Friday, January 31, 2014

Bakersfield: Three keys unlocked

I think this was the first time this season the Aggies didn't do any of my keys and still won, beating Bakersfield 89-86 on Thursday in a game Bakersfield held a lead in the final minute, had a shot to tie it at the buzzer. In addition to failing in all three categories, the Aggies also gave up 24 points off 14 turnovers, but they still won so what do I know.

I do know that the Aggies had Sim Bhullar for the first time in WAC play and that the Aggies were plus-23 with him on the court Thursday. Bhullar told me that since he couldn't practice during the month he was away, all he could do was shoot free throws. It showed on Thursday. He was 7-8 off the bench, and the ability for the big fella to play 23 minutes the first time out showed he was in better shape than I thought he would be in.

Limit Grayson: Bakersfield point guard Issiah Grayson had 20 points, three assists and three steals. Daniel Mullings did a good job on him in man to man, but when the Aggies played zone, Grayson was good at getting into the paint and dishing off to the big men for a couple dunks. Grayson was 8-12 and was one of the better players I've seen so far in the WAC.

3-point line again: Bakersfield made 6 3s and the Aggies made 5, which is fine. But I think 6 was too many for the Aggies. NMSU played zone to try to find shooters but there were a lot of open looks. Bakersfield also had post players capable of hitting the 14 foot jumper at the foul line against the zone. Perhaps when Bhullar is able to close that distance like he's accustomed to, there won't be so much ground for the NMSU guards to cover.

Rebounding: Bakersfield out rebounded the Aggies 35-34 with 14 offensive rebounds. Between the turnovers and the offensive rebounds, Bakersfield had 18 more field goal attempts than the Aggies.

Jack Nixon, Hall of Famer

Jack Nixon will be inducted into the New Mexico State University Hall of Fame on Saturday. It's a well deserved honor for Jack, who I consider a friend. Congrats.

LAS CRUCES >> Jack Nixon got his start in Las Cruces and he still can't say when or if he will retire in Las Cruces.
But in his 34 years as the Voice of the Aggies, the 63-year-old Nixon has certainly made a significant impact. On Saturday, Nixon will be one of three individuals inducted into the U.S. Bank New Mexico State University Hall of Fame during the Aggies' home game against Utah Valley University.
Nixon's career has spanned 34 years and includes stops in Tulsa, Denver and Poplar Bluff, Mo. But it's his work as the Aggies announcer that has included over 1,000 NMSU men's basketball games and over 400 NMSU football games that Aggies fans have come to look forward to.
"I'm really excited for him, he's such a great guy and a humble soul and those are the people who you want to be rewarded," said NMSU men's basketball coach Marvin Menzies. "In our seven-year journey so far, he's one of us. We feel like we all got something when he got it."
The Sun-News sat down with Nixon to discuss his time in broadcasting and his career as a broadcaster:

What makes a good play-by-play announcer in your opinion?
Nixon: Having a good education, being able to draw on a wide range of knowledge. Knowing sports is important too, but to be able to describe something, you have to have a good vocabulary. To make it real to people, you have to relate it to things that they understand in life. I think there are different levels to broadcasting. Some people will get some stuff, others will get other stuff. You also have to be able to think quickly. ... I have worked with some people who understood sports and the game better than I did but they couldn't express it in the timeframe.

At what point did you realize it was what you wanted to do?
Nixon: I remember I was really nervous. The first time I realized I wanted to was when I started working at the campus radio station. I went to Bradley University for two years. It was WRBU. It just went into the dorms and the fraternity houses. This was 1968. When I started that, it was so much fun. ... I wanted to pursue a career in this. That was the first time really in my life that I had something in front of me that I really wanted. ... There were two things that I really wanted to do. One was to be in a rock band, which I was in junior high and high school, and this. I played lead guitar (for The Shades) and I would teach the other guys the songs. We played little jobs for $30 for the six of us. It seemed like a lot of money in 1966. ... I didn't get to do play-by-play until I was at Kansas University. I had transferred there and was on the student radio station. There was a basketball game and the guy was horrible. I called the station and asked who it was. I asked if I could audition. I didn't have much experience as far as play-by-play but I had enough confidence from my other broadcasting. I felt like I knew how to do it. I got the chance and things worked out.

How did you identify your play-by-play style? Did other people influence you?
Nixon: I have to be honest, I stole my sign off from Jack Buck, who was the announcer for the Saint Louis Cardinals. ... There was a guy in Omaha named Joe Patrick. He was good but he also had a sense of humor about him. He took it seriously but he let you laugh about it. He also hosted the wrestling show. When I was 10 years old, that seemed like the ultimate. ... Chick Hearn as far as technically, to me he was the best that will ever be. I admired Howard Cosell's journalistic integrity. ... I got to meet him once. ... I always thought it was very important to not be head over heels homer guy. I don't think it hurts that people know that I'm on the Aggies side so to speak. I'm happy when the Aggies win and I don't mind if people hear that in my voice.

You replaced Tom Dillon at NMSU. What were your thoughts on him?
Nixon: We became friends. He was the guy that I had to be better then in my mind. He was a great broadcaster, but in my mind, I had to be as good if not better. You want people to like you. That's what broadcasting is. I wanted to establish myself in this career. I didn't want people to say, 'This is the guy that replaced Dillon.' I wanted them to say, 'This is the guy we like.'"

