an expected strength of the team entering the season. Barry was part of the post rotation with sophomore center Sim Bhullar, junior center Tshilidzi Nephawe and senior forward Renaldo Dixon.
"We had four posts and now we have three," said Menzies when asked what players may have to fill larger roles moving forward. "It just depends at this point. We haven't thought about it too much because we still have those three guys."
Barry averaged six points and three rebounds in 12 minutes a game off the bench. Barry scored a career-high 18 points in a 95-88 victory at Hawaii on Nov. 12. Barry went down holding his knee on Saturday after challenging for a rebound in the first half and did not return.
"It's one of those deals where he was really starting to produce," Menzies said.
Barry is in a different position than Nephawe found himself in last season when he played the first nine games before missing the rest of the season with a hand injury.
Since Barry sat out a year, NMSU would have to seek a sixth year through the NCAA. NMSU went through the Western Athletic Conference for Nephawe's hardship waiver or "medical redshirt."
It's a process that likely wouldn't begin until after next season if Barry does not return this season.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Colorado State: Three keys unlocked

Here is a look back at my three keys and  how they played out in New Mexico State's 85-83 loss at Colorado State on Saturday.

It doesn't look good with Remi Barry's knee injury. Barry went down with a left knee injury in the first half. I asked Marvin Menzies if Barry is out for an extended period of time, what roster moves he could make. He said if Ian Baker is cleared to play, the Aggies would play smaller.

Rebounding: The Aggies didn't get it done here. CSU outrebounded NMSU 41-34 with 18 offensive rebounds that helped CSU score 18 second chance points. NMSU shot 52 percent and made 10 3-pointers, but with the 18 offensive rebounds and the Aggies 20 turnovers, Colorado State had 15 more field goal attempts than the Aggies. Giving up offensive rebounds has kept some games closer than they needed to be this year.

3-point line: Colorado State was just 4-14 and NMSU went off for 10 3s, led by DK Eldridge going 6-6 from long range. It didn't matter for the above reasons.

Free throw line: NMSU was 13-21 (62 percent) from the line and Colorado State was 21-29 (72 percent) from the line. What didn't go the Aggies way was staying out of foul trouble. Chili Nephawe fouled out against JJ Avila, who scored 23 of his 29 points in the second half. Kind of surprised Dixon didn't get more time at the four.

NMSU at Colorado State: Three keys

Winning non conference road games is difficult.
New Mexico State already has two good road wins this year at Hawaii and at UTEP. Colorado State will be a stiff test for the Aggies this afternoon.
"We did a good job at Hawaii with an early road game and the UTEP game is kind of an enigma because of the rivalry," Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said. "This is a true road test. It will give us a true indication of where we are at."
Not only are the New Mexico and UTEP games "an enigma" but the Aggies are also somewhat familiar with those teams. NMSU as a program has generally struggled with these types of games against those upper tier conference teams, especially away from home.

This is a winnable game for the Aggies. I believe a 2-4 record these next four games would be fine as long as the Aggies compete in all six games. Anything else would be a  bonus to me.

It's a toss up game on the road against a well coached team, Rams 68, Aggies 64

Rebounding: The Aggies are a terrific rebounding team, but we have seen them struggle in recent games against smaller teams, especially on the offensive glass. I watched UTEP destroy the Rams on the glass 48-29 with 16 offensive rebounds. A much smaller Northern Colorado team had 10 offensive rebounds against the Aggies. And lets not forget this is a Larry Eustachy coached team. Remember that Southern Miss team that crashed the offensive glass in two wins over the Aggies in the same season. NMSU also needs to pound the offensive glass. It's something Chili Nephawe talked about leading up to today's game.
"In their two losses, they were out rebounded in both of them and offensive rebounds are an area that we haven't been very good in," Menzies said.

Three-point line: Colorado State is only shooting 33 percent from 3-point range, but in the UTEP game, the Rams hit 8 3s in El Paso Daniel Bejarano is a strong guard, who made 4 that night. Jon Octeus, David Cohen and Joe De Ciman off the bench all shoot at least 38 percent. The Rams are at home and try to spread the court and look to kick.

Foul line: These are two Top 5 teams nationally in terms of getting to the foul line. NMSU is shooting 68.9 percent from the foul line and the Rams are shooting 73.5 percent. The team that avoids foul trouble is key. One matchup to watch is Chili Nephawe vs. JJ Avila, Colorado State's 6-7 power forward. Avila is good off the dribble and Nephawe is foul prone.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Prairie View A&M: Three keys and a prediction

Depth: It was good to see that all Aggies players scored against Bethune Cookman on Wednesday. Chili Nephawe had a career high 18 points and Renaldo Dixon had 10 and 9. Getting Dixon minutes at this stage is always good, as well as Travon Landry and Matej Buovac. I have a feeling all of those guys will get their chance as the season goes along, but it's always good to give them some confidence.

Good time to experiment: The Aggies experimented with lineups and defensive alignments against Bethune Cookman. For example, there was a stretch the Aggies played with one post player at the high post and one under the basket while the three guards played man to man.

Containing an undersized team that can shoot: Prairie View was 6-18 from 3-point range against Colorado State. Five players have attempted at least 16 3s this season. Prairie View shoots 35 percent from 3 point range with Scott Montrael shooting 11 of 20 so far. It will be interesting to see the power forward position. I say that because Colorado State played through it's power forward, who looked to drive against a bigger player. If the four can shoot, it makes it that much more difficult.

Obviously CSU is better than Prairie View. Aggies win 76-55

Monday, November 25, 2013

Bethune-Cookman: Three keys and a prediction

I'm going with NMSU 83-62

Not a lot of commentary on this one other than it's the first of two games early this week that the Aggies should win easily, heading to Colorado State this weekend at 7-1.

Show up: Not to mean the Aggies can just show up and win (not entirely anyway, BCU doesnt have a win over a D I team) but the Aggies can't look ahead to what follows this weekend as the toughest stretch on the schedule by far, nor suffer  a letdown after two emotional rivalry wins and a close win at home over UNC.

3-point D: I don't know if its because BC has been trailing all season, but so far the 3 point shot is 38 percent of their offense. By comparison, it's 17 percent of the Aggies offense. I've said it before most games, but the 3 is the only way most teams will have to combat NMSU's size.

Role players: I wrote last week that this could be Marvin Menzies best team from top to bottom. How deep are they? Matej Buovac and Remi Barry are both players I'm excited about, but both are struggling to get on the court right now. That should change tonight, and I expect to see more of Travon Landry as well.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Three keys unlocked: UTEP

Other than Daniel Mullings, who do you think is the Aggies best player this season?

