Friday, March 30, 2012

Teddy and Brook Show (3/30)

This week's Teddy and Brook Show. Top notch....

At the close of March, a good year for Aggies

(Photo of Aggie baseball player Kyle Phillips by Shari V. Hill)

It’s been an encouraging year for New Mexico State Aggie sports.

Lets just go back last week, when the Aggie baseball team completed a two-game sweep of No. 5-ranked Arizona, while Aggie softball split a doubleheader with the No. 14-ranked Wildcats.

Any time NMSU can beat UofA in any sport, it should be considered a good thing.

Aggie softball did it for just the fourth time in program history, and are gunning for their second consecutive Western Athletic Conference championship — although it could be a tougher road in a tougher WAC this season.

Meanwhile, the Aggie baseball team surely has a boost of confidence after taking the two-game road series from the Wildcats, doing it in fairly convincing fashion. The team has competed against a stiffer schedule this year, and has been playing good baseball to this point. Their most recent win — a 7-6 victory over Texas Tech — came again on the road against a Big 12 team.

Some more success stories from the past year:

Aggie basketball had a good season — a trip to the NCAA Tournament means a lot to the people of Las Cruces and proved yet again that no other sport galvanizes the community more than NMSU hoops. Yes, it’s historically been THE water-cooler sport in town, as it should be. The team was exciting this year — more fun to watch — while the coaching staff made it work with the specific roster they had — a 26-10 record, a WAC championship, and their second trip to the NCAA Tournament in three years.

There is also the feeling that Aggie football is on the upswing.

NMSU took a definitive step forward last year — a four-win season that could have been five or six victories, as the team was more competitive throughout 2011.

Aggie volleyball remains the school’s most consistent athletics program — the team competed in another WAC championship game this past year — and it doesn’t look like things are going to slow down anytime soon, rather should pick back up again for a team that doesn’t figure to be short on talent.

NMSU currently sits in second place in the 2011-12 WAC Commissioner’s Cup standings — a point system delegated between the eight WAC schools, predicated off the order of finish in their respective sports — with the spring season yet to be completed.
Of course, the 2012 academic year isn’t over, and the Aggies have to build off such success going forward.

Baseball and softball need to end the year strong, and the Aggie football team has to put together a winning season this fall.

With the way its schedule is comprised, six wins seems realistic and seven is not out of the question.

In truth, if Aggie football had been to a bowl game or two in the past seven years, NMSU sports could have an entirely different image and outlook.

And, with conference realignment in constant flux, the most tangible way the Aggies can make themselves marketable — at least the most immediate and apparent to its followers — is by putting together a winning football season.

We’ve written it in this space before — the Aggies can establish themselves as a top-two, top-three athletics program in the new WAC, set to unveil this year, even if the conference appears to be fleeting.

In many respects, NMSU has to establish itself as such.

Yes, the Aggies have had some success this year and there’s some excitement.

If the school can build off that momentum, next year could be a great one.

Success stories from the past year in Aggie sports
• Recent wins

Last week saw the baseball team sweep the University of Arizona — ranked No. 5 in the nation — in a two-game mid-week series, and the Aggie softball team topped the No. 14-ranked Wildcats in the opener of a doubleheader. Any time the Aggies can beat Arizona, it has to be considered a positive step, and a needed confidence booster for both clubs about to enter conference play. While the WAC looks to be much deeper and tougher than it was a year ago — when NMSU was conference champions — Aggie baseball won again on the road last Tuesday at Texas Tech.

• Men’s basketball
The Aggie men’s basketball team went to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years under head coach Marvin Menzies, finishing the 2012 season with a 26-10 record and winning the WAC Tournament championship. The Aggie men got hot at the right time and carried that momentum into March. At one point, the Aggies didn’t look like an NCAA Tournament team, although shuffled their lineup — freshman Daniel Mullings was inserted as the starting shooting guard — and improved as an overall unit as the year moved along.

• Aggie football
A four-win season could have been five or six — losses to UTEP, San Jose State, Nevada and Utah State were all winnable games and in some cases the Aggies let a couple of them slip away. Still, there’s some positive vibes surrounding the team heading into 2012, and a six- to seven-win season seems attainable. We won’t call it a make or break year, but we will call it a year of critical importance.

