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Should exhibition struggles have New Mexico State worried?

It hasn’t been a fun week in Las Cruces. But good news: it doesn’t count.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Baylor vs New Mexico State Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Games before Nov. 10 don’t count.

That’s worth remembering, whether your favorite team has blitzed through its exhibitions or been repeatedly blown out. But exhibitions do mean things actually happening on a basketball court, so they are worth discussing, even if it’s with a grain of salt.

New Mexico State has, to put it simply, not looked good in its two exhibition games over the past week. The Aggies just held on to beat Div. II Southeastern on Nov. 1 (90-83), and then got trounced four days later by Texas Tech (84-54) in a charity exhibition game in Midland, Tex.

Chris Jans wasn’t thrilled as he embarks on his first season in charge.

“There has some been struggles in practice with getting them all on the same page and buying into what we are selling them,” Jans said on Monday. “At the end of the day, it starts with me. I am the one that has had to look inward, because their play is a reflection of me. And I am not proud of our effort, or execution or our performances. And I tell them that, that it starts with me and it always will start with me and their reflection of me. I’m not happy about how it looks, I am not happy about how we are playing. I thought we would further along than we were right now."

Again, it’s worth reiterating that while it hasn’t been pretty, NMSU is still 0-0 and, on paper, has the talent to continue its run of success in the WAC. They were this website’s preseason favorite, and two sluggish exhibition outings don’t change that.

Nonetheless, here are several observations from the two record-immune games:

  • The Aggies have been bullied on the inside. Across both games, they’ve allowed their opponents to hit 63.2 percent of their two-point field goal attempts. That’s understandable against a Big 12 team with an all-league forward like Zach Smith, but not as palatable against a lower division opponent. Despite all the good things Eli Chuha and Jemerrio Jones bring to the table, neither can be called a “rim protector.” Johnathon Wilkins is NMSU’s best shot blocker and, as Jans has indicated, should have a big role on this year’s team. They’ll also need to rely on the athleticism of A.J. Harris and Sidy N’Dir to stop ballhandlers from penetrating, something that Ian Baker did so well during his time in Las Cruces.
  • The search for floor stretching begins. When Braxton Huggins left for Fresno State, he took his dead-eye long range shooting (41.7 percent) with him. While Jans has some athletic backcourt weapons, none of Harris, N’Dir or Zach Lofton have been known as three-point marksman over their respective careers. Over the two games, the Aggies have shot 33.9 percent from deep. This is not an atrocious number, and actually better than the 31.8 percent they shot as a team last season while racking up the WAC’s most efficient offense. But if Jans is looking for more floor spacing, he may turn to local hero Joe Garza (3-5 3P against Southeastern), while hoping for production from newcomers Gabe Hadley and Kortrijk Miles. For what it’s worth both Wilkins and N’Dir have had their moments from deep over the two games.
  • NMSU remains a force on the glass. A big reason the Aggies were so good last season was that they continually created second chances. Despite a regrettable overall performance against Texas Tech, NMSU was still able to grab 16 offensive rebounds and wash out the rebounding battle at 30 apiece. And this was with just two rebounds from Chuha (none offensive), who is arguably the WAC’s best presence on the glass. The Red Raiders aren’t overflowing with size, but do have frontcourt talent like Smith and DePaul transfer Tommy Hamilton IV. That the Aggies, even on a bad day, were able to show up on the glass suggests that will yet again be a major strength.

H/T to Mark Rudi (@mrudi19) from the Las Cruces Sun-News, who tweeted pictures of the box scores from both games and is the best NMSU basketball follow on the internet.