Tuesday, March 31, 2009

2009 football schedule

The Aggies have a pretty wild schedule for the 2009 season.

The team gets three straight home games to start the year off - vs. Idaho, Prairie View A&M and UTEP. First off, beginning the year with a conference game is not conventional. I think in this case, it is good for the Aggies and the Vandals. Both teams have had their struggles lately and both will see it as an opportunity to sneak out a win early in the season. I do think it plays in NMSU's favor for two reasons. The first is obvious, it is a home game. And the second is that the Aggies will come out fired up under DeWayne Walker. No better way to get a new era going than to come out and get a conference win off the bat. It's a fresh start.

What's going to happen against UTEP and UNM? It's really anyone's guess. The Aggies have beaten the Miners the last two seasons. So they should have some confidence going in, even if both teams are drastically different from past years. Going up to UNM, it's going to be a tough task. The Lobos are starting out new too though. Nobody really knows what either team is going to bring to the table.

NMSU gets the underbelly of the WAC schedule out of the way very early. They open with the Vandals and then their second conference game of the season is against Utah State. NMSU could open the year 2-0 in WAC play - quite easily actually. Everyone will be jumping for joy. But then the real tests will come. At Louisiana Tech followed by a home date against Fresno State. Both teams should be solid. At Ohio State before the bye. I could do without that game smack-dab in the middle of the schedule. And the last four games of the year are absolute monsters. At Hawaii, hosting Nevada, at San Jose State and at Boise State. The WAC is a darn good football conference. Those last four games on the schedule will be real tough to win all the way around.

It's tough to predict NMSU's record simply because we don't know how they'll play under Walker. Each team takes on their own personality and NMSU's is really being developed right now during spring ball. I think they'll win four games this year, maybe five. I actually think in DeWayne's first year that's a decent step in the right direction.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Spring football

Football, football, football is in the air. And, I must say, it certainly is refreshing.

NMSU will try and blaze a new trail under coach DeWayne Walker. While the past history of the program indicates that more struggles could be on the horizon, it's also an easy time to be optimistic. There's a new sheriff in town with a brand new outlook.

A few things I'm looking for this spring season:

1. Overall attitude. The last few years, the Aggies were entertaining and, at times, an intriguing team. They had some talent and beat/competed with some teams that gave the fan base some reasonable hope. That was the frustrating part. Right when NMSU seemed on the cusp under Hal Mumme, they would throw up a clunker that had people shaking their heads.

I felt like the team was mentally weak at times. Slick toys on offense, not enough grunt and grit to win consistently. And that's an attitude you adopt on the field. Walker is a defensive-minded coach who can motivate players. Seeing a more blue-collar approach should be welcomed by those close to the program.

2. Quarterback play: I hate to say it, but it's a cliche for a reason. Quarterback is the most important single position on the football field. It can spark your team, or it can deflate it. For that reason, I think NMSU could be in for a struggle, unless someone emerges.

Tanner Rust (freshman) and Jeff Fleming (JC transfer) were brought in to bring some life to the position. And the reality is that there's a lot of unknown here after having solid QB play the past three years. I'm intrigued to see who brings what to the position and there is some excitement here. But that uncertainty can be a double-edged sword. Either way, it's a position to keep an eye on.

3. Running backs: I'm going to keep an eye on the running backs position because I think it could be a real strength of the team. Marquell Colston was good last year and should be back in full force. No reason to think otherwise. Tonny Glynn was an effective player two years ago, forgotten last season. But he can move in space and can certainly provide a role on the team. He just needs a fair chance. And I see Seth Smith's back on the roster. He will be a redshirt junior this season. But the coaching staff was high on Smith when he came in last season. There's even a local kid here: Former LCHS running back, James Hall Jr. James won't be participating in spring ball, but the point is that there's potential in this unit. And some upside.

4. Team's defense: Something that was overlooked last year when things became pretty dismal was the play of the defense. Joe Lee Dunn did a solid job with limited resources. The unit struggled some and, at times, a lot. But they also played hard every snap, were a scrappy, feisty bunch and made heady plays at some crucial times. They weren't overly talented, but they were well coached.

