Friday, February 28, 2014

More on court storming in college hoops

I reached out to Sporting News writer Mike DeCourcy today. DeCourcy has been critical of court rushing in the past and he wrote about it on Friday following the New Mexico State/Utah Valley brawl Thursday. 

"It used to be common if a player hit a home run in the World Series, fans would run on the field but now that doesn't happen because there is security and players stay on the field and fans stay in the stands where they belong," DeCourcy said. "People say that sports journalists can't be fans but I'm a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Liverpool, etc. I pay money to see them play and when my team wins, I'm thrilled to see them celebrating from the stands. That's what I paid for and I belong in the seat that I paid for."

I interviewed DeCourcy for my story about the Aggies getting national attention for the incident. He said that the decision whether or not to ban students/fans from the court is up to the conference or the institution. The NCAA will not get involved.

"It's not something that the NCAA would do, other than for their own events, where it's hard for media members to even get on the court. It would be an institutional decision," he said.

WAC Commissioner Jeff Hurd said that the league will discuss the issue in May, but didn't say anything would change in Las Vegas at the Orleans Arena, which kind of caught me off guard, considering there is a real possibility the teams could meet in the WAC title game.

Hurd said the issue would be discussed in the days leading up to the tournament with WAC administrators.

"It's too early, but there is a difference between celebrating a win with your team as opposed to the incident when celebrating fans were coming on to the court with opposing players," Hurd said. "We will discuss it in our tournament preview next week."

While NMSU AD McKinley Boston questioned the security measures at Utah Valley, Hurd wouldn't go that far.

"I don't think that's fair to criticize Utah Valley at all," Hurd said. "It just escalated quicker. Utah Valley followed its protocol and I accept that."

Hurd said the difference between K.C. Ross-Miller's two game suspension from the league office and Renaldo Dixon's one game suspension was that the league felt Ross-Miller started the fight when he threw the basketball at Holton Hunsaker, even though Dixon was seen punching a Utah Valley fan.

"The difference in my mind is that Ross-Miller instigated the incident," Hurd said. "The other incident that happened was a result."

What happened shouldn't be a surprise. Athletes in a foreign gym outnumbered by opposing fans frustrated after an overtime loss, perhaps being boxed in in close quarters isn't a good idea. All it can take to set something off could be a student bumping into a player and the player feeling threatened and responded, which was the scenario that the UVU Student paper editor described to me late last night.

"We want players to care, that's what makes it a sport," DeCourcy said. "There is a chance that that passion can lead to something bad, but fans should not be directly adjacent to players."

NMSU release on Thursday's incident

Western Athletic Conference Commissioner Jeff Hurd today announced that New Mexico State men's basketball player KC Ross-Miller has received a two-game suspension and Renaldo Dixon a one-game suspension as a result of a violation of the WAC's sportsmanship policy following Thursday night's basketball game against Utah Valley in Orem, Utah.

“We talk to student-athletes on a regular basis regarding representing the brand of New Mexico State and our Athletics Department and other athletes,” NMSU Athletics Director McKinley Boston said. “I’m so disappointed in K.C.’s actions and the embarrassment he caused his team and university.”

“There obviously is no place in the Western Athletic Conference or intercollegiate athletics as a whole for the unfortunate events that took place at the conclusion of Thursday night’s game,” Hurd said.  “And I appreciate the excellent cooperation that I have received from both institutions in my review of what occurred.”

“While the suspensions handed down are appropriate for the actions of the involved student-athletes, there will be a continued review of other incidents that occurred as a result of fans rushing the court. There are obvious safety and security issues that need to be addressed, and I also have requested additional game management information from Utah Valley University.

“Finally, the situation could have been much worse if not for the outstanding effort of both the New Mexico State and Utah Valley coaching staffs.  They were instrumental in separating their student-athletes from what could have been an even uglier situation.”