I would make an argument that KC Ross-Miller and Tshilidzi Nephawe have been NMSU's most important players. Both were effective in the Aggies 77-68 victory at UTEP on Saturday in El Paso. Ross-Miller scored a career high 26 points and tied a career best with 6 assists. With the new rules in play, UTEP didn't have the guards to stay in front of him and he was 11-14 from the foul line. Nephawe had 11 points and 11 rebounds on Saturday as Sim Bhullar got in late foul trouble. Nephawe also knocked down 5-of-9 from the foul line.

Foul Trouble: McKenzie Moore (concussion) didn't play on Saturday and the Miners second best player, Julian Washburn, played just 12 minutes in the first half and 26 minutes in the game due to foul trouble so the Aggies were on the better end. Sim Bhullar got in some late foul trouble and DK Eldridge fouled out, but the players who the Aggies couldn't afford to lose, Mullings (four fouls), Ross-Miller (three fouls) and Nephawe (three fouls) were relatively free of foul trouble.

Rebound again: UTEP kept it close and actually held a lead in the first half, in part due to 22-14 advantage on the boards in the first half with eight offensive rebounds. The Aggies out rebounded UTEP 16-11 in the second half and allowed just three offensive rebounds to make the final rebounding margin 33-30 in favor of UTEP. If NMSU did a better job  of the glass in the first half, I think the game could have been double digits at halftime.

Return to form from 3: NMSU was 1-11 from 3-point range against Northern Colorado, making that game closer than it should have been. I think the Aggies are capable of hitting between four and six 3s per game and I think this team has at least four regulars who can get hot on a given night. It was Ross-Miller with three triples and Aronis with two that helped open things up for the Aggies, who hit 5-8 in the first half and 1-3 in the second half to finish 54.5 percent for the game.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

UTEP (Round 2): Three keys and a prediction

I think Saturday's game will be interesting, but I simply think NMSU has too many players capable of scoring while UTEP has two guys who if they get hot, it could be interesting.

We remember Daniel Mullings getting into the lane for 26 points in the Aggies 86-73 victory over the Miners last week. But it wasn't all Mullings. Sim Bhullar had 11 points and four other NMSU players each had 9 points.

I'm going to go with NMSU, 84-75

Foul trouble: Bhullar fouled out late in the first game when the game was already decided and remember it was UTEP's early foul trouble to their post players that gave the Aggies an early advantage. I think if one or two of NMSU's post players and/or Mullings find themselves in foul trouble, the game would be closer. Mullings was limited to 12 minutes against Northern Colorado in the first half with two fouls. you never know how these games are going to be called yet.

Rebound again: NMSU out rebounded UTEP 37-23 last week with 13 offensive rebounds. UTEP was likewise just as dominant in a home win over Colorado State on Tuesday, out rebounding an undersized CSU team 48-29 with 16 offensive rebounds, led by impressive freshman forward Vince Hunter with 11 points and 15 rebounds. Hunter is active and athletic. He came off the bench in the first meeting  for 16 points but should start Saturday. Hunter often grabbed the defensive board and starts the fast break on his own so the Aggies need to get back as well. Against a smaller UNC team, the Aggies only out rebounded the Bears by two while surrendering 13 offensive rebounds. I don't know if that's due to the lack of jump shots, but if the Miners keep it that close on the boards, the game will be closer this time around.

Return to form from 3: The Aggies aren't a great 3-point shooting team, but they need to be better than the 1-for-11 effort they showed against Northern Colorado. During that game, UNC's Connor Osborne was yelling at his teammates to sag off the Aggies guards. That makes life difficult for the big guys to operate. NMSU hit 4 3s in the first game against UTEP, matching the Miners four triples. The Aggies should hit between 4-6 triples on Saturday to force UTEP to try to come out and guard Mullings and company again.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Three keys unlocked: Northern Colorado

The Aggies escaped with a 67-63 victory over Northern Colorado on Wednesday. The Bears took a 3 for the win before Daniel Mullings sealed the deal with a three point play. Perhaps the Aggies aren't sweating if they shoot better than 1-11 from 3 point range and 14-25 at the foul line. But the Aggies won their 13th straight game at home and move on to UTEP at 4-1

Before I look back at the three keys for the UNC game, how good has Mullings been on the offensive end the past three games. Mullings has posted 20 points for three straight games for the first time in his career. He's averaged 22.3 points per game for wins over Hawaii, UTEP and Northern Colorado. He's shooting 52 percent on the season, but he's 61 percent the past three games. It's somewhat impressive since teams obviously know about him now. He only reached 20 points twice in the Aggies last 13 games last season.

3-point defense: The Aggies didn't allow a lot of easy looks from 3-point range. UNC was 38 percent from the field, shooting 6-18 (33 percent) from 3-point range, 3-9 in each half. Tate Unruh was 0-4 from 3-point range after entering 40 percent from long range entering the game.
"I thought we did a great job defending the 3," Marvin Menzies said. "It might have been our best defensive half of the season. They shot 33 percent in the second half. And we didn't foul."

Rebounding: I don't think the Aggies did well here. NMSU outrebounded UNC 40-38. The Bears shot a lot of jump shots, leading to 13 offensive rebounds, which resulted in 21 second chance points.

Interior: NMSU went to the paint early and often against a smaller team. Sim Bhullar was 4-4 from the floor in the first half but he didn't have another shot. Chili Nephawe was 1-6, Remi Barry was 3-4 and Renaldo Dixon was 4-6 as the Aggies shot 48 percent from the floor and scored 36 points in the paint.
"We had a lot of little bunnies that we missed that we have to make at home," Menzies said. "I think the free throws hurt us. We missed 11 and a lot of those were front ends. We probably left 10 points right at the basket in the first half."

Daniel Mullings dunk from Wednesday's victory over Northern Colorado

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Northern Colorado: Three keys and a prediction

Here is my story from today. UNC coach BJ Hill is in his fourth year. It took Marvin Menzies a couple years to get to the point where the Aggies are going to at least compete for a NCAA berth every year. With the players Menzies has in place now and the guys sitting out, which is looking more and more like Tanveer Bhullar among them, NMSU has a bigger window for success than they did in the past. Northern Colorado had a couple down years but they appear to be back with an opening win over K-state.

Both teams are playing somewhat fast this year and both teams were in the 80s the last time Northern Colorado came to the Pan Am and that was before the new rules.

I'm going Aggies 85-79

Three keys
3-point defense: The 2011 Northern Colorado team was a great 3-pointing shooting team, 21st in the country with at least four guys who shot it well. So far this team shoots 33 percent and  looks like has one great shooter in senior guard Tate Unruh, who is shooting 60 percent from 3. He's a career 45 percent shooter and his 15 attempts through two games are twice as more than the next player so the Aggies have to find him. UNC's biggest player is 6-9 so the biggest way to overcome that size is to make 3s

Rebounding: Although the Bears are undersized, Derrick Barden is a 6-5 senior who has grabbed 17 rebounds in each of the Bears first two games. UNC had nine offensive rebounds against K-State. sounds like Barden is very active on the glass. If UNC does shoot a lot of 3s, those lead to long rebounds so the Aggies need to chase those down while converting on their own offensive rebounds.