Walker comes in as a former defensive coordinator. And I want to see what he brings to the table in a similar capacity. There is no doubt the coach will shift more help to that side of the ball. And that is half the battle. But can he make them one of the WAC's better units? That is how NMSU is going to win under Walker. With strong D. That is his staple, his stamp. Dunn wasn't retained. It's Walker's show. I am looking forward to seeing how this group plays as a whole and with what type of fire and passion they bring to the field. If it's a strong unit, NMSU can compete.

Other areas to keep an eye on: The kicking game, which has been abysmal in the past; the wide receiver unit, which lost two great players from the past year - Chris Williams and A.J. Harris - but still has some weapons if they are utilized correctly; offensive line, which I think can be a strong point to the team.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Grading the Aggies

The New Mexico State Aggies had an up and down season on the basketball court, one which ended on the upswing.

The WAC Tournament was encouraging, as the Aggies knocked off Boise State and could have beaten Utah State. NMSU went 9-7 in WAC play and finished in fifth place in the conference.

NMSU averaged a conference-best 76.3 points per game while surrendering a league-worst 74.4 point per game. NMSU finished in the middle of the pack with 34.6 rebounds per game but gave up a league-worst 37.7 boards per contest.

The Aggies were 12-4 at home, 4-10 on the road. The team did go 4-4 on the road in WAC play, so improvement was made in this category as the season went on.

NMSU had the league's leading scorer in Jahmar Young. Young poured in 17.9 points per game on the season and was on more often than not throughout the year. Wendell McKines led the WAC in rebounding with 10 boards per game. Wendell also averaged 12 points per game, being the only player in the conference to average a double-double. Many nights, his impact on the game went beyond the boxscore.

Hernst Laroche was a pleasant surprise at point guard. Troy Gillenwater was up and down, but there is reason to believe he will continue to improve and will be an impact player for the Aggies. Some people on the blog have said Jahmar, McKines or Gillenwater could leave. I think all of them will be on the team next season. They're not going anywhere.

Jonathan Gibson was erratic. His play often dictated what type of an evening NMSU would have. The big men, Hamidu Rahman and Chris Gabriel, both showed potential but will need to continue improving. They're improvement could be the single biggest key this offseason.

The team played hard for Marvin Menzies throughout the year. For the second straight year, the Aggies played their best ball at the end of the season. The point guard issues from two seasons ago improved and Menzies has managed to bring in some decent talent to Las Cruces. McKines was a good find for the program. Laroche was steady. The two big men have promise — both are seven feet and have shown flashes.

My final grade on the season, all things considered and being fair, is an 80 percent. NMSU was a second-level team in the WAC, seemingly behind Utah State and Nevada. NMSU fell in line with the Idaho's, Boise State's and Louisiana Tech's of the conference. I look at the entire body of work, from an early season road swing at Long Beach, Kansas and North Texas, to the home loss to Nevada to the road win in Reno. The team ended the year on a high note so there is reason for optimism going into next season.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Utah State in the tourney

I think Utah State has a very good shot to win its first round game versus Marquette in the NCAA Tournament.

The Golden Eagles have been without their best player, Dominic James, for about a month now and have lost five of their last six contests. Granted, those losses came against UConn, Louisville, Pitt, Syracuse and Villanova — some impressive competition right there. But could they overlook the UtAgs? Quite possibly.

Utah State is an underrated team. They finished the year 30-4! They lost just two WAC games, at Boise and at Nevada. They redeemed themselves by handling the Wolf Pack in the conference championship game. The UtAgs beat Utah this year and battled BYU in Salt Lake City. And, they have a few players — Wilkinson, Wesley, Quayle — who can give the opposition some trouble. Stew Morrill will have his troops ready.

If Marquette comes into the tourney looking past Utah State, the Golden Eagles will get a rude awakening. For the WAC's sake, it would be nice to see the UtAgs have some success in the tourney. I think they will.

Monday, March 16, 2009


New Mexico State turned down an opportunity to play in the College Basketball Invitation.

On my last post, I said that the CBI is not postseason basketball. I stand by that comment. But that doesn't mean that I'm happy NMSU isn't going. From a fan's perspective, I always like to see more hoops. It never really gets old. And, with the way NMSU ended the year - on a fairly high note -, it would have been nice to see them play some extra ball. On the flip side, maybe the season ending the way it did is fine. Optimism is fairly high. Throwing up a clunker in the CBI, you could possibly take away some of that luster away.

I was surprised. The Aggies explored the option of going to the CBI and I thought they would. The school could have spun the scenario as if they were playing in the postseason. Maybe that could help generate some more excitement around the program.

