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.