Interior: Anytime you are playing against a team where there is a vast advantage in terms of size, you hope the Aggies find a way to get Sim Bhullar and Chili Nephawe rolling early and often.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

UTEP: Three keys unlocked

Three point defense: UTEP was 4-10 from 3-point range. While 40 percent is a respectable number, i thought the Aggies did a decent job making it hard for the Miners out there. Justin Crosgile came off the bench though and hit both of his attempts. Julian Washburn is more of a slasher but he was 1-2. CJ Cooper was 1-3 and Jalen Ragland was 0-2. NMSU also made four triples. Aggies need to continue to find the shooters next week.

Turnovers: The Aggies had 17 for the second straight game, four from point guard KC Ross-Miller. I will say that Ross Miller has improved across the board and has a little toughness to him, but 17 turnovers in El Paso could be too many to recover from.

Execution: NMSU was clearly a team that was playing its fourth game of the season and UTEP wasn't ready to go. The Aggies scored 30 points in the paint, added another 32 points at the foul line, out rebounded UTEP by 14, shot 57 percent from the field and 72 percent in the second half. Daniel Mullings couldn't be stopped from getting into the lane, finishing with 26 points on 9-14 shooting.

"I think some parts of the game, they tried a triangle and 2 or box and 1 or Washburn was face guarding me," Mullings said. "We have a couple plays built to beat that, just by moving the ball on the perimeter with three guards, I was able to find a couple seams to drive in, not only to score but when I drove, they collapsed on me and I looked for shooters on the wings."

This is pretty much what Mullings did all night.

Photo by Robin Zielinski
"What you take away from it is that we were pitiful defensively," UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. "I think we just thought we would go out and outscore them."

Floyd had a lot to say regarding the way the game was called after the teams combined for 81 free throws.

Friday, November 15, 2013

UTEP: Three keys and a prediction

Three-point defense: UTEP has three players, CJ Cooper, Jalen Ragland and McKenzie Moore who can get hot and hurt NMSU from 3 point range. Western Michigan hit 10 triples and Hawaii made 7. I think the long ball is the only way the Miners keep it close.

Turnovers: The Aggies had 17 turnovers at Hawaii. In a slower paced game against Tennessee State, NMSU had 16 turnovers. UTEP should be even slower, meaning possessions will be valuable. I think the Aggies should be fine if they keep the turnovers at 10 or under

Execution: You would think the Aggies have a distinct advantage here. NMSU has played three games against Division I opponents away from home, including a dominant victory in a true road game against Hawaii. UTEP has played one game, against a NAIA team. Not to mention the Aggies are at home, where they have beaten the Miners the past two times. I don't think the Aggies will score in the 90s again, but hopefully the Aggies' 6 makes from 3-point land against Hawaii is a sign of things to come, opening things up for the NMSU big men.

I think by the time these teams meet again, Tim Floyd will have a better idea about his team. The Aggies are a confident group and they are playing in their home opener. I don't think the Miners are talented or experienced enough to beat them.

Aggies win 68-61

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Menzies on opening weekend/UTEP

New Mexico State returned home this morning for an evening film session and practice tomorrow before Friday's UTEP game.

In addition to the two wins, the Aggies trip proved that perhaps this year's team is deeper than past teams. Tuesday was certainly the Aggies' best game of the Hawaii tournament and I think that's because they played through Sim Bhullar and Daniel Mullings. But Tuesday's victory still included a career high 18 points from Remi Barry and one of KC Ross-Miller's best games in a NMSU uniform. He was OK but closed the game out strong hitting a key jumper and going 10 for 10 at the foul line in the last 37 seconds. Barry averaged 9.3 points per game, shot 59 percent and averaged 4.7 rebounds in Hawaii and that includes limited playing time in the middle game against Tennessee State. Barry has always shown the ability to score but the rebounding number is a step in the right direction to find more minutes in a crowded frontcourt.

Chili Nephawe got off to a great start in the first two games before foul trouble limited him in the third game against Hawaii. Nephawe averaged 11 points and 8 rebounds in Hawaii.

"We won with multiple contributions," Menzies said. "The fact that on any potential night, anyone can contribute is a good thing."

From Western Michigan's offensive sets to Hawaii's run and gun playing style, the Aggies three opponents offered something different.

"We came out to win all three and didn't reach that goal," Menzies said. "After the first game it was a reality check that we have a long way to go."

Entering a UTEP game where Miners coach Tim Floyd has surprised the Aggies before with defensive schemes (box and 1 on Wendell McKines) playing Hawaii, coached by former Floyd assistant Gib Arnold.

"We got three different looks and I think it could be good preparation for the rest of the non conference," Menzies said. "Especially playing a true road game against Hawaii and playing against Gib since he's a Floyd guy."

This happened last time the Miners were in the Pan Am.

Menzies is hoping for another good turnout in the team's home opener.

"We are hoping that a successful road trip that ended with a true road win at Hawaii , we are hoping that the fans will respond," Menzies said. "I know that the loyal Aggies fans will be there but hopefully some of those people who don't normally come out will show their support as well."

Monday, November 11, 2013

Hawaii: Three keys and a prediction

This is probably Hawaii's best team since Gib Arnold took over. Hawaii is good at home and accustomed to playing in this game over tipoff weekend and the midnight start local time is an hour later than usual.

It's the first road trip of the season for the Aggies, but I think the general feeling is they would be very disappointed to come back with one win in three games entering a rivalry game on Friday. The Aggies have done good things at times, but will need to put it all together to pull out a 68-65 victory over Hawaii.

Transition defense: Hawaii has adopted a more up tempo offense this season. Isaac Fotu and Christian Standhardinger are going to try to beat the Aggies centers up and down the floor. NMSU's guards can't turn the ball over or take bad shots, which is giving away points. And the big guys need to try to get back. NMSU should be familiar with one of the Hawaii guards to find in transition, Keith Shamburger, who is currently third on the team in scoring at 11 ppg.

Pound the interior: Jack Nixon pointed out that Sim Bhullar has only taken nine shots from the field in the first two games. Nine isn't enough, even though it has opened the door for Chili Nephawe to get off to a great start. Hawaii has two very good, although undersized post players in 6-8 Isaac Fotu and 6-8 Christian Standhardinger. Hawaii does have 7-foot senior Davis Rozitis, who comes off the bench. When he does, Hawaii puts him at the top of a 3-2 zone. He's active and could cause trouble up there, but it also means a guard has to play down low. Finally, NMSU has outrebounded its first two opponents by 35 rebounds with 31 offensive rebounds. If the Aggies find a way to turn those second chances into points, they could pull away.