Why did you leave NMSU (in 1982-86)? What was the USFL like? Did you think you would return to Las Cruces?
Nixon: To answer the last part, no. There were some places I have been where I wouldn't want to go back and this wasn't one of them, but I felt like my career was going skyward. I think that's what everyone thinks. They had lost the rights to the (NMSU) games and I was facing a year when I wasn't going to be doing it here. I had some other things in my life that were really kind of bad. I was hanging around with some crummy people and was doing stuff that was not good. It was time to get out of here. I got a job with a news talk station in Tulsa and was going to do Tulsa games. I got there and found out I wasn't going to necessarily do Tulsa games. ... Tulsa was a bigger market and I kind of got the rug jerked out from under me. It wasn't as bad as I thought initially, but after nine months, they changed the format and everyone got fired. I moved back (to Las Cruces) and lived out in Vado. I felt really low as a person. Your ego is so tied into broadcasting and then I had to see people back here. I had to eat crow and deal with it. ... I moved back (to Tulsa) in October and went to work for the USFL. The thing in Tulsa was fun. It was new and Sid Gillman was our general manager. Doug Williams was our quarterback. Your job was to work for a pro football team. It was really exciting and then the team moved out of town and I was out of work again. ... A guy I had met through the league who worked with the Houston franchise said Denver had changed owners. They needed a guy to sell tickets. It was a job. I moved there to sell tickets and kind of hang on. I was depressed frankly. It wasn't as if I was on the verge of the network (in Las Cruces) but I had a thing going. ... I was their best salesman, but they took me out of that and I did the team's program and did all of their travel. It was an interesting job. ... The league goes out of business in 1985 and I went back to Tulsa. ...  A guy named Mike Ryan, who was a former (NMSU) SID, had moved (to Las Cruces) and was at NMSU administration (Herb Taylor's predecessor). ... It was KASK at the time. It was 103.1, which is now HOT. That's how I came back. That was in July 1986.

Now that you have had a Hall of Fame career here, do you see yourself retiring at NMSU?
Nixon: I don't know. People ask that all the time. I don't want to retire until I have to and I will know that I have to at the point where I can't do this at the level that I think is good enough. I would hate for people to say it used to be fun to listen to him. ... Lets say that I have a chance to go do this in Omaha where my family is. I would have to seriously consider it. Obviously at this age, if the KU job or the USC job probably won't look for a guy my age, but if they called and said we are going to pay you $200,000 a year for two years as the voice of the Jayhawks, it would be hard to say no. But I would leave here reluctantly if I ever had to.

How would say local radio landscape has changed?
Nixon: When I came here it was KOBE and Walt Rubens owned the station and we had a director and  I was one of the three reporters. There was a heavy news emphasis at the station. Walt was on the AP Board. Walt wanted to always get the story before the Sun-News. We had to have it first and accurate. ... Most of the programming now comes from satellite. Then the technology. You would have to play records and they had these cartriges that had commercials on them. It was inefficient but it was what you had then. It has really helped a lot. ... Every job I have had in broadcasting has involved news, either as a news director or a reporter. I enjoyed that. ... I think that true journalism, you are cynical about stuff but there is also an innocence in your view of it. Hopefully what you are reporting has a clarity that stands on its own. I'm very cynical, but to be a good journalist there are clear cut ideals. The Sun-News played a prank on me and I bit on it and was embarassed by it. ... That did happen and it was a mistake but I have made a lot of mistakes. Everyone does.

Where haven't  you been that you would like to call a football or basketball game from?
Nixon: A Bowl game. An actual Bowl game. I don't know that there is any really. I've done a game at Nebraska. A game at Kansas. In the Rose Bowl. There really isn't one as far as a facility.

Can you tell me one or two of the best NMSU football teams you have seen here?
Nixon: The ones where they had Mick Rodemeyer on the line. I think the best quarterback I saw was Buck Pierce. The best running back was Denvis Manns. Denvis was one of Jim Hess's players. Cody Ledbetter's last year, they were really exciting and had a good offense. When I started, Jim Bradley was the coach and they could never get over the hump. Gil Krueger won with his players basically. Probably Tony Samuels' teams. The one that went 7-5 (in 2002).

What would be your starting five basketball team and a coach if you like in your tenure at NMSU?
Nixon: Randy Brown, Steve Colter. There have been so many. Wendell McKines, Slab Jones and Billy Keys. That's not a true center, forward guard. A coach would be very hard. Even though Neil (McCarthy), even though his reputation was tarnished, he was a good coach. He was a guy who didn't respect you unless you stood up to him. And then you were his guy. He did a lot of nice things for me. When my sister was terminal as it turns out, I didn't know how to handle it and I called Neil and he gave me some really good advice. It was more common sense but it was something I was really caught up in the emotion. He was a good friend, to me. Coach Henson  knows so much about basketball and he was a super guy. I liked Reggie a lot. He was crazy but he was fun to be around. Marvin is probably the one I'm closes to. If I had to choose one, I don't know. I liked all of these guys. I couldn't choose one.