Ross-Miller's two-game suspension will include the March 1 game at Bakersfield and the March 6 contest against Grand Canyon. Dixon's suspension will include the March 1 game at Bakersfield.

Additionally, Ross-Miller has issued the following statement, “I just want to apologize for my actions and for embarrassing New Mexico State University. I have way more respect for the university, my teammates and coaches to retaliate in such a terrible way. I know better to let my opponents and emotions get the best of me and I regret doing what I did, not only because it was stupid and selfish, but because of the situation that I have created for my team, coaches and the university. I understand that I will be suspended and I accept the punishment. I will learn from this and not make the same mistake twice. I know saying sorry doesn't fix the embarrassment that I've initiated, but I ask as humbly as I know that you accept my apology.”

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Dark day for New Mexico State

The Aggies lost a game for first place, but what happened after will be national news for all the wrong reasons.

Two things.

K.C. Ross-Miller should be suspended by the Aggies, perhaps for the rest of the season. Ross-Miller lost his head and threw the ball at Utah Valley guard Holton Hunsaker. It would have likely been an ugly enough ending, if not for the fans who stormed the court and proceeded to get involved.

Rushing the court will likely be debated forever. What is certain is that players don't win when they mix with fans. I expect both Renaldo Dixon and KC Ross-Miller will be suspended for what happened at Utah Valley.

Utah Valley: Three keys and a prediction

I don't see the Aggies losing tonight. But I wouldn't be surprised to see them lose at Bakersfield on Saturday.

NMSU should come ready to play tonight with first place and a likely WAC championship and No. 1 seed on the line. The Aggies destroyed Utah Valley in Las Cruces. Tonight's game should be a bit closer than the 72-49 margin in the first game, but NMSU wins 70-57

Tempo: Utah Valley basically has six players. NMSU doesn't have to pressure the ball or force the fastbreak, but the Aggies typically try to get something easy first. Daniel Mullings had 21 points in the first game and DK Eldridge had 13 points. I think the Aggies wings can have another big game tonight.

3-point defense: This is the only way Utah Valley wins. Point guard Holton Hunsaker made three triples, and big man Ben Aird made two. UVU's other guard, Keawe Enos, had an off night but he's shooting 48 percent from 3 on the the season. NMSU does a good job of switching most screens and UVU isn't going to push the ball and get transition 3s I don't think, but they still made 7 in the first game.

Rebound: One way to get the fast break going is off the rebound. NMSU outrebounded Utah Valley 31-17 in the first game and that was Sim Bhullar's second game back. Aggies should dominate the glass again.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Who is the leader for the Aggies this year?

I haven't been able to put my finger on New Mexico State's troubles at times this year, especially once the Aggies got into WAC play.

In recent weeks, a thought crossed my mind that the Aggies don't have a Tyrone Watson, Wendell McKines, Jahmar Young type of player who was a strong personality in the locker room.

Aggies head coach Marvin Menzies had some interesting comments on the topic on Tuesday.

"We don't have anyone who takes over and challenges his teammates and does the things that you can't coach," Menzies said. "We have had flashes, but we have a collection of great kids and good pieces. But right now, I'm the leader. If we lose, it's my fault."

This year's Aggies are a group of good guys. I wouldn't say that I have ever been around an NMSU player where there is a bad person, but the players who I mentioned earlier were all strong personality guys who also played with a chip on their shoulder when the lights came on as well.