Handle pressure: NMSU had 17 turnovers against Tennessee State. Hawaii has changed this season to pressure full court for long stretches. KC Ross Miller and Daniel Mullings have each had high turnover games at NMSU and DK Eldridge and Travon Landry are newcomers. It could be interesting to see who Hawaii targets in their pressure.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Thoughts after first two games?

I thought NMSU would go 3-0 in Hawaii. Host Hawaii beat Tennessee State by 30 on Friday so I don't know what to make of the Aggies 70-55 victory over TSU on Saturday in a game the that was a four point game with 7 minutes left.

Standout player to me through two games is Chili Nephawe and DK Eldridge showed some signs on Saturday. Hawaii will be a tough game on Tuesday.

New Mexico State got into the win column with a 70-55 victory over Tennessee State on Saturday in Hawaii.
The Aggies are 1-1 on the season and close their Hawaii trip against Hawaii on Tuesday at 3 a.m., on ESPN2. NMSU head coach Marvin Menzies was pleased with his team's effort coming off a 70-64 loss to Western Michigan on Friday.
"When you have a loss like we had on Friday, you know your guys are going to get tested right away," Menzies said. "I think we answered that question. I wanted to see how they would respond."
NMSU improved at the foul line, shooting 22-of-28 at the foul line. The Aggies out rebounded Tennessee State 41-23 and the Aggies shot 48 percent from the field.
"I just wanted us to respond and play hard," Menzies said. "We still had miscues with turnovers (17 on Saturday) and a lot of them were unforced. We were good on the glass again and I knew we could shoot better (at the foul line). We left 15 points at the charity stripe on Friday."
The Aggies went up 29-14 with a 14-2 run started by back-to-back Kevin Aronis 3-pointers and capped with an Aronis jumper with 6:49 left in the first half.
Tennessee State pulled within two at 31-29 with 2:39 left in the first half on a Patrick Miller jumper. Miller scored 20 of his 30 points in the first half, but the Aggies pushed the lead back to 38-32 at the half.
Tennessee State continued to hang around in the second half, closing to within five before a DK Eldridge 3-pointer made it 54-46 with 8:25 to play. TSU closed to within four only for Eldridge to answer again as the junior college transfer scored 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting including 2-of-3 from 3-point range.
Eldridge sparked a decisive 13-0 run  that put NMSU up 67-50. TSU was scoreless for nearly seven minutes before Miller scored with 55 seconds left.
Eldridge was one of four Aggies in double figures. Daniel Mullings led the Aggies with 16 points, Sim Bhullar had 12 points and eight rebounds and Tshilidzi Nephawe had 11 points and 11 rebounds, going 7-for-10 at the foul line.

Three keys and a prediction: Tennessee State

Marvin Menzies said the Aggies needed to win at least 2 games this weekend in Hawaii in order to get something out of the trip. I think they beat Tennessee State 72-50 tonight.

Feed the big guys: Marvin Menzies talked about the lack of productivity from the Aggie guards and that's true, but I think he was more upset by the fact that Chili Nephawe and Sim Bhullar combined for just 16 field goal attempts. Nephawe had a career high 18 points on the night. Bhullar should be the focal point of the Aggies every night.

Guard the 3: This was the only way Western Michigan could have beaten NMSU, especially since their best player, center Shayne Whittington, who is apparently suspended by the NCAA. Western Michigan made six 3s in the second half and 10 for the game. It didn't help any that NMSU was 1-11 from long range. I didn't see the game, so I don't know if Western Michigan was making open shots or not, but they obviously weren't shy, shooting 25 of them. Tennessee State will also need something special to happen to beat the Aggies. Tenn. St. lost by 30 to Hawaii on Friday. They were 1-15 from 3-point range. Aggies need a similar percentage tonight.

Free throw shooting: NMSU showed that they will continue to get to the foul line,  and perhaps even more so with the new rules. But they need to do better than 25-40.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Three keys and a prediction: Western Michigan

My guess at an Aggies starting lineup:
Sim Bhullar, Chili Nephawe, DK Eldridge, Daniel Mullings, KC Ross-Miller

Prediction: New Mexico State 74, Western Michigan 65

Three point line: From NMSU's standpoint, the key for every game this season will be to determine how teams want to play the Aggies big guys. If they try to pack it in or play zone, NMSU needs to knock down some 3s like they did in the exhibition game. Defensively, Western shot 33 percent from 3 point range. The Aggies did a nice job defending the 3 last year. I think they should be better there this year.

Rebounding: Western New Mexicohad 12 offensive rebounds. Some of that is because they shot so many perimeter shots. The Aggies need to grab those and get the transition offense going.

Transition defense: Western New Mexico had some luck beating Bhullar and Nephawe up and down the court. I don't know how mobile 6-11 Western Michigan center Shayne Whittington is, but the Aggies probably won't crash the boards with three or four guys like they have in the past, especially when the two big guys are playing together.S

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Five storylines entering the 2013 season

New Mexico State opens the 2013-14 season with three games in five days at the Outrigger Hotels and Rainbow Classic in Hawaii.
The opening weekend features games on back-to-back nights and then a game at midnight against former Western Athletic Conference rival Hawaii at midnight Tuesday Hawaii time on ESPN2.
The Aggies open the season on Friday at 11:30 p.m. against Western Michigan. It’s the first game in a season with high expectations in Las Cruces.
Here are five storylines as Marvin Menzies begins his seventh season at NMSU:

Building a program
Marvin Menzies has already experienced success in his first six years at New Mexico State. Menzies is 126-78 with three Western Athletic Conference Tournament championships and back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances.
As time has progressed, the NMSU program appears to be right where Menzies wants it.
“The foundation is there now to really grow it to be a Top 25 program,” Menzies said. “There are still things that we need to really elevate it, but I think the winning is the one thing that will continue to push that.”
Menzies said from a community support standpoint, fundraising is at an all-time high. From a recruiting standpoint, this year’s club is Menzies most talented from top to bottom and there are at least five players sitting out this season who could be key contributors in future seasons.
“We have good support from what we have already done,” Menzies said. “I think we have it where we want it and now we can go out and really shock the world.”

Take the next step
NMSU was a unanimous choice to win the Western Athletic Conference this season.
Winning conference titles is the only sure way to reach the NCAA Tournament and the Aggies have proven capable of that. But with a weaker conference schedule, the Aggies have several opportunities this year to mix it up with high-level programs before getting to conference play.
The last time NMSU played a quality program, the Aggies trailed Saint Louis early on and were never a threat in last year’s NCAA Tournament first round.
NMSU has four games against ranked opponents this season, the annual home-and-home against No. 23 New Mexico as well as road games at No. 6 Arizona (Dec. 11) and No. 15 Gonzaga (Dec. 7). The Aggies also play at Colorado State on Nov. 30, another team that reached the Tournament last year.
“Those area all great opportunities but that’s what they are, they aren’t the season,” Menzies said. “I think we need to be in all four of those rivalry games. It would be great to win them all and at home I think we will be fine. The road is really where you find out what you are made of. If we go out and get blasted on the road, we probably aren’t the team we think we are right now.”
While victories against these schools is the goal, NMSU needs to show the ability to compete with good teams. It’s something the Aggies could take with them into the postseason. If the wins come, all the better. It could mean a difference between a 14 seed in the NCAA Tournament to an 11 or 12 seed.
“You don’t have to win all of those games but you can’t go out and get blown out,” Menzies said. “Give yourself a chance in the last five minutes.”

