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 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.