• Other tales to tell
Aggie volleyball and golf remain the school’s most consistent programs in terms of producing WAC contenders and winners. Aggie equestrian is ranked No. 9 (western) and No. 6 (hunter seat) going into the national championships on April 12-14. Aggie cross country finished second in the WAC Championships in both men’s and women’s competitions, while sending Courtney Schultz to the NCAA women’s national meet, while Aggie swimming and diving had Aliena Schmidke qualify for the NCAA championships. NMSU soccer picked up its first win in the WAC Tournament, coming in the third year of the program’s existence.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

New personnel, coaches make Aggie spring practices worth watching

(Photo of Aggie quarterback Travaughn Colwell by Athens Banner-Herald)

Why are spring practices important for a college football team?

For coaches, it's a chance to hold basic, fundamental practices outside the grind of the regular season, while also getting a handle on their incoming personnel and further formulating a depth chart.

For players, it gives them the opportunity to get acclimated to a new system, and the demands of their coaching staff.

The New Mexico State Aggies open their spring practices Thursday at 7 a.m. at Aggie Memorial Stadium, and will go for the next month leading up to their April 28 spring game.

Here, we give a brief “by the numbers” glance at what to look for, if one happens to head out to spring drills during the upcoming month.

11: Players the Aggies signed to National Letters of Intent this past offseason who will make their debuts this spring (NMSU signed 25 players overall). On paper, the team had a good recruiting class and addressed their needs, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines, where they added a combined 10 players to the respective units. While none of the new offensive linemen will be taking the field at NMSU during spring drills, the team will welcome four defensive linemen into the fold Thursday. The Aggies also bulked up at tight end, and will be breaking in an entirely new starting secondary in 2012. Alas, for the most part, all coaches are optimistic about their incoming signing classes. How these players look on the field and are integrated into the lineup can be another story, and will be one key to look for this spring.

5: Quarterbacks on the Aggie spring roster, which is certainly a position to watch leading up to the season. Head coach DeWayne Walker said Andrew Manley will participate in all passing drills this spring, but will not partake in full-team drills — the sophomore QB suffered a torn ACL and partial tear of the MCL in his right knee last September against UTEP. NMSU brought in Andrew McDonald this past offseason, the son of former USC quarterback Paul McDonald, and perhaps he can make an impact. McDonald put up good numbers last year at Santa Ana College — completing 167 of 242 pass attempts for over 2,000 yards and 28 touchdowns. And, what will the team do with Travaughn Colwell? He looked good at times last year as a true freshman — displaying maturity in the team's home win over Idaho — while also looking like a rookie at times — road struggles at Hawaii and Louisiana Tech come to mind. Either way, Colwell showed promise — a big athlete with a good enough arm — who could very well be an impact player in the WAC.

4: New field coaches for the Aggies this season — the team had to hire new offensive and defensive coordinators in Jerry McManus and David Elson, respectively, along with a new offensive line coach (Brad Bedell) and new defensive line coach (Romeo Bandison). Some questions that will naturally follow heading into spring practices: What kind of scheme changes will there be on either side of the ball? How will the new coaches relate to their players, and how will Walker communicate with his new assistants? The head coach pointed out during a Wednesday conversation that the Aggies' players and coaching staff worked closely together this offseason in an effort to build chemistry and continuity. “It really helped,” Walker said. “It really did.”

NMSU spring practice schedule
* All practices at Aggie Memorial Stadium
Thursday: 7-9:30 a.m.
Saturday: 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Tuesday, April 3: 7-9:30 a.m.
Thursday, April 5: 7-9:30 a.m.
Saturday, April 7: 11 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.
Tuesday, April 10: 7-9:30 a.m.
Thursday, April 12: 7-9:30 a.m.
Saturday, April 14: 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Tuesday, April 17: 7-9:30 a.m.
Thursday, April 19: 7-9:30 a.m.
Saturday, April 21: 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Tuesday, April 24: 7-9:30 a.m.
Thursday, April 26: 7:00-9:30 a.m.
Friday, April 27: 7-9:30 a.m.
Saturday, April 28: 1 p.m. (Spring Game)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Going into offseason, some keys for the Aggies

I received some questions on my most recent Aggie basketball blog post concerning next year's team — starting lineup, needs, etc.