Point guard play
This position has been a weak point since four-year starter Hernst Laroche graduated. Laroche wasn’t a dominant player but he was solid at the position, capable of guarding his position and running the offense.
The Aggies need the same this year.
Junior K.C. Ross-Miller and freshman Travon Landry enter the season looking like a time share at the position until one steps forward. Coaches also like freshman Ian Baker, who has been described as more of an offensive threat at the position and could join the team at some point when cleared by the NCAA.
Aggies point guards couldn’t handle pressure against good backcourts last year and it led to bad shot selection and turnovers.
NMSU needs to be better here in order to meet the expectations that fans have for the season.

Balancing the offense
We know that 7-foot-5 sophomore center Sim Bhullar and senior power forward Renaldo Dixon can score around the basket and crash the offensive glass, where the Aggies collected 12 offensive rebounds per game. The Aggies also got to the foul line 832 times (fourth in the country).
But often teams would pack the paint and force the Aggies to beat them from the perimeter.
The Aggies added DK Eldridge, who is a tremendous athlete but also appears to be more polished offensively. Senior guard Kevin Aronis and sophomore wing Matej Buovac combined for nine made 3-pointers in the Aggies exhibition win over Western New Mexico. With slashers like Eldridge and junior Daniel Mullings and willing passers out of the post like Bhullar, the Aggies hope to be able to make teams pay for packing the paint.
“We will become more balanced,” said Mullings, the WAC Preseason Player of the Year. “We have shooters who can shoot a little bit. That will benefit everyone. There will be opportunities to dump into the bigs and then you have the drive and kick from the guards to find the shooters and the big men.”

Staying focused
Mullings is a competitive player and in his third season is a natural leader. He will have to keep his team focused on a nightly basis when the Aggies enter league play.
Gone are established programs like Utah State. Seattle finished last in the league last year but the Redhawks were picked in the top half of the conference this season.
The team’s RPI will likely dip once the Aggies enter conference play, but the Aggies are a veteran group that should finish well clear of the rest of the league for the first outright league championship under Menzies.
“It’s about time, this is what we have been practicing all of this time for,” Mullings said. “We are ready.”

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

2013 NMSU prediction blog

Here is last year's Prediction Blog entry. I was Two games off on the overall record and got the WAC record

Here is the 2011-12 Prediction Blog entry: Two games off and got the WAC record.

Kind of interesting if you are feeling nostalgic.

I have the Aggies going 25-7 overall this year and 14-2 in the Western Athletic Conference. That's an 11-5 non-conference record and a 14-2 mark in the WAC. I think the Aggies can, and probably should run the table in the WAC, but I could still see two road losses.

The Aggies open this season on Friday against Western Michigan in the first of three games in Hawaii. NMSU plays back to back games against W. Michigan and Tennessee State and then play Hawaii at midnight local time (3 a.m. mountain) on Tuesday.

I think that Hawaii game will be tough. NMSU has historically had off nights against Hawaii when the schools were in the WAC together. NMSU does have an experienced group who are familiar with making that trip and playing in Hawaii so I'm going to give them the game. My understanding is that NMSU takes a flight back and travels overnight so they will be off one full day before hosting UTEP on Friday in their home opener.

The Aggies win their home opener and beat Northern Colorado for a 5-0 start. I think the Aggies could sweep UTEP this year, but I'm giving them a split at 5-1.  The Aggies enter the toughest stretch of the season at 7-1 before a road trip to Colorado State.

I think Colorado State, New Mexico, Gonzaga are all competitive games for the Aggies. But they play them all on the road. I just haven't seen anything in the past to believe the Aggies can pull out road victories although I think as long as they are competitive games, the team can benefit from them.

I think the Aggies lose at Colorado State, beat the Lobos at home, lose to Top 20 teams Gonzaga and Arizona on the road, beat Drake on the road, and lost at UNM.

NMSU returns home to beat Northern New Mexico and South Alabama before conference play.

I think NMSU starts 8-0 in WAC play before the Seattle/Idaho road trip. I gave them a split on that trip. I also gave the Aggies one loss on their final three-game road trip with games at Texas Pan Am, Utah Valley and Bakersfield. Again, the Aggies should win all three of these games but we have seen them almost lose at Bakersfield recently. It will be late in the year at that point and anything can happen on the road.

What are your thoughts? predictions??

Monday, November 4, 2013

NMSU 2013-14 schedule: Dec. 4 Game 10 vs. New Mexico/Dec. 17 Game 14 at New Mexico

Last year: 29-6, 13-3 Mountain West; MWC tournament champion, 1st round loss to Harvard

Key player: Tony Snell got drafted in the NBA Draft, but I've always felt like Kendall Williams was the Lobos best player the past couple years. Williams led the team in scoring with 13.3 points per game, leading the Lobos with 4.9 assists, which was second in the MWC. He also shot 35 percent from 3-point range, including hitting 10-13 from long range in a 46 point outing against Colorado State.

Something to watch: They are already celebrating another championship in Albuquerque as that honeymoon period is in full swing. I think the Lobos are going to take a little step back, at least initially. I don't doubt Craig Neal as a coach, but Steve Alford was a good coach. An established coach. And as Albuquerque Journal reporter Geoff Grammer told me, Neal will also change the style of play up. Those things take time.
"They will play more up tempo and press more than they did with Alford," Grammer said. "Alford wanted to play half court and never play zone, but (assistant coach) Lamont Smith was hired as a defensive coach and he's a zone guy. ... I think (Neal) will be fine. He really did a lot of the gameplan under Alford and he could go out and offer a guy recruiting. Alford trusted him. One thing he will have to do is keep his passion under control. I think he could get some technicals."
Australian power forward Cameron Bairstow has impressed and will likely start along with 7-footer Alex Kirk. Williams and point guard Hugh Greenwood will also start. Grammer said the favorite to start on the wing and replace Snell  is junior college transfer Deshawn Delaney, a 6-5 two time JC all american at Vincennes JC in Indiana. Grammer described Delaney as more of a slasher offensively than Snell was. Cullen Neal, JC transfer Arthur Edwards and sophomore Cleveland Thomas could also play on the wing.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Odds and ends

Sunday the Aggies host Tulsa in this year's super duper 'secret' scrimmage before opening the season on Friday in Hawaii against Western Michigan.

