Friday, January 27, 2012
Aggies vs. Nevada: a look back, a look ahead
Looking back at the Aggies game against the University of Nevada on Thursday night, a 68-60 loss for NMSU.
Much of what happened, we already knew and were painfully reminded of.
What this game really boiled down to was Nevada — a good team — shooting at a red-hot clip and the Aggies unable to shoot the ball from deep.
Going into the year we knew the Aggies didn't have a reliable long-range shooter and the team has had trouble defending the 3-pointer at times. And Nevada's Deonte Burton and Malik Story were unconscious from the field.
The Wolf Pack made 70 percent of their shots in the first half — that's just a ridiculous number — and 6 of 9 from 3-point territory.
And what this long-range shooting did was open things up inside for Nevada — namely Olek Czyz and Dario Hunt.
For NMSU, it was the exact opposite. They couldn't hit the 3-pointer and Nevada was able to pack the paint and not allow the Aggies to do what they do best — penetrate, get to the front of the rim, and create second-chance scoring opportunities.
The Aggies do not have an effective halfcourt offense and team's realize they simply have to play a zone defense against NMSU and take their chances from there.
At this point it's obvious that the Aggies are at their best when they're creating offense with their defense — creating turnovers, forcing misses, getting long rebounds and getting out on the break. This gets their transition game going and allows them to get to the bucket as the opposing team can't get settled on the defensive end of the floor.
But with Nevada hitting at an impressive rate — then able to get back and align in their zone with plenty of time to spare — it simply fed the beast.
We saw it earlier this year at home against the University of New Mexico, when the Lobos were hot from 3-point land and NMSU couldn't score the ball on the other end.
And in Aggie wins at UNM and Utah State earlier this season, it was also apparent. The Lobos shot under 30 percent in the Pit and committed 21 turnovers that evening, as the Aggies won 62-53. Utah State couldn't hit their shots in the second half of their game at NMSU, and the Aggies were able to turn it loose on the other end of the floor with transition opportunities and attacking the basket. This makes sense.
The Aggies were able to get back into last night's game by creating pressure and, yes, forcing some rushed shots and turnovers on Nevada's end. Beat writer Jason Groves covered this in his Sun-News story today.
But at that point it was too deep a hole to climb out of and the Aggies were hurt by some turnovers of their own and some calls that went against them including a questionable charge against Wendell McKines — it was a tough night for the officials all the way around. NMSU was also hurt by missed free throws throughout the night.
Simply put, with the Aggies lack of 3-point shooting, they're not built to be a comeback team.
• While I do believe the Aggies play better without Christian Kabongo — McKines, point guard Hernst Laroche and shooting guard Daniel Mullings' have all seemed to step up since his departure — he was one player who could break a zone with his long-range shooting and ability to get to the basket. In this case, it's kind of a Catch-22. Although, again, I do think the Aggies have played better and more as a team without him.
• Nevada is a very good WAC team and clearly the class of the conference at this point.
Point guard Deonte Burton is a stud — a legitimate NBA prospect with strength, shooting ability and floor vision.
And, while they aren't particularly deep, they have four beasts in Burton, Czyz, Story and Hunt.
They also looked like a well-coached team last night — well disciplined and good decision makers with the ball, although they did have trouble against the Aggie press.
They were also hitting shots, which will make a team look very good on any particular evening.
Does that mean the Aggies can't beat them in the future? Well, no it doesn't.
It's conceivable NMSU can win in a rematch but a few things need to happen if that were to be the case:
— First off, some breaks have to go NMSU's way, such as connecting on some more 3-point shots and possibly getting some of Nevada's core players — such as Burton — in foul trouble.
— Nevada can't — and likely won't — shoot 70 percent from the floor in the first half. At one point in the game, Nevada had hit 7 of 10 3-point attempts.
— And the Aggies cannot get in foul trouble — namely Laroche, McKines and Mullings can't get in foul trouble.
• Renaldo Dixon is back on the roster, but didn't play a single minute last night.
• The Aggies needed some 3-point shooting in the second half and brought in Remi Barry — likely in hopes of getting such.
He would go 0 of 3 from beyond the arc and was taken out after five minutes of action. It was a chance for Barry to make an impact and he didn't.
• Does NMSU need to win Saturday against Fresno State?
Of course they do. The Aggies can't drop any games on their home floor during league play.
I do think some fans are somewhat indifferent at this point, however. Most know the Aggies are a top-three, top-two team in the WAC. Right now they aren't a championship team, however, and that's what many want to see.
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