Here are some immediate keys that come to mind following this season and going into next season:

Replacing the departed: It's not easy replacing 20 points and 10 rebounds per game — along with the sheer motivational force and leadership — that the Aggies will need to fill with the departure of senior forward Wendell McKines. Nor will it be easy to replace the steadiness, and 10 to 15 points per game, provided by point guard Hernst Laroche. That, and they were the team's most consistent outside shooters. Every night, fans and followers of the program knew what they were getting from these two seniors. Replacing such production will not be an easy task, and might have to come collectively as opposed to one or two players filling the void.

Bandja Sy: From a pure skill and physical standpoint, Sy (pictured above) could very well be the top Aggie. For me, it's a mental game for the soon-to-be senior — competitiveness and consistency. Sy will never be a McKines in terms of mentality when he takes the court. But if he can develop a chip on his shoulder and put firm goals in front of him, Sy could be “the guy” on the Aggies next year. Yes, he has the physical tools to do so. The question is, will he realize those tools?

Tyrone Watson: For once lets accurately break down what Watson is on the basketball floor. A smart and unique player, Watson impacts the game in ways that don't necessarily show up in the box score — a player who can penetrate a zone defense, and an underrated passer from the small forward position. He brings his lunch pale every night, and was a good defender last year for the Aggies. No, he did not play well in the team's NCAA Tournament loss — seven turnovers against Indiana tell the story. And, yes, something has to give on his jump shot. When opponents are sagging off him eight to 10 feet on the perimeter, that tells part of the story on how they view Watson as a player. As a senior — like Sy — Watson has to pick his game up going into next year. And it starts by developing confidence and consistency on his jump shot.

Tshilidzi Nephawe: This 6-foot-10 center has the potential to be the Aggies surprise player next year. He played his best this season in the Aggies final three games of the year and his skills are apparent — a physical specimen with nice hands and a soft touch, Nephawe shot 74 percent from the free-throw line last season. He can also step out and hit the occasional jump shot. One key? Staying out of foul trouble and staying on the court. If Nephawe can do that, a world of potential awaits for a player that I anticipate should be the team's starting center in 2012-13.

K.C. Ross-Miller: The Aggies haven't had to worry about the point guard position the past handful of years because of Laroche's presence. Ross-Miller is one recruit we've heard a lot about. He'll have big shoes to fill at a critical spot.

Some footnotes: Can 7-foot-5 Sim Bhullar play?….What will Renaldo Dixon's role be?….Will the Aggies have more consistent outside shooting?….Will Eric Weary emerge as a shooter?….Will Remi Barry realize his potential?….Will Daniel Mullings develop a jump shot? Oh, just please say yes….

Friday, March 23, 2012

Brook and Teddy Show (3/22)

Following some requests from an eager blogger, we bring back the Brook and Teddy Show

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Aggies can — and have to — win in 2012

(Photo by Robin Zielinski/Sun-News)

It will be a BIG year for the New Mexico State Aggie football team across the board in 2012.

The main reason is because the program has to win — and it can with this year’s schedule, which is listed below:

Sept. 1...Sacramento State....6 p.m.
Sept. 8...@ Ohio.....................TBA
Sept. 15.@ UTEP....................TBA
Sept. 22.New Mexico.............6 p.m.
Sept. 29.Texas-San Antonio..6 p.m.
Oct. 6.....@ Idaho...................TBA
Oct. 20...@ Utah State..........1 p.m.
Oct. 27...Louisiana Tech.......6 p.m.
Nov. 3....@ Auburn................TBA
Nov. 10..San Jose State.......1:30 p.m.
Nov. 24..BYU.........................1:30 p.m.
Dec. 1....@ Texas State.........TBA

NMSU has an FCS program on the docket in Sacramento State and two programs making their debut on the FBS level in Texas-San Antonio and Texas State. The two WAC programs don’t figure to be down for long — they seem to have financial backing and are located in a good recruiting base. Still, at least for this year, they’re two teams the Aggies should beat.

At Idaho and hosting San Jose State look to be winnable games, as should be at UTEP and hosting New Mexico.

NMSU goes to Ohio, Utah State and Auburn, and also hosts Louisiana Tech and BYU — these games should all provide various challenges.

Perhaps just as important is that longtime WAC foes Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii are no longer on the schedule — three teams that have beaten the Aggies 19 times over the past seven years.

Looking at this schedule and how it stacks up, six wins is a realistic goal, while seven isn’t out of the question.