But, at the end of the day, the Aggies did the right thing by not going. If they felt like they couldn't have made up the money by hosting a game, why bother? The administration clearly didn't believe that the fans would show. And why should they? Hosting UTEP in the CBI is one thing, but I'm not sure if that was a guarantee. Attendance has been subpar throughout the season. Hey, people on the blog commented on this issue repeatedly this year.

If you can't make up the money by going, then don't. Because, in the long run, it doesn't seem worth it.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A good effort from the Aggies

I gotta give it up to the New Mexico State basketball team for their effort against Utah State on Friday night in the WAC Tournament semifinals.

How many people thought the Aggies were going to win? Not many, I can assure you. Really, they could have and, some would say that, they should have won.

The Aggies caught fire at the end of the first half and it seemed like everything they put up — more specifically, every 3-pointer they put up — found the bottom of the net. They were down 17-7 early and then found themselves with the lead, in what seemed like, seconds later. They were up 13 at the half!

I think most knew Utah State was going to make a run. But NMSU went toe-to-toe with the UtAgs. They didn't back down. And it went down to the final possession. Utah State was 2-0 against NMSU in the regular season and handled them both times. Some would say that its tough to beat a team three times in a season, and it is. But Utah State was better than NMSU this year. The Aggies weren't supposed to win this game. They battled hard and it was good to see.

Beating Boise was a positive and fighting Utah State was also a good sign. The team did in fact play better ball in the second half of the year and played one of its better games in its season finale.

Alas, the team went to the tournament two years ago and seemed on the up-and-up. Now, that's two straight years without the postseason. Some would say CBI is postseason. Not to me. The NCAAs is postseason. The NIT is the junior circuit. The CBI is AA ball. I've been hard on Menzies. But he came here and the team hasn't progressed, at least in my eyes. Progression would have been building on what had already been accomplished and taking it a step further. He has rebuilt the team — for some reason — and there aren't many tangible results to show for it. Playing the No. 1 seed tough in the conference semifinals is nice, but it should not be the goal when the season starts. Winning your conference and playing in the postseason should be the goal. Next year will be a big year for Aggie basketball. The "growing process" talk of this past season isn't going to fly in, what should be, a better Western Athletic Conference. I give them credit for their performance. But remember when they won the WAC two years ago? They're didn't contend for the title this year. Maybe next year they will. But maybe is far from a guarantee.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A positive step

The Aggies beating Boise State was a positive on a number of fronts.

First off, the win in general is big because it gives you a sense of progress. Nobody wanted to go to the WAC Tourney and be one and done. Boise State beat NMSU twice this year, but the general consensus on the blog going into the tourney was that it seemed like a decent matchup for the Aggies. NMSU played them tough in Idaho this year. The game in Cruces wasn't good, but that was ancient history by the time tipoff rolled around in Reno. It's tough to beat a team three times in a season and it didn't seem like Boise was that much better than NMSU this year anyway. All those factors added up, and it seemed like one the Aggies could get. And they did.

Hernst Laroche had a very strong game. That was the most aggressive I'd seen him this year. It seemed like Boise dared him to shoot the ball. And he made them pay.

I thought defensively, the Aggies remembered the last game between both teams and wanted to prove a point.

Jahmar was in foul trouble but still put in 16.

Jonathan Gibson had a good second half. He's key to this team's performance. When he's playing well, people feed off his energy. 22 points for him including the dagger three that put them up nine with two minutes left.

Utah State will be an entirely different deal. But the UtAgs are beatable. The one concern is that I don't think NMSU matches up well with the northern Aggies. Utah State is big and skilled down low. NMSU will have its hands full with Wilkinson. They will have to badger him and match him physically. NMSU has the size but they have to bang him around some. They have to stand up and fight him tooth and nail.

The Aggies will also need another strong night from their guards - Young, Laroche and Gibson. Laroche and Gibson are huge. Jahmar is going to keep gunning no matter what and they will eventually start dropping. At the very least, Hernst will be a distributor and steady presence. Jonathan can either win or lose you a game. It's been a theme throughout the year. Maybe the WAC spotlight is what he needs. But they have to have him pumping in shots and playing quick on the defensive end. If the three guards can do what they did against Boise - 16, 16 and 22 points apiece - I think NMSU can stay in it.