What does it mean to you to be recognized by the University as a Hall of Famer?
Nixon: It, on one hand validates my efforts. At the same time, I have a feeling inside. This speaks more to who I am but I don't know that I deserve this. It's more about me as an insecure person. I've worked hard and people compliment me on my work, which I appreciate and I accept. There is something that has to do with me that I wonder if this is right. That is more the insecurities that I have. It's one of those things you don't set out to do. ... I was extremely ambitious when I was 22 years old. I did pro football and college sports, which is a lot more than most guys get. For the people to say you have earned this status is tremendously humblling. It truly is hard to express. To say that, Lou Henson, Steve Colter, Denvis Manns, Charley Johnson. You are in the company with them. It makes you think hard about what you have done and it's tremendously flattering.

It's part of a weekend that also includes a number of NMSU hoops alums during the Weldon Drew Era (1974-85) that were honored Thursday. The list was headlined by Reggie Jordan and also included the following

Presley Askew (1957-59)
Robert Banegas (1962-65)
Greg Berry (Assistant coach 1975-85)
Raymond Brito (1967-68)
Dave Brunson (1979-80)
Scott Caton (1966-67, 1972-75)
Steven Colter (1980-84)
Cyrus Cormier (1975-79)
Albert Slab Jones (1976-80)
Notie Pate (1975-79)
Bob Porter (1947-51)
Gil Williams (1981-83)
Gerald Drake (1959-63)
Stewart Meerscheidt (1947-49)
Jeff Williams (1984-89)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Bakersfield: Three keys and a prediction

There are a couple ties to Bakersfield. Keith Brown coached there until 2011 and Bakersfield showed some interest in Aggies sharp shooter Kevin Aronis while he was at Santa Rosa Junior College, before ultimately choosing NMSU with Brown doing most of the work bringing him in.

"They were a tiny bit my freshman summer after that first year of junior college," Aronis said. "After that, it kind of went away."

This is a last place WAC team playing on the road and I believe you will see Sim Bhullar tonight in limited minutes.

If the Aggies avoid the temptation to look past the last place team for Saturday's game against first place Utah Valley, the Aggies win rather easily 89-75

Limit Grayson: Bakersfield point guard Issiah Grayson is the only Bakersfield player scoring in double figures at 15 points per game. The Aggies have struggled defending small point guards who can score this year, most recently against UMKC. If KC Ross-Miller returns to the starting lineup, he has to do a better job defending ball screens because Grayson is a better 3-point shooter at 47 percent. If he doesn't Daniel Mullings probably guards him initially. Grayson is the focal point of the offense so it will be interesting to see if they take the ball out of his hands or let him get his numbers and stop everyone else.

3-point line again: Daniel Mullings told me Tuesday that the Aggies needed to get back to playing the type of defense they did in the non conference, and that getting teams off the 3 point line was a big part of that. Teams are shooting 37 percent against the Aggies and Bakersfield shoots 41 percent and scores 33 percent of their points from long range.

Rebounding: Bakersfield is actually third in the WAC in rebounding margin at plus 1.9. They do get nearly 12 offensive rebounds per game, so the Aggies have to keep them off the boards, something that did hurt the Aggies for a stretch this year.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Menzies: Shocked if Bhullar doesn't play by next week

Marvin Menzies said injured sophomore center Sim Bhullar did some light jogging for the first time on Monday. It was the first time Bhullar has got any running in since injuring his right foot on Dec. 28 against South Alabama. Menzies called Bhullar a game time decision for Thursday's WAC game against Bakersfield, saying Bhullar is close but more likely to play next weekend in road games at Idaho and Seattle.

"He started doing some jogging. I think it's going to go all the way up until Thursday. A lot right now is how he feels. We don't want to irritate it to the point that we would have to sit him again. He was just doing excercises and treatment. ... If he doesn't play this weekend, I would be shocked if he's not ready for next weekend. ... I would have never imagine Chili and Renaldo playing 40 minutes each in the same game."

DK Eldridge said he's recovered after hurting his ankle and knee against Chicago State and then bumping knees that caused him to leave Saturday's victory over UTPA.

"I was good after that," Eldridge said.

Eldridge seems to have leveled off a little as a JUCO player.
"Coach Menzies was telling me to be patient and that my time is coming, I'm developing still," Eldridge said. "It's difficult losing on the road where we don't have as many fans as we have at home. By being New Mexico State, I think we are getting a team's best every game. I think we need to focus more and have a different mindset going into the game. ... I think coming out with energy is a big part. We tend to lack coming out with intensity.

Monday, January 27, 2014

UTPA: Three keys unlocked

3-point line: Daniel Mullings pointed out that Texas Pan Am had been shooting well from 3-point range. UTPA hit four 3s each in road victories over Chicago State and UMKC. They made five in the first half against the Aggies and were 8-15 for the game. Hardly a win for the Aggies here, although NMSU was 6-16 from long range and that's with Kevin Aronis limited to 15 minutes after two fouls in the first half.

Defensive approach/changes: NMSU didn't change much defensively, playing man to man even with Aronis replacing Ross Miller in the starting lineup. Ross-Miller got beaten a few times for easy lay ups on defense but he had 6 assists and 1 turnover. I think he's clearly the best point guard on the roster, as when the game got into the second half, Mullings was moved off the ball and Baker and Landry didn't play. And that was against a team that doesn't pressure the Aggies much. Against teams such as Chicago State, Seattle, UMKC, Ross-Miller needs to play better, but I think he needs to be out there.