It would be a good thing, because if the Aggies can’t do it with this docket, I don’t know if they’ll ever do it. It also wouldn't hurt with the ever evolving landscape of conference realignment, where the Aggies would instantly make themselves more marketable with a winning football season.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Monday, March 19, 2012

Aggies 2012 season: all in all, a positive one

(AP photo)

When I think about the 2012 New Mexico State Aggies basketball season, I think of two seasons — with Kabongo, and without Kabongo.

The first half of the season — with shooting guard Christian Kabongo in the lineup — the Aggies were out of synch.

There were good times — a win at UNM and vs. UTEP — and some down times — a loss at UTEP and vs. UNM.

The ball didn't move offensively, and chemistry didn't seem to be at an all-time high.

Once Kabongo left the program in late December, however — fair or unfair, but also seemingly true — the Aggies played better.

They were a more exciting team, and fun to watch.

Just about everyone on the roster — from Hernst Laroche, to Hamidu Rahman, to Tyrone Watson, to Wendell McKines — improved

McKines was the team's backbone from a leadership standpoint, a player who left it all on the floor, and nothing behind in the locker room.

Watson was more of a facilitator, who played better with the ball in his hands as opposed to a stand-alone perimeter player without the ball.

Laroche seemed more at ease in his point guard role.

And, of course, the lineup shuffling opened the door for freshman Daniel Mullings. Would we have known about this athletic, first-year player from Canada if there was another player in front of him on the roster? It wouldn't seem likely in its entirety, if at all.

Once in the starting lineup, Mullings proved to be worth the price of admission — a great defensive player who seemingly made at least one amazing open-court play, and dunk, a game.

Yes, the Aggies were fun again and improved as the season went along. 

They were an NCAA Tournament team in 2012, during the same season where, at one point, they didn't look like a championship-caliber team.

But they got hot when it mattered and peaked in late February and into early March, right in time for the WAC Tournament.

The point is that one could make the argument the Aggies over-achieved in 2012, when considering their journey, what they went through, and the ultimate destination.

Yes, it was a positive season — better than 2011 to be sure.

Was the eventual NCAA Tournament game against Indiana a disappointment? It was, simply because the Aggies were outclassed.

Defensively, they didn't show up, unable to guard a simple on-the-ball screen and giving up easy shots to the Hoosiers.

NMSU was lucky to be down just 35-28 at halftime, and any hope of an Aggie comeback disappeared when Indiana put on a layup clinic coming out of intermission.

And this will be the next step for head coach Marvin Menzies and the Aggie basketball program — winning a tournament game or two.

Yes, the coach has come a long way since being hired five years ago. He's taken the Aggies to two NCAA Tournaments in three years and, again, the team got better as 2012 moved along — a nice reflection on the coach and his staff. He's also a first-class individual who treats people well.

The Aggies weren't supposed to beat the Hoosiers, and the cold, hard truth is that the team looked to be out-coached in the contest. By and large this fact is actually acceptable this time around, because it also should have been somewhat expected.

This past weekend showed that there is more parity than ever in college basketball — think of No. 15 seeds Lehigh and Norfolk State pulling off NCAA Tournament shockers in the opening round. Upsets still matter, and are also more attainable.

Perhaps the next time Menzies and the Aggies return to the tournament — assuming there will be a next time — they'll be able to hold that title, with a bit more seasoning and growth under their belt. For this program, it looks to be the next logical step in its progression.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Friday, March 16, 2012

Aggies fall to Indiana in NCAA Tournament

(AP photo)

Simply put, the Indiana Hoosiers are the better team.

They outclassed New Mexico State in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night, winning 79-66 in Portland, Ore.

It started on the defensive end of the floor for the Aggies.

Indiana raced out to a 14-4 lead with little trouble.

NMSU somehow couldn't defend on-the-ball screens and, when the Hoosiers did feel a threat, they isolated Cody Zeller and let him go to work. The Aggies also didn't have an answer for IU guard Jordan Hulls.

Defensively, we knew the Aggies needed to have a strong gameplan going into the game and then execute that gameplan. But it just didn't work out that way.

NMSU was lucky to be down just seven, 35-28, at intermission. Still, they were in the game at that point.

But any chance they had at making a second half comeback went away when Indiana put on a layup clinic coming out of the locker room.

I thought the Aggies played pretty well offensively.

NMSU shot 55 percent from the floor, although only got to the line 10 times.

The Hoosiers got to the free-throw stripe just 10 times as well, although shot 59 percent on the evening and hit 7 of 13 3-point attempts.

Indiana ran out to a 14-4 lead right out of the chute and it came relatively easily — not the start the Aggies needed.

They were ready for NMSU and maybe all the pregame talk of the Aggies being a trendy pick had something to do with it. NMSU certainly wasn't going to sneak up on Indiana and before you knew it, it was an eight-point game — really, the Aggies were the ones who needed to get off to a quick start like that.

The lead grew to 21 at one point and the Aggies just aren't built to come back from that. Not against a team like Indiana that looked very good on Thursday and showed their mettle. They were the better team, pure and simple. They're a tough team to defend, and can beat the opposition in a number of ways.

Wendell McKines played a solid game and went out well as an Aggie — he banged on the boards and battled throughout, finishing with 15 points and eight rebounds.

Freshman Daniel Mullings also showcased his skills, forcing a loose ball foul on Zeller on an acrobatic attempt at a rebound and then he threw down an alley-oop dunk from Hernst Laroche in transition. Good to see Mullings show his stuff on a national stage.

The only issue was, their supporting cast didn't play well. Tyrone Watson had seven turnovers and Hamidu Rahman was quiet in the second half.

One thing for the Aggies — they battled until the end and I take that as a positive as the season came to a close and going into next year.

Down 21, they could have easily folded and lost by 30. But they fought back and got the deficit down to 11 late and never quit.

That was one of the lasting images with this team, and the fact they got to the NCAA Tournament this year. That will still be considered a positive in a season where such a turn of events came as a nice culmination, perhaps even a pleasant surpise.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thoughts before Aggies vs. Hoosiers

My mind is going in a lot of different directions concerning this game, although I do have one certainty.

The Aggies NEED to have a good defensive gameplan and HAVE TO execute such a gameplan at a high level.

Indiana is a prolific 3-point shooting team, which means NMSU will need to lock down at the 3-point line and force their shooters to put the ball on the floor — most likely in a man-to-man defense.

The challenge that presents, however, is Indiana center Cody Zeller, a skilled 7-footer.

If you double-team Zeller, that can open up the Hoosier’s 3-point shooting game.

The Aggies would be well-served to get a solid performance from their center tandem of Hamidu Rahman and Tshilidzi Nephawe, and maybe even get Zeller in foul trouble.

Overall, I give the Aggies about a 40 percent chance of winning the game — you’ll take those odds as a No. 13 seed.

Overall, however, I just want to see them competitive, play good defensively, and be in things. After that, the chips will fall where they may.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Breaking down the game: Aggies vs. Hoosiers

(AP photo)

We take a look at the Aggies vs. Hoosiers game at a glance:

1) A decent matchup: When considering New Mexico State is seeded 13th in the South Region, and Indiana is seeded fourth, the Aggies could have done worse in terms of their draw. While Indiana does hail from the Big Ten Conference, they haven’t always looked impressive, hold an ordinary 7-7 record on the road, and are without injured guard Verdell Jones. Meanwhile, NMSU is 12-6 away from the Pan American Center this season, and outweigh the Hoosiers in key statistical categories such as points per game (78.5 to 77.3), rebounds per game (40.3 to 34.9) and free throws attempted (a whopping 1,048 to 820). Alas, the WAC is certainly no Big Ten and the Hoosiers are a prolific 3-point shooting team — their 43.3 percent marksmanship from beyond the arc ranks No. 2 in the country. Still, on paper, this looks like a winnable game for the Aggies.

2) Defense, defense, defense: The Aggies have been hanging their hat on the defensive end of the floor the past month, culminating last week in their WAC Tournament championship. It’s the old adage — defense and rebounding travels well, and the Aggies have been locked in on that side of the floor. They will need to be once again vs. the Hoosiers — particularly when guarding the 3-point line — if they want to have a shot at victory.

3) The X-factors: Lets look at two Aggie players — Bandja Sy and Tyrone Watson — and break down their importance from an offensive standpoint. In the case of Sy, it would be nice if the Aggies got him going — perhaps some early layups, or a 3-pointer from deep. Typically speaking, when Sy’s shooting it well, the Aggies can be tough to defend. In the case of Watson, he’s been a steady player, and NMSU needs his presence once again. He has the unique ability to penetrate a zone defense, and is a good passer from the small forward position. The Aggies need these two players on top of their game on the offensive end of the floor.

4) Mindset: For all intents and purposes, this is an interesting matchup. Again, the Aggies look to control the game five-feet and in towards the basket, while the Hoosiers can flat-out shoot, and have skilled 7-foot freshman Cody Zeller at their disposal. Many prognosticators — namely some ESPN personalities — have been calling for an Aggie upset. Such talk can be a blessing or a curse, although NMSU won’t be sneaking up on anyone either. The Aggies actually hold an edge on experience — seniors Wendell McKines, Hernst Laroche and Hamidu Rahman have all played in a close NCAA Tournament game — and the team shouldn’t have much to lose playing as a 13 seed. NMSU has a history of playing loose in tournament games under head coach Marvin Menzies, and a good start in this one could serve them well.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Thoughts on Aggies vs. Indiana, and the NCAA Tournament

(AP photo)

Considering that New Mexico State is a No. 13 seed in the South Region, and its opponent Indiana is a No. 4 seed, one has to think the Aggies could have done worse in their first-round draw for the NCAA Tournament.

As written in last night's blog post, it's all about matchups here, and — at least initially — it looks like the Aggies do stack up all right against the Hoosiers.

Here's what the Aggies couldn't get in the opening round of the NCAA: a team that could match NMSU's game 5-feet and in towards the basket.

For NMSU, it's about controlling the boards, getting layups and dunks, and getting to the free-throw line. Just think back to the first half against Louisiana Tech in the WAC championship game, when seemingly every NMSU shot came close to the basket, none farther out than 12 feet.

If the Aggies face a team that can take that away, than NMSU has to hit jump shots over the top of the defense — which is a crap shoot.

Again, Indiana seems like a decent fit when considering the variables listed above.

Yes, they have 7-footer Cody Zeller, but the Hoosiers are also a 3-point shooting team, and it does appear the Aggies could hold an edge inside.

That, and Indiana went 7-7 away from home this season, while NMSU was 12-6 away from the Pan American Center.

UNM will also be playing in Portland, meaning their could be a contingency of New Mexico fans in the Rose Garden.

As a No. 13 seed, the Aggies could have drawn an insurmountable opponent in the first round. And Indiana does not appear to be insurmountable.

Again, the Aggies could have done worse in their draw.

For the record, NMSU getting into the NCAA Tournament is a great thing.

I believe that no other sport galvanizes this community more than Aggie basketball. No, not high school football. I really think Aggie basketball can be — and at times still is — the water-cooler sport in Las Cruces.

You can feel a buzz in the air, and it's exciting.

Again, just having the Aggies in the tournament, it's a good thing.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

After beating La. Tech, Aggies will be dancing

(AP photo)

I was expecting an Aggie win.

And I was expecting a close game — heck, a nerve-wracking game at that — yet, frankly, this one wasn't.

The Aggies absolutely demolished Louisiana Tech 82-57 in Saturday's WAC championship game and will be playing in the NCAA Tournament this weekend.

NMSU is a legitimate team at this point, and one that could win a game or two in the NCAAs — depending on the matchups, why with their size, length and strength on the interior. If they're a 12 seed playing a five, it could stack up well — NMSU could very well be a 13 or 14 when the selections are announced on Sunday — and if they're placed in Albuquerque in the NCAA Regional, it will be seemingly a glorified home game.

Again, it's all about matchups, and if NMSU plays a team built similar to Louisiana Tech, that'll certainly help their cause.

The Bulldogs spread the floor with guards and look to press defensively. Against Nevada in the semifinals — a team that likes to play a halfcourt game — it matched up well, although it played right into the Aggies hands on Saturday. NMSU would prefer to get into the open floor, and obviously had the interior presence to absolutely pound the Bulldogs inside and on the backboards. The Aggies outrebounded Louisiana Tech 45-25 and scored over 50 points in the paint.

But, the KEY to this game was the Aggies stifling defense. Louisiana Tech HAD to shoot the ball well from deep to have a chance in this one and the Aggies simply didn't let it happen. The Bulldogs went 3 of 18 from 3-point territory and shot 32 percent for the game. The Aggies have been on top of their game for over a month now and it's started and ended on the defensive end of the floor. They're locked in.

