The WAC made many conference changes in a year, but the conference hierarchy remained the same. Last year, the Aggies were knocked off their WAC thrown after GCU won both the regular season and conference tournament title.
It was the first time the Aggies didn’t win the regular season or tournament title in over a decade. In addition, New Mexico State had to deal with its fair share of adversity. Due to in-state COVID restrictions, it did not play a single game in its state.
As a result, the Aggies lost as many conference games (six) as they did the previous four seasons combined.
This year, the WAC added four new schools from the Southland Conference (Abilene Christian, Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston State and Lamar). ACU and SFA have both had recent NCAA Tournament success. SFA upset then-No. 1 Duke in the 2019-20 season and has multiple NCAA Tournaments under its belt. ACU is coming off a tournament bid in which it upset of third-seeded Texas.
With one week left in the regular season, NMSU, the preseason favorite, sits at first place in the WAC with a half-game lead over Seattle and looks like a team that can bust brackets in March. This year’s squad may be the most talented ever from Las Cruces, N.M.
“It would be hard to believe that this wasn’t the most talented, best team they’ve had,” GCU coach Bryce Drew said after the Aggies defeated his Lopes 82-66 on Feb. 19.
While New Mexico State is a deep team, the addition of Teddy Allen has proven to had a major impact.
Allen earned the nickname “Teddy Buckets” during his freshmen season at West Virginia under Bob Huggins. He was known to light it up on the practice floor and averaged seven points in just 11 minutes per game on a Mountaineers squad that made the Sweet Sixteen.
He has lived up to his nickname everywhere he has gone since, including New Mexico State - his fifth stop in his college career. After West Virginia, he went to Wichita State and sat out the 2018-19 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Allen never got to play in a Shockers uniform as he was kicked off the team after being charged with domestic violence property crime and petty theft, according to the Lac Cruces Sun News.
Allen rebounded by transferring to Western Nebraska Community College, where he led the league in scoring at 31.4 points per game. NMSU offered him out of JUCO, but Allen committed to nearby Nebraska instead. Allen led the Cornhuskers in scoring averaging 16.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game before deciding to transfer in the middle of the season.
At NMSU, he is averaging 20.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Allen has scored in double digits in every game except for the Aggies’ 71-46 loss at Sam Houston.
In the win at GCU, Allen scored 30 points on 10-of-21 shooting and pulled down 10 rebounds. Allen hit step-back threes in defenders’ faces and was 5-of-7 from deep. Whenever GCU made a run to get within 10, Allen hit the gut-wrenching shot to quiet the crowd.
“I was in a rhythm, and Coach [Chris] Jans gave me the trust to make plays,” he said. “It is good to give our team extra security when teams make those runs, and we can get a win.”
Allen has hit the 30-point mark three other times this season. It was his sixth game with double digit rebounds. His whole offensive arsenal was on display. He is elite at the wing, he can shoot over smaller guards. He is too quick to be defended by post players. He can pass out of the double teams, and he is good finisher at the rim.
Two days after beating GCU handily in Phoenix, NMSU had a three-day turnaround to face Seattle with first place in the conference on the line.
NMSU held Seattle’s top three scorers to 12-for-40 shooting and won Seattle 68-55. Allen faced double teams the whole night, yet he scored 19 points on 8-of-19 shooting and dished out five assists. While the win against GCU was an offensive showcase, NMSU showed its defensive prowess against one of the conference’s most explosive offenses. Will McNair powered the team inside with 14 points and 14 rebounds.
“We have a bunch of athletes and depth on this team,” Allen said. “I know I can score, but I don’t have to force anything with the guys around me. I can let the game come to me. Coach Jans always talks how we are much better when I get my teammates involved. I just want to help contribute to us winning.”