Limit turnovers: NMSU scored 90 points and only turned the ball over 13 times. Not bad, as I believe anywhere from 10-13 is a good number for them.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

UTPA: Three keys and a prediction

I don't think Sim Bhullar will play tonight against Texas-Pan American, giving him another week to recover and hopefully return in time for next week's two home games.
 Assuming he doesn't play, I still have the Aggies snapping a two-game losing streak 75-63

3-point line: Coach Menzies said that he expects to see a fair amount of zone tonight. I thought the Aggies took too many 3s last weekend, but for this team to be effective offensively, they need to make at least 4 3s per game. Also for some reason, the Aggies normally stout 3 point defense has slipped to 42 percent, last in WAC play. UTPA shoots 25 percent from the 3-poiint line and they are undersized. If the Aggies win from long range, they should win comfortably.

Defensive approach/changes: Marvin Menzies said he will make some changes following last week's losses. Either way without Bhullar in the lineup, I could expect the Aggies to play more zone tonight. I imagine if any position would change, it would be in the back court with either DK Eldridge or KC Ross Miller taking a lesser role. Travon Landry isn't the threat either of those two guys offensively so I would guess either Kevin Aronis or Ian Baker will see more time, making a zone more likely on the defensive end.

Limit turnovers: NMSU has done better here with just 12 against UMKC. 10-13 is good for NMSU, but the Aggies are averaging 14 per game

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Mid Week Musings

New Mexico State should still be considered the Western Athletic Conference favorite.
But the reality is that after losing back-to-back road games to Chicago State and Missouri-Kansas City last weekend, the Aggies are currently in fourth place in the conference standings behind 4-0 Utah Valley, 3-1 Chicago State and 3-2 Missouri-Kansas City.
That's the backdrop entering this weekend's single game against 2-3Texas-Pan American on Saturday at the Pan American Center.
"I think the guys know that they didn't play well and they got beat," said Aggies coach Marvin Menzies, whose team is 14-7 overall and 3-2 in WAC play. "Teams are going to be motivated to play against us and we didn't respond the way that I would have liked."
Menzies gave his players three days off following Saturday's 68-66 loss to UMKC, not only to regroup, but for players like Daniel Mullings and DK Eldridge (ankle) to rest.
"We needed it," Menzies said. "DK was struggling a little bit and Daniel needed the rest. Having those extra days off are valuable for the long term."
Menzies had targeted Saturday's game for a possible return for NMSU sophomore center Sim Bhullar, who has missed the Aggies first five WAC games with a foot injury.
"I have heard some different things and we are still having him evaluated," Menzies said. "I'm not sure if he will play this weekend or next weekend. I was maybe more optimistic that he would be back, but we can't afford to push him back too quickly. We want to have him for the rest of the year when he does come back."
Texas-Pan American has won its last two games against UMKC and Chicago State, both on the road. UTPA had lost 10 straight prior to last weekend, beating Chicago State 84-61 two nights after the Cougars beat NMSU.
"You just don't know what you will get on a given night," Menzies said. "I know what we are going to get. We are going to get every team's best shot, but we have to use that as motivation and be ready. (UTPA) won two tough games on the road. They have a lot of talent and it looks like they are learning how to play together."
The Aggies opened WAC play last year with back-to-back road losses at Texas-Arlington and Louisiana Tech. NMSU went on to win its next 12 games.
"When we look back at it, hopefully it will serve as an opportunity to really focus in and grow as a team," Menzies said.
After losing two WAC games, the Aggies dropped from 54 to 76 in this week's NCAA RPI rankings. At 4-0 in WAC play, Utah Valley jumped from 199 to 149, followed by Chicago State (187), UMKC (193), Seattle (242), Idaho (271), Grand Canyon (273), Bakersfield (274) and UTPA (308).

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

UMKC: Three keys unlocked

I'm losing confidence in my ability to get close on my predictions. I'm still clinging to my two-loss run through the WAC, even though I didn't imagine either loss to come last weekend.

Hang on defensively: I wrote a column on Sunday addressing the fact that without Sim Bhullar, the Aggies are a below average defensive team right now, ranking sixth in the WAC in field goal percentage. If Sim returns this weekend, the Aggies should start to return to the way they played all year. If not, perhaps the Aggies could change some things.

Take care of the ball: The Aggies only had 12 turnovers and UMKC had 12 so for one game at least, the Aggies didn't give an opponent extra opportunities.

Score on the interior: Renaldo Dixon had a career 33 point game and Chili Nephawe added 14 points. But for some reason, the Aggies guards  didn't pull their weight. DK Eldridge and Daniel Mullings were a combined 2-20 from the floor. NMSU attempted 20 3s per game over the weekend. NMSU needs to find that balance on the offensive end.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

UMKC: Three keys and a prediction

Perhaps the Chicago State game will serve as a wake up call that even though New Mexico State is more talented from top to bottom nightly, the Aggies can't count on jumping out to a 20 point lead every night.

NMSU wins and possibly starts another win streak, 85-73

Hang on defensively: Sim Bhullar should return to the lineup next week. Without him in the game, the Aggies have gone from a great defensive team to an average defensive team. When they play small with Renaldo Dixon at the center position, the Aggies have the appearance of another WAC team, completely losing the advantage that helped NMSU get off to a good start this season.

Take care of the ball: Coming off a 19 turnover game against Chicago State, this should be an obvious emphasis. It's make even more critical since UMKC likes to extend pressure full court where they force 15 turnovers per game. Two areas the Aggies were careless with the ball on Thursday with in the post against double teams, which should happen again tonight, or when Aggies guards drove to the paint and gave up the ball.