The Aggies are playing their best basketball of the season. Some point differentials the past month: 16-point win over Drake; 42-point win over Hawaii; 16-point win over Fresno State (WAC Tourney); 11-point win over Hawaii (WAC Tourney); 25-point win over Louisiana Tech (WAC Tourney).

NMSU will be making their second NCAA appearance in three years and third in six. Again, the matchups worked out well for them in this year's WAC Tournament, as they not only faced No. 7 Fresno State, No. 6 Hawaii and No. 5 Louisiana Tech, but Hawaii and Louisiana Tech play a style of basketball — in short, they like to get up and down the court — which suits the Aggies well.

Does it matter that the Aggies had this draw? No. It's luck of the draw, and who cares how the Aggies won the WAC championship? They got it, that's all that matters.

Again, as stated in previous blog posts, Wendell McKines was on a mission and he wasn't going to let his team lose this game — or this tournament for that matter.

Yes, he had a dominant game on Saturday — 27 points, 14 rebounds, a first-half double-double — but you can also throw the numbers out the window. His presence alone is HUGE. Going into the game, I don't know if the Aggies are the pick if McKines isn't on the team.

He's another reason I think they can be a dangerous team in the NCAAs. He has nothing to lose at this point of his Aggie career — he's essentially playing with house money — which is a scary proposition.

A gratifying feeling? Tyrone Watson named on the all-tournament team.

He's an unsung hero for this Aggie team and is a valuable — and unique — player.

Again, as written before: a facilitator, passer, defender, mature player. The small forward does things that impact the game, if not the box score.

Chili Nephawe has stepped up like a veteran player the past two games.

We know what Nephawe brings to the table skill wise — good hands, nice touch for a 7-foot player. He finds himself in foul trouble, or else he'd be on the floor more. He's looked good the past two nights.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Predicting an Aggie win vs La. Tech

I still like the New Mexico State Aggies tonight in their game against Louisiana Tech for a few reasons.

First off, the Aggies are the better team. They hold an advantage in the game's matchups — no WAC team really matches up at all with NMSU outside of Nevada, as the Aggies hold an edge in size and strength around the basket. I expect them to control the game in the rebounding department — just as they did against Fresno State in the WAC's opening round and against Hawaii in Friday night's semifinals win.

There are some aspects of tonight's game that scare me more-so than the Aggies last two contests in WAC Tourney play.

For starters, many were ready for a rematch between No. 2-seed NMSU and No. 1-seed Nevada, and the Aggies hold a 2-0 record against Louisiana Tech this year. The Bulldogs also have an untraditional team, in the sense that they'll spread the floor with four guards and rely on the 3-pointer.

Also, NMSU showed some vulnerabilities on Friday against Hawaii in their transition defense, and defending the Warriors penetration-and-kick game.

As always, the Aggies defense — particularly at 3-point line — will be KEY.

But, again, I like the matchup advantages NMSU holds and also like the team's leadership at this point in the season. Their three seniors — headlined by forward Wendell McKines — I don't think will allow them to lose this game.

I expect an exciting game — fast paced, up and down, entertaining. And, yes, I expect an Aggie win. Even if it will be a nerve-wracking one.

Aggies win and will play….Louisiana Tech

(AP photo)

The New Mexico State Aggies will be in the WAC Championship game tonight at 10 p.m. to take on….Louisiana Tech?

That's right, the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs beat No. 1-seeded Nevada in the WAC semifinals 78-73 to move onto the title game — NMSU beat Hawaii earlier in the night 92-81 to also advance to Saturday's championship.

First off, like the Aggies, Louisiana Tech has been playing good basketball over the past month of the season.

While the Aggies have won eight of nine, Louisiana Tech has won seven of eight — with both teams falling at Nevada as their lone losses. You're not going to find two WAC teams playing better basketball at the moment. It's actually been a great WAC Tourney with compelling games across the board, although it has held true to form that two hot teams are in fact meeting in the finals.

The Bulldogs are well coached and are playing with house money right now.

That, and NMSU is 2-0 against Louisiana Tech this year. While it's been a rallying cry that it's hard to beat a team three times in a row during a season — something we talked about for NMSU's benefit in anticipation of them facing Nevada again for a WAC title — now the shoe's on the other foot. That psychological edge is actually flipped, and the Aggies could be considered the hunted now, as opposed to the other way around.