This would still be a big upset. Utah State is more seasoned and the No. 1 seed for a reason. NMSU needs to get off to a good start and knock down some long range bombs early. They need to get a jumpstart in confidence right off the bat.

Monday, March 9, 2009

McKines misses team

How did Wendell McKines not finish on one of the two all-conference teams?

I take nothing away from the players who made it. But I look at the 2nd team and wonder.

Sylvester Seay and Roderick Flemings both had good years - statistically speaking. But both play on losing teams. Fresno and Hawaii are competing in Tuesday night's play-in game. Winning should count for something.

Wendell put up monster numbers and he could be the fans' favorite Aggie. But here's why I think he was left out of the shuffle....

In many people's mind, Wendell is a tremendous role player. That might not be the case, but it could well be the perception. The bottom line is that he's a workman, who is a better rebounder and hustle player than scorer. I know he averaged 12.2 points per game but, again, I am talking about perception. People in Las Cruces see him play more than anyone else and, in turn, have grown a great sense of appreciation for the type of player he is. But I could see how others outside of the team and the town could underrate him as a player.

In the end, the kid averaged a double-double on the year. And it was a beastly double-double at that. There should have been some postseason recognition for him. The Aggies wouldn't have been the same without him.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Facing Boise State

I know they went 0-2 this year against Boise State, but I think it's an OK matchup for the Aggies in the first round of the WAC Tournament.

First off, think back to last season's tourney. It's really hard to beat a team three times in one season. And I don't think Boise State is that much better than NMSU.

The Aggies could have won up there this year. And down in Las Cruces? It could have very well been NMSU's worst game of the season, at least from a defensive standpoint. Hopefully, the Aggies go into this contest with a sense of redemption on their mind.

I had a bad feeling about Idaho in the first round. Avoiding them, in my mind, was a good thing for NMSU. Same with Louisiana Tech. Both of those teams scare me. Let them beat up on each other.

NMSU will need to play better interior defense, that's for sure. Controlling the paint is a must. NMSU was outscored 44-26 inside during the last game. Mark Sanchez missed Game 1 for Boise and returned for the finale. He's a pretty good player and can impact the game.

At the end of the day, NMSU is wildly unpredictable. With that being said, I think in this case it can work to their advantage. 0-2 vs. Boise this year? Beating them in game three would be make perfect sense for this team.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Defense wins championships

You need to play some semblance of defense to win in any sport.

Basketball is no different. Which brings us to the Aggie men's team.

NMSU has put up points this season with little or no problem. It's been on the defensive end of the court where the team has struggled.

This was no more apparent than their last time out on the court, versus Boise State. The Broncos did anything they wanted. Inside, outside, they scored at will. On Tuesday at his weekly press conference, Marvin Menzies talked about how he needed his team to play with more fire and urgency on that end of the floor.

Menzies said that you can't do a lot with X's and O's this time of year. But the bottom line is that, when you get down to it, a lot of defense comes down to simple hard work. It's tough to break old habits this time of year, that's for sure. For the most part, you are what you are going into the final conference game of the season.

NMSU should win at Hawaii. The Warriors are not a very good team and the Aggies match up well with their style. Hawaii slows it down and works for every bucket it gets. When they were in Las Cruces, they didn't look to run. This should play in the Aggies' favor.

The WAC is wide open this year. But NMSU could finish outside the top-4. That's no good. We talked about it earlier this year. Just finish top-4! They'll have to win on Saturday at Hawaii to get the job done.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Going against Boise

The importance of Monday's Aggie game versus Boise State is self explanatory.

NMSU needs to win. First off, every win leading up to the WAC Tournament is important. And with that being said, every loss is important as well. As in, you'd like to avoid them.

Boise is breathing down the Aggies' neck for third place. And with a 1-0 lead in the season series, a Monday night win would give the Broncos the tiebreaker.

If the tourney tipped off today, NMSU would face San Jose State. I think that's a favorable matchup for the Aggies - they've swept the Spartans this season, in close games no doubt, but still won both and I think they match up well with SJSU.

I think most would like to avoid Idaho if they could. The Vandals have been scrappy this year and have given NMSU - and just about every other WAC school - problems at some point or another.

But really, I think just getting wins going into the tourney is huge. You wanna feel good going into the key point of the season. Get some positive vibes going.