Score on the interior: Chicago State took Renaldo Dixon out of the game, where he eventually would stay. I think the Aggies need to get Chili Nephawe and Dixon going early on. NMSU is shooting the ball very well right now, but 23 attempts from this team is not how the Aggies were built.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Chicago State: Three keys unlocked

So much for the run the table talk. I am certainly among those who thought it was possible. I even wrote a column about it. But for the record, I predicted a 14-2 conference record at the outset of the season with both of those losses coming on the road, but I certainly didn't expect one of them to be at Chicago State. Probably the worse game the Aggies have played to date, on both ends of the court. NMSU needs Sim Bhullar back, just park him on the defensive end until he feels ready to return, something I expect him to be able to do next week.

Limit turnovers: This didn't happen. If the Aggies let the other team shoot 3s (which Chicago State did), if the Aggies have a horrible night at the foul line (which they did), and if the Aggies turn the ball over (which they did 19 times leading to 19 CSU points) If two of these things happen, the game will be close. If all three happen, NMSU will lose every time. Kind of concerning was the nature of a lot of the turnovers. There were some lazy cross court passes (once which Pippen scored off of) and the inbounds pass from DK Eldridge to nobody in particular eliminated the Aggies final comeback attempt. Daniel Mullings had to assert himself, which he did for 26 points, but he also turned the ball over 8 times, mostly when he drove and had the ball knocked away from him in traffic. Chili Nephawe had to be a force, and he had a decent game, but he had four turnovers in the post. What's also telling is the fact that Chicago State didn't do too much full court pressure, trapping mostly in the half court.

Attack the interior: Nephawe (12 points) and Mullings (26 points) were able to get to the basket or foul line, but that was about it. NMSU settled for the 3, shooting 23 times and Renaldo Dixon was limited to 15 minutes, going instead with Eldridge and Buovac to match up with Chicago State's quickness. NMSU is a better jump shooting team than ever before, but it's not going to win them many games.

Stay out of foul trouble: Wasn't much of a factor. Nephawe finished the game with four fouls but played 35 minutes. Aronis fouled out of the game in the late stages.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

NMSU loses first WAC game

New Mexico State’s seven-game win streak ended on Thursday with an 86-81 loss at Western Athletic Conference newcomer Chicago State.
The Aggies fell to 3-1 in WAC play while Chicago State remained unbeaten in league play at 3-0.
“We played our worst game in I don’t know how long,” Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said in his postgame radio comments. “It was bad, but also credit to Chicago State. They sped us up.”
The Aggies turned the ball over 19 times and finished the game 21-for-37 (56.8 percent) at the foul line.
“It was reminiscent of the Western Michigan loss,” said Menzies, whose team dropped to 14-6 overall and travel to 2-2 Missouri-Kansas City on Saturday. “I thought we learned that lesson.”
Chicago State was 22-for-30 (73.3 percent) from the foul line for the game and 7-for-8 from 3-point range in the second half. The Cougars were 14-for-16 from the foul line in the last 3:26, taking a 73-72 lead on a pair of Nate Duhon free throws with 1:49 to play. Quinton Pippen followed with a 3-pointer in transition to extend the lead to four with 1:22 left.
“We had 10 turnovers in the first half and a lot of them were unforced,” Menzies said. “We take a lot of pride in stopping the three-ball, but we stopped guarding the 3. Guys were looking at the post rather than staying connected to their man. Our posts should be able to guard guys one-on-one.”
Kevin Aronis made it a one-point game with one of his five makes from 3-point range  to pull within one with 8.3 seconds left as the Aggies were 10-for-23 from 3-point range for the game.
Duhon answered with a pair of free throws, but DK Eldridge threw the inbounds pass away.
“We had something drawn up but we never got a chance to execute it,” Menzies said. “I guess (Eldridge) saw something else.”
Daniel Mullings led the Aggies with 26 points, Aronis had 15 points, Eldridge scored 14 points despite going down in the first half with an injured ankle. NMSU center Tshilidzi Nephawe added 12 points and 12 rebounds.
“All of the chatter about going undefeated in conference can dissipate and we can get back to the reality of winning one game at a time, which has been our focus,” Menzies said. “They played harder than us and were efficient in making us play bad basketball.”
NMSU trailed by eight with 3:59 to play in the half, but finished strong to tie the game at 40-40 at halftime.
The Aggies used a 10-0 run to take an early lead, going up 14-7 on a Kevin Aronis 3 as NMSU was 6-for-13 (46.2 percent) from 3-point range in the first half.
Chicago State scored 11 points off 10 NMSU turnovers in the first half. Chicago State took its first lead at 7:30 and Pippen followed with a lay up off a steal during a 10-0 Chicago State run. Matt Ross drained Chicago State’s only 3 of the first half to give the Cougars their biggest lead at 36-28. Mullings scored 12 of his 14 first half points  in the last four minutes, putting the Aggies back on top with a triple with 1:43 to play in the first half.
“You are only as good as your last game and as of right now, we are not the WAC leaders and that’s the reality,” Menzies said.

Chicago State: Three keys and a prediction

Coaches are nervous about every game, especially road games. I think the unknown factor that Chicago State and UMKC present are real, but not significant.