The flip side is that all three of them created off court distractions at some point in their career. Is it worth it to take chances to bring in that type of player? I think every team needs one or two of them if they mature over the time or have someone on the coaching staff who can relate to them. But when Menzies said he was the leader, I'm not sure that's what a coach wants when he's upstairs in his office and not in the locker room or on the practice court.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Postseason starts now for Aggies

There is still time.
There is still time for New Mexico State to re-assert its basketball dominance in comparison to the Aggies current Western Athletic Conference competition, as well as Aggies fans and even coaches who expected more.
NMSU head coach Marvin Menzies has been critical in recent weeks of his players effort level, carelessness with the ball and overall play. Normally this time of year, Menzies' teams have been hitting their stride.
We just don't know yet about this year's club.
Maybe the Aggies' 78-61 victory at Texas-Pan American on Thursday provided a glimpse of the Aggies we can expect for their final three games of the season.
The Aggies now have a week off before another road game at first-place Utah Valley next Thursday, which will likely be for the regular season championship - a foregone conclusion entering the season.
A loss at Utah Valley would not be the end of the world. It likely wouldn't affect postseason seeding and the Aggies have certainly proven capable of steam rolling through the WAC Tournament as a No. 2 or No. 3 seed. But there wouldn't be the same optimism surrounding the team as earlier in the season.
And this isn't 2009-10 season when the Aggies closed the regular season with road losses at Nevada and Utah State before winning the WAC Tournament the following week.
Utah Valley and Bakersfield are not in the same league as those schools, who have since moved on to a better league.
No, this is the WAC. Where NMSU is the flagship program.
There is still time to prove it.
This isn't a knock on Utah Valley, Bakersfield or Grand Canyon, but two Division I start ups and a recent independent team shouldn't stand in the way of the Aggies gaining momentum for a third straight NCAA Tournament run.
The Aggies have historically played up to the situation and Thursday's game certainly qualifies as a late season game that means something. So did the first meeting between the teams, when NMSU demolished Utah Valley 72-49 at the Pan Am.

The postseason starts now.

UTPA: Three keys unlocked

Attack the interior: This is all NMSU did. Sim Bhullar had 15 points, Chili Nephawe with 12 points and Renaldo Dixon with 10 points off the bench. Speaking of Dixon, he did a fine job in a starting role this year, but coming off the bench these past two games, he gives the Aggies a nice scoring punch off the bench, averaging 15 points in the last two games. NMSU shot 80 percent in the second half and started the second half with a 14-2 run. Nephawe, Bhullar and Dixon scored 8 of those points. The Aggies shot 68.3 percent for the game, which just missed a school record. The NMSU school record is 68.6 percent last year against UTSA.

Rebound: UTPA shot 39 percent and only had 9 offensive rebounds. NMSU held UTPA to one shot for the most part, out rebounding UTPA 31-19.

3-point line: NMSU hit wide open 3s. Kevin Aronis continued his stellar senior season hitting both of his 3 point attempts as NMSU made just enough 3s to keep the paint open for the Aggies big men and Daniel Mullings. NMSU was 5-8 from 3 point range while UTPA was 2-10

Thursday, February 20, 2014

UTPA: Three keys and a prediction

New Mexico State basketball coach Marvin Menzies still isn't satisfied with the way the Aggies are playing. Normally, this is about the time the Aggies start peaking and roll through the conference tournament. UTPA is scrappy, but I think the Aggies win 82-73

Attack the interior: UTPA has no interior game to speak of. That doesn't mean they have bad players because Shaquille Hines is a good player, but UTPA is guard heavy. If the Aggies can attack the paint early like they have been in recent games, I think they could get a good margin. The Aggies scored 38 points in the paint in a 90-78 victory the first time around and that was without Sim Bhullar available.

Rebound: UTPA is a jump shooting team. They shot 46 percent against the Aggies in the first game and I don't remember them missing many mid range shots from all five positions. NMSU did out rebound UTPA 36-25 with 10 offensive rebounds. Aggies need to limit them to one shot again.

Three point line: UTPA will either pack in man to man or play zone. Kevin Aronis, DK Eldridge need to continue to knock down the open 3, but the Aggies can't take bad 3s. On the other end, UTPA made 8 3s against the Aggies in the first game. Thats from a team that is shooting 29 percent from 3-point range in WAC play, but guards Shaquille Boga and Javorn Farrell can get hot. NMSU can't let another 8 3s go down.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

DK Eldridge or Bandja Sy?

