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.

No comments: