New Mexico State fans believe that a victory over New Mexico in December should give the Aggies confidence they can beat San Diego State, another Mountain West team, in Thursday's NCAA Tournament match up.
The Lobos took two of three from the Aztecs, who are ranked No. 13 in the country and seeded No. 4 in the West Region. It's true the Aggies are built similar to the Lobos, from the inside out while leaning on defending and rebounding. But the Aggies' weaknesses, namely playing loose with the ball and their own deficiencies offensively, play into the strengths of the Aztecs.
But if the Aztecs are slightly off and doubts start to creep into their heads about recent early round NCAA Tournament exits, and the Aggies play their best game of the season, an upset isn't far fetched.
It is March Madness after all.
Aggies players and coaches pointed to the fact that Western Athletic Conference opponents pressed the Aggies this season. They did it for a reason.
forced 16 turnovers in the Aggies' two-point WAC Tournament victory last week. forced 33 turnovers in the two
meetings against the Aggies this season. Chicago State
And this isn't
or . Chicago State
It's what the Aztecs thrive on and it should be the biggest challenge junior guard Daniel Mullings has faced since assuming the point guard position.
Mullings has responded well, averaging 15.6 points and 4.2 assists per game the past five games. More importantly, he's turned the ball over just seven times during that span.
Play through Sim Bhullar
Open shots won't be there unless the Aggies get the ball inside. Bhullar wasn't involved in the Aggies offense in last year's NCAA Tournament loss to
Louis, attempting four shots in a 20-point loss.
Bhullar's 1.4 assists per game rank fourth on the team this year. An aggressive Bhullar early and often will allow the Aggies to dictate tempo inside. SDSU will defend the post one of two ways. The Aztecs could deny the post by fronting Bhullar and junior center Tshilidzi Nephawe with help behind and perhaps even sagging one of their 6-foot-7 wing players into the paint. Or the Aztecs can allow the ball into the post and trap on the touch to get the ball out of the paint.
interior players are physical and athletic, but getting the ball into Bhullar
will either lead to points (he's averaging 14.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per
game the past seven games), open shots for perimeter players or result in free
throws for the Aggies. The paint is the Aggies obvious advantage in terms of
size. NMSU needs to take advantage of it. San Diego State
Connect from long distance
Upsets occur when the underdog jumps out to a quick lead, the neutral site fans get behind them and they hang on to advance. There is no better way to get going than to hit a few open 3-pointers.
In its best victory of the season, NMSU hit seven 3-pointers in the first half at
New Mexico and held on for a 67-61 victory.
This year's team is better equipped to hit from long range than last year's
NCAA team. The Aggies are shooting 37.3 percent from 3-point range. DK Eldridge
is shooting 40 percent for the season, hitting 6-for-9 the past three games.
Aggies senior Kevin Aronis has been terrific from 3-point range this season,
shooting 44 percent. In extended minutes, freshman guard Ian Baker has also hit
36 percent of his attempts from 3.
Aronis will need time to get open and get a shot off against SDSU's length, but if Aronis and Eldridge connect for five to seven 3s, either in transition or from interior touches, it could put the Aztecs on their heels and give the Aggies post players some room to operate as the game goes on.