Marvin Menzies called DK Eldridge a defensive stopper following NMSU's victory over Chicago State on Saturday. That's high praise when Eldridge plays on the wing with Daniel Mullings.

By the way, Eldridge said his sprained ankle was at a 7 out of 10 on Tuesday, two days prior to the Aggies road game at Texas Pan American. Sounds like he will play Thursday.

I wrote last year that between Mullings and Bandja Sy, the Aggies could guard any opposing duo in the country. I think the ability is still there, but at 6-8, Sy's length probably gives him an edge on that side of the court over the 6-2 Eldridge. Eldridge is certainly the better offensive player while both are superb athletes.

Here is a story on Eldridge that I wrote today. Who would you take?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Chicago State: Three keys unlocked

Marvin Menzies won 20 games for the third straight season, beating Chicago State 84-55 on Saturday. The last time a coach won 20-plus games for three straight seasons was Neil McCarthy when the Aggies did it six times from 1989-95.

Attack the interior: During one timeout, KC Ross Miller took a mid range jumper and Chicago State scored in transition, forcing the Aggies to call a timeout. NMSU assistant coach Paul Weir yelled, 'Get it inside.' The Aggies were up 15 at the time. It was apparent the Aggies wanted to get the ball inside. NMSU scored 32 points in the paint, led by Renaldo Dixon's 20 points. Chili Nephawe had eight points and Sim Bhullar had 5 points. NMSU shot 64 percent in the first half and finished shooting 55.8 percent.

Limit turnovers: NMSU didn't do this, but Chicago State was just as careless with the ball. Chicago State scored 15 points off of 14 NMSU turnovers. The Aggies scored 26 points off 15 Chicago State turnovers.

Guard the 3: Once the Aggies jumped on top, I thought Chicago State would look for the 3 more than they did, but Chicago only attempted 11 3s (NMSU shot 20 3s). Chicago State made 8 3s in the first meeting but were only 3-11 on Saturday.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Chicago State: Three keys and a prediction

I'm going to miss the Chicago State announcers from the first game that thought Sim and Tanveer Bhullar were Aggie assistant coaches and their reaction to NMSU putting chairs on the court away from the bench was, "These Aggies think they own the place."

They were more entertaining than I think this game will be, NMSU wins 85-70

Fun fact, two of the following three keys are the same as the first time these teams played, but they happened to play into why the Aggies lost 86-81

Attack the interior: NMSU got caught up in small ball in the first game since Chicago State plays with four guards on the court. The Aggies shot 23 3s. Chili Nephawe had 12 points and Daniel Mullings was able to get into the paint for 26 points. The Aggies tried to play small with Matej Buovac or DK Eldridge playing the four. Since then, the Aggies have kind of gone back to rolling with the big guys they have win or lose, especially since they have added Sim Bhullar to the mix since he didn't play in the first meeting.

Limit turnovers: Chicago State scored 19 points off 19 NMSU turnovers in the first game. Chicago State didn't necessarily pressure the Aggies into them either. Mullings would lose the ball in traffic, or the post players would lose the ball in double teams.

Guard the 3: I still don't know what kind of offense it is that Chicago State runs. It's kind of like they roll the ball out. That can be hard to prepare for and the equalizer is the 3 point line for playground ball. Chicago State made 7-of-8 3s in the second half and shot 55 percent for the game from the field.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

UMKC: Three keys and a prediction

The Aggies wasted a 33 point effort from Renaldo Dixon in a 68-66 loss in the first game between these teams. In a two-point game, NMSU's best player, Daniel Mullings, had one of his worst statistical games of the season. NMSU out rebounded UMKC by one, both teams had 12 turnovers.

UMKC has lost its last three games and NMSU can't really afford to drop anymore games. Aggies win 70-63

Aggies wings: This is really the only key I see for tonight's game, since essentially Daniel Mullings and DK Eldridge were no shows in the first game and the Aggies still only lost by two. Mullings was 1-11 with three points and Eldridge was 1-9 with 2 points. That won't happen again.