I have to say these scrimmages are great for the involved teams, but the way the NCAA justifies them is kind of silly. So the teams involved can't discuss them, publicize them or profit from them, but teams are traveling to these things arent they? So schools can't make money from these but they can spend money on their budget for them. Am I missing something. Maybe I'm just bitter because it would be nice to see the Aggies take on a real team than sitting through a Western exhibition game.

Here is a story on Tulsa's exhibition game. Here is their roster.

One thing Western was able to do was beat the Aggies big guys up and down the court. Just looking at Tulsa's roster, their biggest player is 6-9 and I'm assuming they are more athletic than WNMU. Teams are going to be able to run against the Aggies if they have the players to do so and especially if the Aggies go big with Bhullar and Nephawe at the same time.

Regarding a little coaching gamesmanship, NMSU didn't stream the exhibition game. NMSU marketing said the Aggies first two opponents didn't agree to exchange film. That's not necessarily true. The Tennessee State media relations guy said they did plan to exchange film so there is that. The bottom line is in the early stages of the season, it's common to try to get a little advantage. if one team can see another team play without exchanging film, then so be it.

Friday, November 1, 2013

NMSU 2013-14 schedule: Nov. 30 Game 9 at Colorado State

Last Year: 26-9, 11-5 second place in Mountain West; loss to UNLV in MWC semis; W over Missouri in NCAA, loss to Louisville

Key player (s): Larry Eustachy, not a player, but he certainly made a difference in his first year with Tim Miles roster.
"I don't think they are a second place Mountain West team or a team that wins a Tournament game without Larry Eustachy," said Matt L. Stephens, who covers CSU for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. "Even though they won their first (six games), it did take them a while. Eustachy kept saying to give him a little time to figure out how to coach these guys and he adjusted his coaching style accordingly. Now they will be a little more up and down and a little more aggressive. All but two of the players are guys recruited by him or his staff. They will crash the boards with two guys dropping back. They want to defend every inch of the court."
Daniel Bejarano (6-4 junior, Arizona transfer): The Rams lost all five starters from last year and a player who would have started at the point guard position, Jesse Carr, re-injured a torn ACL in the offseason, which ended his career. Bejarano was the MWC 6th man of the year last year after averaging 6 points and 5.5 rpg, which was third on the team.

Something to watch; The Aggies and Rams share a total of five non conference opponents and three before playing each other in Fort Collins and NMSU will have film on the Gonzaga game, which is CSU's second game, as well as a home game to Northern Colorado. Each team will have played UTEP, Prairie View and Bethune Cookman so strengths and weaknesses should have been discovered by the time they play. It sounds like both teams could play eight or nine guys. Perhaps the key to the game will be which set of perimeter players can add a scoring touch and rebounding should be a strength of both teams. Stephens said point guard Jonathan Octeus is a slasher and distributor but not much of a shooter, similar to the Aggies at that position. Wing Dwight Smith sat out last year but he's a good defender similar to the Aggies likely starters on the wings. Inside, the Rams will play 6-7 Navy transfer JJ Avila,who was the Patriot League freshman of the year. Senior Gerson Santo (6-9), and JC transfer Marcus Holt (6-10) rotate at the center position.

Monday, October 28, 2013

What to look for during Tuesday's exhibition game

First here is my guess at a starting lineup. I think this should also be the Aggies lineup moving forward but I'm curious as to your opinion.

Center - Sim Bhullar
PF - Renaldo Dixon (Was told he could play Tuesday, will play when the Aggies travel)
Wing - DK Eldridge
Wing - Daniel Mullings
PG - KC Ross Miller (experience gets him the start, but should be fairly equal timeshare with freshman Travon Landry)

Notes, Daniel Mullings could be held out on Tuesday as well (hip). If he doesn't play, I would say it's a tossup between Buovac and Aronis

It's hard to get anything from these games sometimes, but here are three things I'm interested in as the Aggies get ready for the season:

Can they score?
We know the Aggies can defend and rebound. They set the school record with blocked shots last year and with Renaldo Dixon and Sim Bhullar figuring to play more minutes at the outset, they should crush that record as well.
NMSU averaged 67 points per game last year. They look great when grabbing offensive rebounds, turning defensive rebounds into transition or scoring off turnovers, but when good teams force them to play halfcourt basketball, it's ugly. In its last game that mattered, NMSU shot 28 percent from the field in a 64-44 loss to St. Louis. Good teams were able to take away the Aggies size advantage by pressuring the guards into some of the 14 turnovers per game the Aggies committed. Teams could also pack the paint because the Aggies weren't a threat to make the 3 consistently. I'm not saying Western can compare to Saint Louis, but hopefully junior college transfer DK Eldridge, sophomore Matej Buovac and Kevin Aronis can knock down open 3s. Hopefully Eldridge, Mullings and the point guard can handle pressure better than they did last year, which is another reason the Aggies will miss Tyrone Watson. Watson was a good playmaker at the 4 spot. Renaldo Dixon and Chili Nephawe are different players at that position, so the NMSU guards have to take on that responsibility. Bhullar and Nephawe are both willing passers, so I think they will be able to pick the right guy out depending on how teams choose to guard them. It would be nice for the Aggies to have more players on the court who can deter teams from doubling or tripling the big guys. Finally, the new rules hope to open up scoring in college basketball, and in theory, the Aggies have players who can get to the lane, making it necessary to increase their 66 percent free throw percentage.

There are a lot of options.
Nephawe will play the four and five, Buovac and Aronis should play on the wings, Landry will play the point guard, as well as Mullings. That's at least nine players. I would also put Remi Barry in the mix at some point this year. That leaves Tanveer Bhullar deep in the rotation, leading me to believe they will redshirt him. Although Menzies told me that despite what's out there, a decision hasn't been made and that he will likely travel on the first weekend to Hawaii.
"He will play in the exhibition and he will travel to Hawaii," Menzies said. "We always felt like he could be a potential redshirt. Based on his brother and how the other bigs play, we haven't made a final decision. He's going to travel to Hawaii and be available and then we will sit down."

Point guard play?
This probably will be a key for every game this season until someone emerges. Menzies said Ian Baker could also figure in sooner than later if an appeal to the NCAA goes the Aggies favor.
Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing Ross-Miller out there and see if he has improved. I'm excited about Landry and think his ability to guard his position could free up Mullings a little bit.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Crimson vs. White observations

I've learned to take these scrimmages and exhibition games not as seriously as I did early on.
Having said that, there were a couple of impressions I took. I think the No. 1 thing the Aggies have been working on in practice has been figuring out how Sim Bhullar and Tshilidzi Nephawe play together. We got a little look at it on Saturday and it still looks to be a work in progress. Marvin Menzies spoke a little about it in my story here.

