Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: New Mexico State is in the NCAA Tournament.
The Aggies have won the WAC Tournament eight times this decade, which is a remarkable achievement. This year’s journey to the Big Dance was even more dominant than 2018 or 2017. Despite worries that Grand Canyon or Utah Valley would finally get over the line, Chris Jans’ team was impeccable in the regular season and the conference tournament, losing just one time in WAC play.
The 89-57 win over Grand Canyon in the WAC Tournament final was indicative of New Mexico State’s stranglehold over the conference and why the Aggies could make noise in the NCAA Tournament. The Aggies are an incredibly deep team, boasting a 14-man rotation and one of the best mid-major offenses in America. New Mexico State’s culture of victory has attracted top transfers and solid recruits to fill out a dynamic roster.
This depth means Chris Jans can throw a variety of different looks at teams. With Ivan Aurrecoechea, Mohammad Thiam and Eli Chuha, New Mexico State has an array of strong bigs that can dominate inside (they are eighth in the country in offensive rebounding percentage). If that isn’t working, A.J. Harris, Terrell Brown, Clayton Henry, Jojo Zamora and Trevelin Queen can all shoot threes and get to the basket. That’s already eight guys who can all play quality minutes offensively and defensively.
In stark contrast to the Marvin Menzies teams you might remember, this team is not afraid to take threes. Threes account for 46.4% of their attempted field goals. Against GCU, New Mexico State took 39 threes and made 17 of them. They are not afraid to take over 30 threes per game, which is dangerous for the high-seed that gets them in the first round. While they aren’t amazing at making threes (34.1%), they can always get hot. Meanwhile, they are guaranteed to generate extra possessions and rebound the ball well. The WAC final was once again a good example — New Mexico State out-rebounded the ‘Lopes 47-28.
It’s no wonder the Aggies went 15-1 in conference. This is easily one of the best Aggies teams ever, and while there’s no dominant superstar player, their ability, athleticism and style of play are all deadly. Remember, this team went to the Sprint Center in Kansas City and lost 63-60 to a Kansas team with Lagerald Vick. The Aggies have not lost since January 3rd and are playing their best basketball of the season. Their current KenPom ranking is No. 49, ahead of Murray State, Belmont, Creighton, Liberty and Arizona State.
At this point, winning a game in the NCAA Tournament or even the Sweet 16 must be the goal. Despite great success in conference, New Mexico State has not had a signature upset or run that many other mid-major dynasties have had. Despite making the Tournament eight times since joining the WAC in 2005, the Aggies have never won a game. This is the best-equipped team to do it though, and it will be a tough out for any team they face.