Handle Harrison: UMKC point guard Martez Harrison killed the Aggies for 21 points. Harrison, a freshman, got the better of NMSU junior KC Ross-Miller continuously and got into the paint. Harrison got the better of anyone the Aggies put on him in one on one situations.
"Our angles on bigs and guards, we went over all of that," Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said. "We had multiple collapses defensively. Sometimes it was someone coming off a man when we weren't supposed to and giving up a 3."

Execute offensively: The Aggies played very well offensively against Seattle, shooting 58 percent from the field. It started with the centers Sim Bhullar and Chili Nephawe, who found shooters when doubled, and scored or got the foul line in one on one situations. UMKC should probably pack it in a little more than Seattle did, but as long as NMSU doesnt turn it over or take bad shots, I think the Aggies shoot better than the 41 percent they shot against UMKC the first time around while eliminating transition opportunities for UMKC.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Seattle: Three keys unlocked

Establish the paint: The Aggies were obviously able to do this with a career high 22 points on 10 of 14 shooting with eight rebounds against Seattle. Renaldo Dixon was also involved with 11 points. NMSU made 5 3s, 4 in the first half, but only as a result of wide open shots either from big men kick outs (Sim Bhullar had four assists) or in transition. NMSU didn't settle for the 3. For some reason, Seattle did not play zone, and they did not pressure until NMSU was already off to a 71 percent start from the field. NMSU's 16 assists showed that the Aggies picked them apart.

Rebounding: I don't think it's any coincidence that the Aggies playing man to man for most of the game led to out rebounding the WACs best rebounding team by 2, two days after playing zone and letting Idaho out rebound them by the same margin. Seattle still had 16 offensive rebounds, but NMSU collected 12 offensive boards.

Turnovers: I didn't think Seattle would match their high turnover game at Las Cruces in their own gym and they didn't with 14. The Aggies did a good job in the first half, but still committed some bad ones in the second half. KC Ross Miller moved to inbound the ball for the Aggies against the press with Daniel Mullings and DK Eldridge (combined 11 turnovers) in the backcourt, all three decent ball handlers, while prior to the weekend, it was normally the four position who inbounds.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Seattle: Three keys and a prediction

Honestly, I was going to say NMSU would lose this game entering the weekend, thinking it was the second game of what I believed to be the most difficult road trip in conference play. And then the Aggies lost on Thursday at Idaho. Marvin Menzies questioned his team's mental toughness on the road, as well as effort and energy level on the defensive end and on the glass.

Since NMSU lost its third straight WAC road game, I really have a hard time believing the Aggies lost to Seattle tonight, but Seattle does some things that have normally hurt the Aggies, pressure full court, shoot the 3, play small with guys who can get past the Aggies big guys.

NMSU wins 82-76

Establish the paint: NMSU has let teams off the hook in my opinion with the 3 point shooting this season. There are certainly games the Aggies have knocked them down and I think overall this year's team is a better shooting team, but the 3 should be complimentary to the big guys and to Daniel Mullings and DK Eldridge driving into the paint. I think Seattle will pressure like they did in the second half and pack the zone like Idaho did. To make matters worse for Seattle, they are without Deshaun Sunderhaus (knee), who had 22 points and 12 rebounds against NMSU the first time around. Renaldo Dixon has 18 points against Seattle the first time and obviously Sim Bhullar did not play. NMSU needs to get the big guys going on the offensive end because it seems if they are not involved, they do tend to check out as the game goes on.

Rebounding: Seattle is the No. 1 rebounding team in the WAC and NMSU is No. 2. Seattle out rebounded New Mexico State 35-33 with 16 offensive rebounds in the first game. Idaho out rebounded NMSU 38-34 on Thursday with 15 offensive rebounds. Personally I think the Aggies rebound much better in man to man defense. We will see how they defend Seattle. I think the Aggies want to play man to man tonight, but if interior players are in foul trouble, the Aggies could play zone again.

Turnovers: Despite facing pressure full court in the second half against Seattle, the Aggies only had nine turnovers in the first game. NMSU has struggled at times against teams full court as Renaldo Dixon or whoever plays the four spot struggles against pressure if they can't find the point guard. Seattle was extremely sloppy with the ball in the first game with 16 turnovers. Can't count on that again.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Idaho: Three keys unlocked

Normally I wait until I get a chance to talk to Marvin Menzies before posting my postgame blog entry. On his radio comments he said some discouraging things, implying the Aggies played soft on the interior and breaking out the dreaded "All about three games in March" commentary.

Menzies is right in a literal sense. Even if NMSU would have run the table, an at large selection was a longshot. The NCAA Tournament seeding dropped as soon as they lost one WAC game. But failing to win a regular season championship would be a certain disappointment, although it's not the No. 1 goal.

One stat I wanted to add was the free throw disparity. NMSU was 6-15 for the game. Idaho was 15-20. It was one of two stats that jump out at you. The other being Idaho's rebounding.

Road win: Obviously this didn't happen, and now we are still wondering what happens to this year's team when they leave Las Cruces. The Aggies are 1-3 on the WAC road and lost their last three. Interestingly enough, NMSU's lone road win at GCU is all that is keeping the Aggies ahead of Grand Canyon in second place, which doesn't mean much considering Grand Canyon isn't eligible for the WAC Tournament.

Contain Stephen Madison/Connor Hill: Madison got going early on with 11 points in the first half after scoring just nine points in Las Cruces. He finished with 24 points and 8 rebounds, including three offensive rebounds. Hill scored 8 of his 10 points in the second half, drilling a dagger 3 that made it a two possession game at 64-58. Madison is more important to focus on, but they both roamed free against a zone defense the Aggies refused to come out of in the second half.

Rebounds/turnovers: NMSU only had seven turnovers. Instead, idaho got it's offense from offensive rebounding with 15, scoring 16 second chance points, outrebounding NMSU by four and by eight in the second half.

Idaho: Three keys and a prediction

New Mexico State has three of the top 4 largest margins of victory so far and the Aggies 24-point victory over Idaho in the first meeting this year is the largest of them all.

Idaho just isn't a good offensive team. Unless the Aggies have a horrible night on that end of the floor, I think the Aggies win 84-70

Road win: Daniel Mullings said the Aggies two road losses were a result of the Aggies not taking those teams seriously. He said he hated it resulted in losses, but that it was wakeup call. Other players and coaches have said as much as well, but tonight is NMSU's first road game since dropping games at Chicago State and UMKC.

Contain Stephen Madison/Connor Hill: These are the Vandals two players you have to account for. It was obvious in the first game as well that Idaho wants to play through Madison. He was 3-11 from the field and 0-2 on 3s for nine points. Hill had Mullings defending him for much of the game and finished 2-5 from 3 point range. Outside of those two players, Idaho's next scorer is Glen Dean with 11. 5 points per game.

Rebounds/Turnovers: Limiting turnovers is always a key for this team and it's always a key on the road. Idaho only scores 67 points per game so the Aggies can't give them free offense with turnovers. NMSU is coming off a 31-17 rebounding edge over Utah Valley. The Aggies out rebounded Idaho by five in the first game.

Midseason All WAC

I could make an argument for seven New Mexico State players in the Top 10 at the midway point of Western Athletic Conference play. We know it never works out that way though, since it seems a team's success tends to weigh more than the eye test or numbers.

With that in mind, here is my WAC first and second team at the midway point. I used WAC only stats. I did not include Sim Bhullar since he has only played in two games, although he will certainly make an impact by the end of conference play. The First team is a little guard heavy while the second team has more interior players.

What do you think?

First team
Daniel Mullings, New Mexico State: Mullings is fifth in WAC scoring at 18.1 ppg, 9th in rebounding with 7.3 per game and second in steals, clearly the best player in the WAC thus far.

Daniel Mullings is a no-brainer first team WAC player. Who joins him on the first team?
Photo for the Sun-News by Gary Mook

Holton Hunsaker, Utah Valley: I will say one thing about the WAC. There are several good point guards in the league. Personally, I think Grayson at Bakersfield is the best of them, but Hunsaker lands here because he's the best player on the first place team. Hunsaker is averaging 12.3 points and 3.25 assists per game, and shoots the 3 at 33 percent. Not great numbers, but from watching him, he's clearly a leader on the league's first place team.

Tshilidzi Nephawe, New Mexico State: Nephawe carried the load without Bhullar in the lineup, averaging 12.4 points per game. He scored in double figures in six of the Aggies first eight WAC games and he had 9 points in the other two games. Nephawe is third in the league in rebounding with 9.5 per game and he leads the WAC with 2.50 blocks per game.

Jerome Garrison, Grand Canyon: Garrison leads the WAC in scoring at 20.8 points per game. He is forth in the WAC in 3 points percentage at 47.5 percent. He also did it against the Aggies, scoring 25 points against NMSU, one of just two league losses thus far.

Isiah Umipig, Seattle: This is more of an eye test selection for me since Seattle is in last place. Umipig is tied for ninth in scoring with 15.9 points per game but he's still the league's overall scorer. What I liked about Umipig is that although he has a green light, he looks to get his teammates involved first, averaging 4 assists per game, which is tied for fourth in the WAC

Second team
Stephen Madison, Idaho: Madison is a good player who is on a bad team with no offensive threats around him outside of Connor Hill. He's third in scoring (18.8 ppg), seventh in rebounding (8 rpg) and he's 15th in assists with 2.38.

Renaldo Dixon, New Mexico State: Dixon started the Aggies first eight WAC games. He's been up and down on both ends, but his 33 points against UMKC is the most for a WAC player this year and it showed what he's capable of. He's averaging 6.5 rebounds per game and he's sixth in blocked shots with 1.25 per game.

Issiah Grayson, Bakersfield: I thought Bakersfield would be better, and I think after watching all of the teams play against the Aggies, they could be the team NMSU would least like to play in the tournament. Grayson is second in the WAC in scoring wtih 20 ppg and fourth in assists with 4 apg.

Ben Aird, Utah Valley: Just from watching Aird against NMSU, the word awkward came to mind, but he's averaging 14 ppg and 9.9 rebounds per game in WAC play.

Killian Larson, Grand Canyon: Larson is the only player in the WAC averaging a double double and that gets him on the list with 14 points and 10.5 rebounds per game in WAC play.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The more things change ...

Following is a column I wrote on Sunday following New Mexico State's victory over first-place Utah Valley.

And here is a column I wrote last year near the halfway point in conference play. 

Anyone see a similarity other than that I repeat myself?