NMSU should extend its win streak tonight with an 89-65 victory.

Take care of the ball: The Aggies only turned the ball over nine times against Seattle's pressure and Chicago State doesn't use its press to score off of like Seattle does. The Aggies only turn the ball over 13.7 times per game, but as I've said before, turnovers are one way to keep an inferior team in the game.

Attack the interior: Chicago State has one player with size and 6-9 Matt Ross is more of a big man who would rather play on the perimeter. It doesn't appear as Chicago State likes to defend at all, and offensively they play slow. Chicago State is getting out scored by almost 20 points per game, giving up nearly 80 points per game and teams are shooting 47 percent against them, 51 percent on two point field goals. I think Chili Nephawe in the post, and Daniel Mullings, getting to the lane, could be in for big games.

Avoid foul trouble: Ross could be a difficult matchup for the Aggies when Nephawe is the only post player in the game for the Aggies. I don't think Sim Bhullar will play this weekend, so it's another game where if Nephawe and Renaldo Dixon can stay on the court, Chicago State just doesn't have the size to compete.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Marvin Menzies talks road trip, Sim Bhullar

Marvin Menzies confirmed what Sim Bhullar tweeted, that the New Mexico State sophomore center Sim Bhullar did travel with the Aggies on Wednesday ahead of their Thursday game at Chicago State. Bhullar has not practiced and I don't expect him to play, but Menzies said trainers will monitor it. It also shows that Bhullar is getting closer to a return since he didn't even travel to Grand Canyon with the injury.

Here is a video where Menzies talks about the road trip to two places foreign to the Aggies, which could serve as motivation itself.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Idaho: Three keys unlocked

Sorry about the day off Sunday. Had to watch the Broncos try to advance.

I did write this story about how dominant NMSU has been through the first three WAC games, winning games by 18 per game and they haven't been that close.

3-point defense: Idaho was 4-14 (28.6 percent) from 3-point range. All four of their triples came from two players, Connor Hill, who was 2-5 and Mike Scott who was 2-2, although he was just 3-10 from the field. NMSU meanwhile, continued the hot hand from 3-point range, shooting 7-13 (53.8 percent) in the first half and 10-23 (43.5 percent) for the game. Personally, 23 3-point attempts seems a bit much for this team, but I honestly can't remember a bad shot being taken.

Stephen Madison: Madison was the Vandals most versatile offensive player and he finished 3-11 for 9 points  and four rebounds and was 0-2 from 3-point range. Daniel Mullings defended him at times, but Matej Buovac came in off the bench and did a nice job on him as well. Buovac should be able to defend most of the powerforwards in the WAC.

Limit turnovers: NMSU had 12 turnovers on Saturday, not a bad number, just three more than Thursday. What I didn't expect was how generous Idaho would be with the ball. NMSU scored 30 points off 17 Idaho turnovers.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Idaho: Three keys and a prediction

Marvin Menzies is 12-2 against Idaho in six seasons. And this could be the worst Idaho team since Menzies has been at New Mexico State.

Kyle Barone was a very good player for Idaho for four years and while Stephen Madison is putting up All WAC numbers and Connor Hill is one of several Idaho guards capable of hitting shots, but the Vandals just don't have the inside presence to hang with NMSU.

Aggies win 88-74

3-point defense: Hill is shooting 38 percent from 3-point range, Sekou Wiggs shoots 39 percent, Glen Dean shoots 38 percent and Madison shoots 36.5 percent. Seattle got loose for 8 3s the other night, but for the most part, NMSU does a good job against the 3 pointer, holding teams to 34 percent from there. It doesnt matter if the Aggies continue to shoot the 3 as well as of late, but the 3 is one way inferior teams can keep games close.

Stephen Madison: Madison is stepping up as a senior, playing more inside this year where he has increased his rebounding to 8.2 per game this year to go with 17.6 points per game. He's an interesting matchup for the Aggies at the power forward position. He will be tough for Renaldo Dixon to guard, but at the same time, Madison doesn't want to bang with Dixon in the post on the Aggies offensive end. It seemed like the Aggies were more willing to let Isaih Umipig get his shots up as long as he didn't get his teammates involved. I think NMSU should go at Madison, make him work on both ends, perhaps getting him tired. Idaho is not completely a one man team, but they are close.

Limit turnovers: Idaho wants to play faster than previous years because of their lack of size. NMSU only had 2 first half turnovers in the first half and led by 20. They got sped up a little in the second half and Seattle made a little run to make it respectable as NMSU had 7 second half TOs.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Seattle: Three keys unlocked

I was impressed with Isiah Umipig, who reminded me of former San Jose State guard Adrian Oliver. Umipig had a green light and Marvin Menzies said postgame the Aggies have to do a better job on him next time.

Renaldo Dixon/Chili Nephawe: Nephawe was in foul trouble, but Dixon scored 18 points with 6 rebounds in 35 minutes. The Aggies actually played several minutes with Dixon as the center and DK Eldridge as the power forward. Eldridge has done well lately on the boards, grabbing nine on Thursday.

Rebounding: Seattle out rebounded NMSU 35-33 with 16 offensive rebounds. Fortunately for the Aggies, Seattle didn't take care of the ball so NMSU scored 26 points off those turnovers, but Seattle finished with 13 more field goal attempts than NMSU. Seattle was the top rebounding team in the league, and they showed why on Thursday.

