Monday, February 27, 2012
With March Madness closing in, Aggies are hot once again
Every year, it happens.
Well, last year it didn't, but every year besides that.
That is, the New Mexico State Aggie men's basketball team comes on towards the end of February, and/or the beginning of March, right into WAC Tournament play.
Head coach Marvin Menzies, throughout his five-year history with the program, has made it known he wants his team playing its best ball down the stretch of the conference season.
And, while such a rallying cry can be frustrating for some fans of the team early in the year — particularly when the Aggies underperform against a rival — Menzies and NMSU deserve credit for yet another late-season charge.
The reality is that it's not a bad alternative to have your team hot right now than the other way around when it peaks too early — not saying that early-season wins against Southern Miss and UTEP, heck even Arizona, wouldn't have benefited the team in the present when talking about at-large bids into the NCAA Tournament.
Now, the Aggies have to win the WAC Tourney to qualify for such postseason accomplishments, although they are currently playing the best basketball in the conference.
No. 1-seeded Nevada has leveled off and Hawaii looks, well, horrible right now.
Utah State is having a down year, although is still a team I wouldn't want to play in a single-elimination postseason game.
Idaho is respectable, yet beatable.
Speaking of beatable, that would be Fresno State, Louisiana Tech and San Jose State.
Yes, the Aggies — winners of five straight and eight of nine games — are the hot team in all this.
We know what the turning point was — when personnel shifted, and freshman Daniel Mullings was inserted into the starting lineup at shooting guard.
When roles were defined — Hernst Laroche came on at point guard and Tyrone Watson, Wendell McKines and Hamidu Rahman have all seemed to pick up their play during the season's second half.
When the team plays defense at a high clip, which creates transition opportunities for them on the attack. Any team that has Mullings and McKines on the floor has the pieces defensively, along with Watson's lunch-pail mentality and Bandja Sy's length.
Again, perhaps a loss at Nevada this Thursday wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing for the Aggies.
For starters, it could act as a reality check, and allow them to start a new win streak with tourney time right around the corner.
As written in this space before, the Aggies play well in the role of underdog, which they would be if they met the Wolf Pack for a third time with an 0-2 head-to-head record on the season under their belt. This time for a league championship, with an appropriate amount of fear and respect for the task at hand, and the opponent in the gym, such a mentality could bode well for NMSU.
And in a three-game in three-night tournament format, the big, strong and physical Aggies would look to match up well against a Wolf Pack team with little depth to speak of outside their starting lineup.
Yes, it's just about March Madness time again.
And, yes, the Aggies are hot — again.
Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg