Here is my take from Saturday's Aggie men's basketball on Saturday versus Utah State.
Can we stop all the talk about NMSU being one of the top teams in the WAC? They aren't. Nevada and Utah State came into the Aggies' backyard and knocked off the home team.
Utah State is polished. They're methodical on offense and push in when they have to. They have two big men - Wilkinson and Wesley - who the Aggies couldn't match up with. They have a point guard - Jared Quayle - who played better than the Aggies' point guards. Having solid point guard play is critical. Quayle only finished with three assists, but it sure felt like he had more. He penetrated and set up Wilkinson and Wesley for some easy buckets. Those three players stood out to me the most.
As for the Aggies, Jahmar Young rebounded from a bad shooting night on Thursday and put the ball in the bucket. I feel like the Aggies have three offensive plays. One is to isolate Young. The second is to isolate Gillenwater. The third is to pass it around the perimeter as the big men try - if you want to call it that - to get open down low. These possessions usually end in a forced jumper or a turnover. Ugly.
The Aggies are not as good as Nevada or Utah State. They were picked to finish third in the WAC by both the coaches and media at the outset of the season. Looking back, that sounds about right. They're going to battle for the third spot. Idaho's off to a hot start in conference play, but are they really that good? I'm not saying yes or no. I'm just going to say, "wait and see." The only thing we know about them is that they are better than last year and they're an intriguing group. That's about it.
Hawaii is not good, they just have a major homecourt edge. Boise State, who knows? Can't disrespect the defending conference champs, but they're not the same team. La. Tech, it's hard to tell with them also. Similar to Idaho: Better, but by how much? You know, we'll know more when we see these team's play. Your own two eyes are the best judge.
So I think the Aggies finish anywhere between third and five. I said a week ago, the team better finish top-4. Even the most optimistic Aggie fan can't defend a standing lower than that at season's end. Some would say that anything less than one or two would be disappointing. Again, I'm realistic. I just don't see them finishing above Nevada or the UtAgs.
I said it on my last post, why does Wendell McKines take jumpers? The answer last night stood out to me more than ever.
With Rahman and Gabriel, the paint gets congested for the Aggies on offense. Those two need to play around the hoop because they are somewhat limited.
Gillenwater is versatile, but you would rather have him roaming the lane. Again, he has the ability to create on the perimeter and put the ball on the floor. But I think he's most effective getting the ball, one on one with a defender about 10 to 13 feet away from the goal. Let him go to work from there. In other words, you need him to have a clear lane to the basket and have the option of going to the hole or pulling up for a jumper. Therefore, the inside needs to be clear for him to be most effective. It leaves the defender in a bad spot.
But where does this leave Wendell? On the outside. I haven't done the math on this one, but it would be interesting to see Wendell's offensive output with certain lineups out there. How is he playing when both Rahman and Gillenwater are on the floor also? What about when one of the two are out there with him? How about when both are out and he's left to man the inside? The bigger he is forced to play, the more effective he is on offense. In other words, I view him as an undersized frontcourt player who plays bigger than he is. I don't see him as a 3 creating away from the paint. He might make a jumper or two, but it's not where his heart is.
One thing I won't question is his effort or his ability to rebound the basketball. He could do that from just about anywhere.
the Aggies made a strong push midway through the first half and two things, in my mind, triggered it.
One was a fullcourt press. NMSU forced some turnovers and got some easy baskets on the other end. That is when their offense is most effective, when they can turn the other way and push the ball. And the press forced Utah State to play faster than normal. This forced quick shots and turnovers.
The other was, and this might be a surprise, Chris Gabriel. Chris came in and played pretty well. Now, he did foul. He picked up three fouls in just over five minutes. But he also seemed to provide some interior toughness.
Gabriel grabbed some rebounds, including one where he wrestled it away from a few USU players. He tipped in a miss on the offensive end. Many are lukewarm on him, and he is somewhat of a project. But he got meaningful minutes in the opening half and the team played better. The Aggies even took a brief lead, some momentum and the crowd got into it.
Then, Gabriel came out. NMSU fell behind going into the half and never regained the lead. And he didn't play in the second half. He may have come in for a second or two, but nothing substantial.
I'm not saying the kid is the next Bill Russell. All I'm saying is that, last night, NMSU played better during the brief time he was on the court. Coincidence? Maybe. Is it true? I think so. Again, I didn't notice him on the floor in the final 20 minutes. He picked up three fouls early, but I would have put him back out there again. Let him foul out, I don't care. If he's giving you production on the court, reward the big man with some minutes.
The Aggies were outrebounded again, this time 34-26. It wasn't as bad as the other night against Nevada, when the Wolf Pack dominated the boards in the second half.
The only time it really stood out was, with the score 58-53 USU, NMSU gave up two offensive boards. The first came when a long rebound went to a UtAg - after Jonathan Gibson failed to block him out. The second was from Wilkinson. He was fouled, scored the ball, and got a three-point play. It hurt big time. After that, I started writing my story for the paper.