 Once again, Aggie men's basketball plays better when the chips are down
Halfway through conference play, the Aggies are right where they want to be.
It's not where New Mexico State basketball fans, or myself, or even other Western Athletic Conference coaches thought they'd be.
But it's where this team needs to be from a mental standpoint: trailing, chasing, playing with a chip on its shoulder.
The Aggies are not, or haven't been, good front runners.
NMSU enters the second half of WAC play one game behind Utah Valley. What makes fans frustrated is the team thoroughly defeated the first-place - and previously WAC unbeaten - Wolverines 72-49 on Saturday at the Pan American Center, showing that NMSU is more than capable of dominating the opposition on the nightly basis.
It begs the question, 'Why can't the Aggies play that way every night?'
"To play that well is something that I think we can build off of and take on the road with us," head coach Marvin Menzies said.
Perhaps the Aggies are just bored. Two nights before trouncing first-place Utah Valley, NMSU toyed with last-place Bakersfield, letting the Roadrunners hang around and allowing an attempted 3-point attempt at the buzzer that could have sent the game into overtime. Of course, the shot was missed, and NMSU hung on for an 89-86 victory.
But if history tells us anything, it's that we shouldn't be surprised by these peaks and valleys.
Under Menzies, the Aggies haven't been a No. 1 seed in the Western Athletic Conference, yet the team has absolutely steamrolled through the league tournament the past two years on its way to the NCAAs. NMSU has won its six WAC Tournament games the past two years by an average of 14.3 points per game. That number grows to 17 points per game in the championship contest, with an NCAA Tournament berth is on the line.
This year's team has shown the same pattern.
Consider they played their worst non-conference game of the year in a Dec. 7 home loss to rival New Mexico, only to bounce back and beat the Lobos in The Pit for the second time in three years.
Once WAC play opened this season, the Aggies beat Grand Canyon, Seattle and Idaho by an average of 27.5 points per game, sparking talk of an unbeaten run through conference play. That belief quickly dissipated, however, following back-to-back road losses at Chicago State and Missouri-Kansas City, probably the two worst defeats the program's taken under Menzies.
"Coming into the year, with the talk of going undefeated and things of that nature, based off the lack of knowledge of the other teams was presumptuous," Menzies said. "Everybody is off that bandwagon of conversation with (Utah Valley) falling. Someone is going to win this thing with a some losses. You are going to get everybody's best attempt on any given night."
The gap in physical talent was immense on Saturday. The Aggies jumped out on Utah Valley early and gradually wore the Wolverines down.
It's a pattern the Aggies need to repeat in the second half of conference play.
"We respected (Utah Valley) and I feel like when we lost those two games a few weeks ago, we didn't respect them," NMSU center Tshilidzi Nephawe said. "We felt we are on top of the WAC and we would go beat everybody up."
Nephawe said the Aggies were hungry Saturday and he's looking forward to the rematch against Chicago State and UMKC in mid-February.
Basketball fans may not like the pattern, but at least the Aggies are playing like the WAC's superior team again.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Utah Valley: Three keys and a prediction

New Mexico State has not played well the past month, I would say. The Aggies have survived for the most part. The WAC has decent players in the league, but from a depth standpoint, I've been surprised at how teams have been able to hang around against New Mexico State.

Tonight's game is not for first place, but if the Aggies lose, they likely won't win a league title, which is something everyone, especially myself, had as a forgone conclusion.

To their credit, NMSU has typically been able to get up for these types of games. Aggies cut the two game deficit in half, 72-64

Fast start: NMSU allowed Bakersfield to hang around in the first half and it nearly cost them. UVU is a balanced team with five scorers in double figures and a good coach. It won't be easy to pull away, but at home, the Aggies need to re-assert themselves as the best team in the conference. Now with their full compliment of players, NMSU needs to start getting back into a groove.

Transition: Utah Valley is a team along the lines of Utah State or Denver in terms of tempo. NMSU struggles in halfcourt offense we all know and Utah Valley leads the WAC in defensive field goal percentage at 37 percent. I think one of the under rated aspects of Sim Bhullar's absence was how he is able to spark the fast break. To do that, NMSU has to rebound. The Aggies allowed 14 offensive rebounds against Bakersfield and they were out rebounded by one. A half court game doesn't favor the Aggies.

Perimeter defense: All five players on the court can shoot for Utah Valley. 6-9 senior forward Ben Aird shoots 39 percent from 3 point range. (He's also their tallest player with 8 RPG so NMSU should make him play defense). But their best players are their guards with coaches son Holton Hunsaker (12.2 ppg, 4.2 APG) and Keawe Enos (50 percent 3 point shooter) NMSU has struggled with guard play lateley and NMSU has never been great at defending pick and pop type players .If the Aggies move to zone, they certainly have to do a better job finding shooters than they did Thursday.