Challenge Mullings: Mullings didn't guard Umipig, but the Aggies did a good job on him in the first half and held him to just four points better than his average with 24 points. Umipig looks to get teammates involved and the Aggies big guys did a good job getting out and helping on ball screens. Mullings' stat line was incredible with 13 points, 11 rebounds, seven steals and six assists.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Seattle: Three keys and a prediction

Seattle was supposed to be among the teams to challenge New Mexico State or at least finish second. UMKC beat them at Seattle last weekend, but SU has the leading scorer in the WAC and NMSU will be without Sim Bhullar.

NMSU is still playing very well, very confident and the fact is that Seattle just isn't very good.

Aggies win 85-68

Renaldo Dixon/Chili Nephawe: As long as both NMSU big men stay out of foul trouble, the Aggies will be just fine. Seattle is trying to play a bit bigger with a pair of 6-9 players who get 18 minutes per game. Undersized posts have given trouble to NMSU at times and Deshaun Sunderhaus is an intriguing player who can shoot the 3 at the four off the bench. NMSU should win this matchup. I would like to see the Aggies go inside early to either score or take advantage of double teams and find shooters such as the red hot Kevin Aronis.

Rebounding: Seattle actually leads the WAC in rebounds per game with a slight edge over the Aggies. NMSU seems to have tightened up their rebounding problems with a couple of double digit games on the boards from DK Eldridge.

Give Mullings a challenge: Daniel Mullings likes a challenge and I would imagine the prospect of guarding WAC leading scorer Isiah Umipig (20.2 ppg) is right up Mullings' alley. Umipig has attempted 120 3 point field goals and he's shooting 37 percent. He also sees the ball a lot, coming off ball screens and penetrating. It's a team effort, but I expect Mullings to guard Umipig throughout the game. Jarrell Flora is second on the team with 73 attempts.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Menzies talks Bhullar, WAC, Seattle

I asked Marvin Menzies Wednesday if they have learned anything new on Sim Bhullar's foot injury this week after the 7-5 sophomore didn't travel to Grand Canyon last weekend.

"I'm not optimistic that he will play (Thursday) but there is still a chance," Menzies said. "You want him to be right when he comes back. We will plan for him to get back when he and the doctors say it's time. It's all about rest is what they are telling me."
Menzies added that Bhullar has not practiced this week.

Obviously NMSU does not need Bhullar in WAC play. But in a sense they do. Bhullar hit his stride in conference play last year, so there is a continuity factor there. Also, at his size, Bhullar's fitness relates to how productive he is. I would expect him back next week on the road, but they are not going to rush him back.
Going into WAC play, Seattle and Idaho were supposed to be 1A and 1B in terms of teams to finish behind the Aggies. Then UMKC comes along and beats both teams on the road.
"I think the road wins were something that I didn't anticipate," Menzies said. "I knew how good (UMKC) could be, but that just shows the parity for them to come in open their time in the WAC like that. I still think that Idaho and Seattle will be teams to be reckoned with."
Seattle finished dead last in the WAC last year, yet they played NMSU tough twice, taking the Aggies to double OT in Seattle and losing by three in Las Cruces.
"They have a lot of good athletes. We struggled with some of their quickness. They make you play faster than you want to sometimes. They just matched up well with us. They had some size that was athletic. They had good matchups but they just played well against us compared to some of the other games."

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

How good can the Aggies be with a 3 point threat?

Interesting stat, this year's Aggies are shooting New Mexico State's highest percentage from 3-point range since that run-and-gun team in 2010 that lost to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament.

The difference is of course, that every NMSU team since that year has been built on the defensive end of the court.

NMSU is shooting 35 percent from 3 point range this season against Division I opponents
. The Aggies shot 37 percent in 2010. The two teams score nearly the same with the 2010 team outscoring this year's club 78-77, but the current Aggies are holding opponents to 68 points compared to 78 points against in 2010.

NMSU 3-point percentages since 2010
2014 - 35 (WAC ???)
2013 - 31.3 (30.6 WAC)
2012 - 32.8 (31.4 WAC)
2011 - 33.2 (33.2 WAC)
2010 - 37 percent (38.4 WAC)

Tyrone Watson and Bandja Sy were great Aggies, but perimeter shooting was not their strong suit. Those minutes have been replaced this year by more capable offensive players such as DK Eldridge, Kevin Aronis and Matej Buovac along with the improved play from KC Ross-Miller.

The Aggies have made  7 3-pointers in three of their past four games against D I opponents. The Aggies have been especially effective in the first half, giving the Aggies some early breathing room and opening things up for the post players as the game wears on.

"When you are scoring from the outside like we have been as of late, it opens it up for the interior," NMSU coach Marvin Menzies said. "It gives the interior guys one-on-one matchups where we feel like we have an advantage."

The Aggies hit 7 of 12 in the first half in their victory over New Mexico in Albuquerque. In Saturday's victory at Grand Canyon, NMSU was 8 of 16 in the first half  against Grand Canyon and only attempted three triples in the second half.

Menzies said it wasn't a matter of being more aggressive early in games, but a matter of hitting shots that are open.

"Guys are free to take shots and free to play offensively," Menzies said.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Grand Canyon: Three keys unlocked

New Mexcio State was dominant as expected against what is essentially a DII team, beating Grand Canyon to open WAC play and doing without Sim Bhullar, who head coach Marvin Menzies said was left behind to rest with a "minor"  foot injury.

