USA TODAY Sports
New Mexico State draws a tough foe in Saint Louis but if the Aggies do the little things right they have a chance to make it out of the first round for the first time since their days in the Big West.
That New Mexico State is in the NCAA tournament is a testament to the effectiveness of Marvin Menzies. The Aggies Coach saw his top three scorers from last season graduate and Louisiana Tech and Denver each seemed poised win the WAC.
Then a funny thing happened. Two Texas schools, new to the conference, took care of the WAC's top two seeds clearing the way for the Aggies to win it all and earn a trip to San Jose.
Even before Denver and Louisiana Tech were upset in the first round of the Western Athletic Conference tournament, New Mexico State was still somewhat surprisingly a contender.
After limping to a 6-8 start which include an embarrassing conference opening loss to Texas-Arlington, the Aggies went on a tear, winning 15 of their final 17 regular season games including an 18 point shellacking of Tech. State then roared through the WAC tournament, eventually avenging the 21-point, conference-opening loss by punting the Mavericks in the conference title game.
Now the Aggies will take on Dwayne Evans and the Atlantic 10 champion Saint Louis Billikens. If they hope to get out of the opening round for the first time since 1993, the Aggies need to take care of the ball and shoot from the line better than they have throughout the season.
The Billikens score more than a quarter of their points from beyond the arc and they do so by shooting a very respectable 35 percent. Mike McCall Jr. is the biggest threat Saint Louis has. The junior is only averaging about 9.5 points a game but he is shooting 44 percent when he shoots the three.
Evans, Kwamain Mitchell, and Cody Ellis are all scoring more than 10 points per game. Evans is also a ball hawk on the boards pulling in almost eight rebounds per game while Mitchell has earned more and more minutes as the season has went on. He may be playing his best hoops of the year: his 19 points against VCU helped seal up the A-10 title.
Part of the the Aggies turnaround was due to a big man -- a very big man -- coming off the bench. When Tshilidzi Nephawe, who started most of the non conference games, was injured, Sim Bhullar was moved to the starting rotation to help fill the void.
Bhullar, a 7-foot-5 freshman center, joined Daniel Mullings, Bandja Sy, and Tyrone Watson as members of the team to average better than ten points a game this season, shooting 62 percent and pulling in almost seven rebounds per game. His presence in the paint could be the one thing that might tip the scales in New Mexico State's favor.
Saint Louis is definitely the more skilled team on the court and for New Mexico State to prevail they are going to need an off night from the Billikens. The good news is that if Saint Louis is even just a little bit off New Mexico State is well built to take advantage of the opportunity.
New Mexico State is by far a better rebounding team pulling in five more rebounds per game than the Aggies. On the offensive boards you have Bhullar, who would have very little trouble piling up the second chance points. On the defensive glass, Saint Louis might be even more outmatched because of their outside style of play.
It remains to be seen if anyone on Saint Louis will have luck cleaning up missed 3-pointers should their shooting go cold.
The Aggies can also expect a few more trips to the line than they give. The Billikins are committing almost 18 fouls per contest. The problem for New Mexico State is that free throw shooting is not exactly their strong suit. The Aggies, ranked at No. 282 nationally, are one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the tournament, those are points they can not afford to leave at the charity stripe.
The other key for New Mexico State will be taking care of the ball, something else that was not their strong suit this season. They have been committing 15 turnovers per game, against a good shooting team like Satin Louis those points can turn a close contest into a clear loss.
The good news for Aggies fans is that those two factors are something that New Mexico State has control over.
|-0.83||5-1||Blowout (+ 19)||7-0||-1|
|-0.6||6-4||Close (- 6)||3-3||-0.5|
|(166)||68||Pts Per Game||68.7||(152)|
|(212)||65.8||Poss Per Game||65.1||(236)|
|(144)||1.03||Pts Per Poss||1.06||(82)|
|24||FG Made Per Game||23.1|
|52||FG Att Per Game||51.7|
|16.1||FT Made Per Game||16.3|
|24.5||FT Att Per Game||23.1|
|4||3FG Made Per Game||6.2|
|12.4||3FG Att Per Game||17.7|
|(258)||32||3pt FG Pct||34.7||(130)|
|(116)||49.9||Effective FG Pct||50.7||(90)|
|(135)||53.4||True Shooting Pct||54.8||(80)|
|(4)||47.1||Free Throw Rate||44.7||(15)|
|(26)||58.8||2pt FG Point Pct||49.4||(240)|
|(339)||17.5||3pt FG Point Pct||26.9||(187)|
|(26)||23.6||FT Point Pct||23.7||(21)|
|(93)||12||Off Rebs Per Game||9||(301)|
|(35)||36.9||Off Reb Pct||28.1||(289)|
|(41)||25.6||Def Rebs Per Game||23.8||(155)|
|(81)||70.6||Def Reb Pct||71.7||(53)|
|(262)||11.5||Assists Per Game||12.9||(152)|
|(271)||5.6||Steals Per Game||7.5||(82)|
|(14)||5.5||Blocks Per Game||3.2||(194)|
|(328)||15.1||Fouls Per Game||17.4||(189)|