Nephawe looks like he's improved around the basket. He could be the most skilled of the Aggies centers. I've been somewhat tough on Nephawe's production. I think he could have a good year now that he won't be a primary option.

DK Eldridge was just as athletic as advertised. Below is probably the best dunk of Saturday's dunk exhibition. Eldridge should start at one of the wing positions, which gives NMSU another great duo on the wing with Daniel Mullings, who looked good as well. I was somewhat surprised at how smooth Eldridge was offensively, getting to the elbow and hitting a jumper or knocking down a little fadeaway. The Aggies need a scorer on the wing.

Neither point guard really stood out on Saturday against each other. Sim Bhullar told me it's still a battle and a toss up as to if KC Ross Miller or Travon Landry will get the starting spot.

Other notes
Renaldo Dixon didn't play Saturday and may not be ready when the Aggies open the season. ... Marvin Menzies was asked questions by the crowd. One person asked about Terrel de Rouen. Menzies said de Rouen's chances of returning this year are "slim" That's not to say de Rouen won't be back, but I doubt you will see him this season.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Five things I'm interested in for Saturday's Crimson/White scrimmage (and other things)

Injured Aggies
Four NMSU players have had some form of surgery since the Aggies lost to St. Louis in the NCAA Tournament last year. Two of those players (for various reasons) won't appear when the Aggies scrimmage on Saturday at the Pan American Center at 1 p.m. Terrel de Rouen has offseason foot surgery, but we know de Rouen is suspended with an uncertain future at NMSU anyway. I did not know until practice began that Renaldo Dixon underwent hip surgery and has been limited in practice. Dixon will play this year, but I'm uncertain of when right now. Daniel Mullings was also banged up over his summer action for Team Canada, undergoing minor knee surgery, but as far as I know Mullings has looked good in practice, as well as Chili Nephawe, who I'm looking forward to seeing Saturday. Nephawe told me that he actually broke his other thumb playing pick up ball over the summer, but both hands are 100 percent and he's been working at the four in tandem with Sim Bhullar while Dixon has been out.

Big lineups
Much has been made of how big NMSU's roster is, but how many big guys can play at the same time? Marvin Menzies, Sim Bhullar and Nephawe have all talked about playing Bhullar and Nephawe at the same time and it sounds like it's been going well. We will get a chance to see on Saturday hopefully. In addition to his presence blocking shots and around the rim on defense, Bhullar is  a great passer. He's been working at the high post. He has great vision, and at 7-5 can look over the defense to dump it down to Nephawe or hit a cutting wing.

Point guard play
At least until Ian Baker is eligible later this season, KC Ross-Miller and freshman Travon Landry should split time here with Mullings as the third option. Ross-Miller looked overwhelmed at times here last year, but lets see if he's shown any improvement. Landry is a stronger athlete at the position, but people have described his defensive instincts as his strength. The Aggies just need to be solid here.

New players
I'm excited about DK Eldridge and Landry, both described as very athletic players at their position. Eldridge doesn't have the length that Bandja Sy has but he's a quality replacement in that regard. Perhaps he can add something more consistent on the offensive end as well. I've spoken about Landry a little bit but without having played a college game yet, I'm looking forward to seeing him on the defensive end and how he runs the team, is he strong with the ball, does he make solid decisions once he gets to the paint, things I think the Aggie point guard has to do well. Of course I'm not forgetting Tanveer Bhullar. As with his big brother last year, lets see his fitness level and if he is further along offensively than Sim was at this stage his first year.

I don't think there is a position battle here. At 6-7 Buovac figures to be able to play multiple positions while Aronis has proven to be a game changer shooting the ball. Buovac looks like he brings more to the table because of his size where Aronis is deadly if he has time to get that shot off. Looking forward seeing these two shoot the ball.

Other notes.
NMSU will host Tulsa Nov. 3 in the super duper secret scrimmage. Here is Tulsa's roster. Here is an interesting link that Sam Wasson found regarding these scrimmages, essentially stating that if a team plans to redshirt a player, that player probably won't play in these scrimmages. How do they find that out if these are closed?

There is a possibility that Aggies fans could see redshirts such as Matt Taylor, Jaylyn Pennie and Johnathon Wilkins during a dunk contest prior to Saturday's scrimmage. Could be fun in addition to whatever Daniel Mullings and DK Eldridge could come up with.

Monday, October 14, 2013

My WAC Preseason Ballot. League released Polls Tuesday

Photo by Shari V. Hill
I have Sim Bhullar as my Preseason WAC Player of the Year. The WAC preseason Poll and Player Awards will be released Tuesday morning from Las Vegas. 

This year’s preseason ballot was the toughest yet since I’ve covered the Western Athletic Conference for the Sun-News.
And not in a good way.
The departure of teams like Utah State, Nevada, Fresno State, Boise State, Hawaii and Denver to name a few over the past handful of years has diluted a once relevant basketball conference.
New Mexico State has proven to be a player in the league each and every year since joining in 2006. Aggies fans can rejoice in the fact that NMSU should be near unanimous selection as the preseason favorite to win the conference on Tuesday when the preseason coaches and media polls are unveiled from Las Vegas at the Orleans Arena, site of the WAC Tournament in March.
NMSU has won the last two tournament championships. The only thing missing from Marvin Menzies’ WAC resume in his first six years is an outright regular season title. Menzies should be able to cross that off the list this year.
It’s extremely early and with six new teams joining the conference in 2013-14, any preseason ballot should be taken with a grain of salt, but here is how I voted:

New Mexico State Aggies >>> The Aggies were very big and very good last year. They are bigger and could be better this year.
NMSU’s 7-foot-5 sophomore center Sim Bhullar was the WAC Tournament Most Valuable Player as a freshman last season. Bhullar should be a first-team talent this year after averaging 10 points on 62 percent shooting with seven rebounds per game and blocking a school record 85 shots last year in 24 minutes per game. Bhullar was only able to contribute at that level due to season ending thumb surgery to 6-foot-10 junior Tshilidzi Nephawe. Nephawe returns this year, as well as 6-foot-8 senior power forward Renaldo Dixon. The Aggies also added Bhullar’s younger brother, 7-foot-3 Tanveer Bhullar. The elder Bhullar and Dixon join All-WAC guard Daniel Mullings and junior point guard K.C. Ross-Miller as returning starters from Menzies’ third NCAA Tournament team. The Aggies hope that junior college transfer DK Eldridge, a 6-foot-2 transfer from New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs, could add some scoring and athletic ability on the wing. Freshmen point guard Travon Landry signed at Tennessee but found his way to Las Cruces and Ian Baker will also compete in the second semester for time at point guard, a position that will be key if the Aggies hope to take another step forward in the Big Dance.

Idaho >>> The Vandals only land here because they are one of three returning programs to the WAC and they have two solid returners. The truth is, the Vandals finished sixth in the WAC last year at 7-11 in league play. The Vandals lost the best player in the conference in center Kyle Barone and this year’s team looks like a young group with six freshmen and 12 new players overall. Fortunately for the Vandals, they have the leading returning scorer in the league and the best 3-point shooter in the WAC. Senior wing Stephen Madison is the leading returning scorer in the WAC with 14.1 points per game last year, which was seventh in the conference. Junior guard Connor Hill was second in the league in 3-point percentage last year at 44 percent. Don Verlin is in his sixth year at Idaho. He’s typically done better when his team is a question mark rather than a front runner. You could argue this year’s team is both.

Seattle >>> Seattle finished dead last in the WAC last year at 8-22 overall and 3-15 in the league play. So why so high this year? Simply put, transfers and the fact that although the WAC was not as strong as previous years, it was still a better league than the competition incoming schools faced. Seattle also found a way to compete against the better teams in the league last year. Seattle lost its two games to NMSU by a combined four points, taking the Aggies to double overtime in Seattle. The Redhawks lost to conference runner-up Texas-Arlington by two at home. Perhaps transfers such as Isiah Umipig and Emerson Murray could help get the Redhawks over the hump. Umipig was the sixth man of the year in the Big West at Fullerton in 2010-11 and he averaged 13 points per game his sophomore season in 2011-12.

California-Bakersfield >>> The first of the six incoming schools, Bakersfield went 14-16 as an independent last year. Bakersfield beat former WAC member Texas-San Antonio twice, beat Seattle on the road and beat WAC newcomer Utah Valley and lost in overtime to fellow WAC newcomer Texas Pan American last year. Bakersfield has also given the Aggies close games in the past, nearly beating NMSU in Bakersfield two years ago.

Texas-Pan American >>> I went with the team with the best record of the three incoming teams from the Great West Conference here. Pan Am was second in the Great West, finishing second at 5-3. Chicago State and Utah Valley University finished 3-5. Former Stetson and Akron head coach Dan Hipshire was hired in April as head coach. Hipshire was the associated head coach at Alabama the past four years.

Missouri-Kansas City >>> Missouri-Kansas City finished in the middle of the Summit League last year, but UMKC lost its top two scorers from a team that went 5-11 in the Summit League and 8-24 overall. UMKC also hired a new coach in the offseason, first-time head coach Kareem Richardson, who was an assistant most recently at Louisville last year. The Summit League featured South Dakota State and North Dakota State last year, both Top 75 RPI programs, but the league as a whole finished as the No. 19 RPI league, six spots lower than the WAC.

Grand Canyon University >>> Grand Canyon wasn’t a Division I school last year and isn’t eligible for postseason play this year, but with a former NBA player heading up the program and a number of Division I transfers ready to play, GCU is an intriguing program in the desert. Former Phoenix Sun Dan Majerle was hired to coach GCU after a 23-8 season and appearance in the Division II National Tournament. University of New Mexico transfer Demetrius Walker and Texas A&M transfer Daniel Alexander are each eligible to play this season.

Utah Valley University >>> Utah Valley finished 14-8 overall last year and 3-5 in the Great West. UVU returns leading scorer and rebounder Ben Aird, a  6-foot-9 senior center who led the team with 15 points and nine rebounds per game. Guard Holton Hunsaker averaged 13 points per game and shot 36 percent from 3-point range.

Chicago State >>> Chicago State won the Great West Tournament last year and reached the CollegeInsider.com tournament. Chicago State’s best player is Quinton Pippen, a nephew of NBA Hall of Fame player Scottie Pippen on a team that finished 11-22 and was the No. 320 ranked RPI team.

My individual ballot
Player of the Year >> Sim Bhullar, New Mexico State: Dominant force as last season wore on. Should only improve in 2013
First team All-WAC
Daniel Mullings, New Mexico State: Mullings was eighth in the WAC in scoring last year with 13.8 points per game and he led the league with 2.26 steals per game.
Stephen Madison, Idaho: Madison is the leading returning scorer in the WAC after scoring 14.1 points per game last year.
Isiah Umipig, Seattle: Umipig was the sixth man of the year in the Big West Conference as a freshman at Fullerton in 2010-11. He averaged 13 points per game and shot 37 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore the following year.
Demetrius Walker, Grand Canyon: University of New Mexico transfer who was a starter early last year for the Lobos. Streaky player who showed a scoring touch in limited minutes at UNM before leaving the program.

Friday, October 4, 2013

NMSU 2013-14 schedule: Nov. 27 Game 9 vs. Prairie View A&M

Last year: 15-19, 8-10 SWAC lost in SWAC championship game

Key player: 6-11 Jules Montgomery was a junior center last year, who was third on the team in scoring with 7.6 ppg and second with 6 rpg.

Something to watch: The Aggies play Prairie View for the first time since 2010. I don't have much interest in this game to be honest. My biggest interest is the fact that this is the last game before the toughest stretch on the NMSU schedule. Prairie View's top two scorers were seniors last year from a team that averaged 64 points per game. Prairie View got to the SWAC championship game and lost by one point to No. 1 seed Southern after knocking off the No. 3 and No. 2 seed to get there but they lost five seniors.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Odds and ends from Sunday's first NMSU workout

First a note on who did not practice on Sunday. Point guard Ian Baker and freshman Jonathan Wilkins will not be able to practice as they are yet to be cleared by the NCAA. Jayln Pennie and Matt Taylor are likely redshirts who were out there on Sunday. Both are expected to redshirt this season, but they are able to practice before the NCAA ultimately clears them to continue to practice.Big man Pascal Siakam is in the same situation, although he wasn't there on Sunday.

Terrel de Rouen was not at practice as he is suspended.

Photo by Shari V. Hill

I talked to Sim Bhullar for a couple minutes on Sunday.

Most noteworthy was Bhullar talking about playing at the high post, which is something we have talked about here. It makes sense when Chili Nephawe is in the game. Bhullar is a great passer and can set the guards free early in the shot clock at the top of the key. It will be interesting to see if if works with the two big guys at the same time.

"I'm a lot further than last year," Bhullar said. "I worked on a lot of things this summer, especially my jump shot and being more consistent with my hooks and stuff, especially if I'm going to be playing with Chili. Coach really wanted me to work on being the high post and making that jumper. In high school I played like that. Last year I really didn't think the team needed me to do that so I stayed in the post. Chili is a dominant guy in the post and can seal anyone in the country."

I also spoke with Daniel Mullings. I will have a story on Mullings and others who could fill in for the leadership role later in the week. But I asked Mullings to give me one or two players either new or role players from last year who could make a difference.

"DK Eldridge. He came from a JUCO and he's a good player. We lost Bandja and Tyrone. He's a player who can help to fill that void. He can help us in a lot of ways and be able to stretch the defense. Also Chili. He sat out last year so a lot of people forgot about him. He has been working. I know he knows everyone forgot him last year so he is going to come out with a vengeance."