Let me ask you a question. How many games should NMSU win by double figures in conference play? I'm going to go with 12. Onto the keys

Rebound: NMSU out rebounded Grand Canyon 39-20 and the WAC's leading rebounder, Killian Larson, had four points and three rebounds after 26 and 12 against Texas Pan Am, well below his 11 rebounds per game. Grand Canyon had just four offensive rebounds.

Get the ball inside: The 3-ball was working for the Aggies on Saturday as NMSU hit 9 of 19 with Kevin Aronis hitting 6 of 8. Chili Nephawe (9 points, 11 rebounds) and Renaldo Dixon (8 points, 6 rebounds) were just a security blanket for the Aggies against a much smaller team that didn't seem ready for the physicality at times.

Limit 3s/TOs: Grand Canyon was just 4 of 13 from 3 point range. After making 14 3s in the previous game against Texas Pan Am, Menzies said guarding the 3 was a point of emphasis, as it will be every night since the 3 point line is really the only hope a lot of these teams have of keeping games close. NMSU only had 11 turnovers, down from their average of 13.7 per game

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Aggies win without Sim Bhullar

New Mexico State cruised to an 84-62 victory over Western Athletic Conference newcomer Grand Canyon on Saturday in Phoenix, Ariz.
NMSU improved to 12-5 and 1-0 in conference play, but the Aggies did it without sophomore center Sim Bhullar, who did not travel with the Aggies after suffering a foot injury in last weekend’s victory over South Alabama.
“He got his foot stepped on in the last game,” Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said. “We thought he was going to be good, but it was still nagging him. A bruise was the first assessment and he has a chance to play against Seattle (on Thursday at the Pan American Center). I want to get it right before we get him all the way back in. We will probably make a call on Wednesday.”
When asked about the availability of Bhullar’s brother, 7-foot-3 freshman, Tanveer Bhullar, Menzies said the younger brother will redshirt this season.
“He’s a redshirt,” Menzies said. “If someone were gone for the rest of the year now, I would talk to him about it.”
Senior Renaldo Dixon (eight points, six rebounds, two blocked shots) started at power forward with junior center Tshilidzi Nephawe. Matej Buovac logged 19 minutes at the power forward position, scoring five points.
“They had to play smart, good defense,” Menzies said. “When you are a man down, you have to rally and play smart. They played smart basketball defensively.”
Kevin Aronis led the Aggies with a career-best 20 points, hitting 6-for-8 from 3-point range as the Aggies were 9-for-19 (47.4 percent) from long range. Aronis was 5-of-6 from 3-point range for 15 points in 13 minutes off the bench in the first half.
“With the bigs that we have, we have to be able to get perimeter shooting,” Menzies said in his postgame radio comments. “The last few games, the guys have been in a groove. It’s making a difference for us overall.”
Aronis and Buovac each hit 3s during a 10-2 NMSU run to open a 21-10 lead with 12 minutes left in the first half. Aronis caught fire late in the first half, hitting four of his five 3s in the last 6:04, hitting one from the top of the key out of a NMSU timeout in the final minute for a 45-31 lead at the half.
GCU (1-1 WAC) closed to within 10 early in the second half, but the Aggies pushed the lead back to 55-38 when DK Eldridge ran down a loose ball and converted a three-point play.
Eldridge had 14 points and 10 rebounds as NMSU out rebounded GCU 41-25. Daniel Mullings scored 15 points and Tshilidzi Nephawe had nine points and 11 rebounds.

Grand Canyon: Three keys and a prediction

New Mexico State opens WAC play tonight at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.

Marvin Menzies has held more practice time in the past week to keep his team focused. Grand Canyon is looking forward to this game and they are 1-0, but I think NMSU wins rather easily, 80-65

Rebound: Grand Canyon's 6-9 senior Killian Larson is the only player in double digits in the WAC with 11.7 rebounds per game. He had 26 and 12 against Texas Pan American and he averages four offensive rebounds per game. Grand Canyon just isnt in the Aggies class as a team rebounding though. I expect the Aggies to dominate a team on the boards like they did at home against South Alabama, a team that would finish in the top half of the league easily, GCU, not so much.

Get the ball inside: Teams are shooting 45 percent against Grand Canyon (sixth in the WAC) and nearly 59 percent on two point field goals. Chili Nephawe has showed the ability to score inside this year, against UNM he was active on the boards and the in the paint. I even expect NMSU to use DK Eldridge and Matej Buovac in the paint. The Aggies have used Eldridge on the block against smaller guards and Buovac as a stretch four since Remi Barry's injury.

"DK has that ability, he's a strong, big guard that when we have size advantages, we think we can take advantage of iso situations, we can do that," Marvin Menzies said. "Matej as a stretch four, we have always kind of talked about it, if we have foul trouble."

Limit 3s/TOs: Grand Canyon only shoots 30 percent from 3-point range, but the long ball accounts for 33 percent of their points. Grand Canyon made 14 3s against Texas Pan Am with Jerome Garrison hitting four and Daniel Alexander making five 3s. The Aggies enter every game hoping to keep the opponent to four or fewer. NMSU has done a decent job limiting turnovers to 13 this season, and GCU only forced nine per game so it doesnt seem they pressure the ball.