Yet, while I'll reserve to make my final pick for the game until later Saturday leading up to the contest, here's why I like NMSU at the moment.

First off, they match up well with Louisiana Tech.

The Bulldogs like to run — it should be a fun and entertaining championship game — as do the Aggies (although NMSU's transition defense was a weakness in their Friday win over Hawaii).

The Aggies also have a serious advantage inside — the only team in the WAC that truly matches up with NMSU was in fact Nevada, who is obviously now eliminated.

I really also think the Aggies have simply come too far and have worked too hard. This is their season — a one-game season. And what scenario would you have rather had going into the WAC Tourney? Playing No. 7 Fresno State, No. 3 Idaho and No. 1 Nevada? Or No. 7 Fresno State, No. 6 Hawaii and No. 5 Louisiana Tech? As written in a previous blog post prior to Friday's game, things have shaped up well for NMSU as things have unfolded in this tournament.

And I just have to believe the Aggies leadership contingency — namely senior Wendell McKines — is not going to allow the team to lose here. I really think this team — McKines' team — is on a mission right now and would be tough to beat no matter who would be standing in their way on Saturday.

Again, this is my feeling now. I will confirm before tip off later today.

And some thoughts from the Aggies win over the Warriors….

First off, I thought this was a great game — very entertaining, up and down action.

The Aggies were leading 22-2 to start things off although, ironically, such a deficit seemed to get the Warriors loose and they began playing better. They came back and made a game of it.

Yet every time the Warriors would knock on the door, NMSU would make winning plays — similar to the night before against Fresno State only Friday's game against Hawaii was tighter.

No play epitomized this fact — nor was bigger — than Hernst Laroche's four-point play that took a 65-64 Aggie lead and made it 69-64. If Laroche missed that shot, Hawaii gets the rebound and they have a chance to take the lead. Instead, Laroche hits the 3-pointer, is fouled and drains the free throw. HUGE. Aggies back up five.

And, when it was all said and done, NMSU still won the game by double digits.

As stated above, the problem for the Aggies was transition defense.

Even when NMSU would score a basket, Hawaii would get into their transition offense — which invariably seemed to end in either a layup or dunk attempt.

The Aggies played great defense against Fresno State in the opening round of the tournament, but fell off some against UH.

Just want to say this about Tyrone Watson: he does so many intangible things that might not even show up in the box score.

Ultimately, Watson is better when he's playing within himself and not forcing jump shots, but just look at his ability in the halfcourt offense, when the Aggies are facing a zone defense.

Watson can penetrate that zone and is a very good interior passer — a fine passer for a small forward.

He defends, seems mature and brings his lunch pale. He's made clutch free throws throughout the year.

He's a valuable — and unique — player for the Aggies.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Friday, March 9, 2012

Aggies look locked in during WAC Tourney win

(AP Photo)

The New Mexico State Aggies absolutely took apart the Fresno State Bulldogs in the first round of the WAC Tournament on Thursday.

The Aggies played their game, and it started on the defensive end of the floor.

They were outstanding in that area and are clearly feeling it.

They also dominated the boards — out-rebounding Fresno State 46-30 while scoring 24 second-chance points — and got to the free throw line 36 times.

It was impressive.

The Aggies just seem to play like a loose bunch this time of year when, frankly, other teams can tighten up. Again, head coach Marvin Menzies often points to the WAC Tournament as the time he wants his team playing its best ball and they're doing it again. They're clicking right now. It's a fine line for Menzies — while NMSU is playing good ball, one loss could also derail the situation. Still, with that being said, it looks as if things have been clicking for the head coach as well.

Every time Fresno State looked like they were going to make a push, NMSU would push them back.

Whether it was Wendell McKines hitting a big 3 to tick the Aggies lead back to 13 or Daniel Mullings' thunder dunk to keep NMSU's advantage at double-digits, the Aggies kept the Bulldogs at bay.

We've said it before, Mullings is the type of player who — one would hope — could put fans in the seats at the Pan American Center in the years to come. He seems to throw down at least one trademark dunk a game.

As for McKines, he looks like he's on a mission at the moment. Simply put, I don't think he's going to let his team lose at this juncture of the season.

Don't look now, but things are shaping up well for the Aggies.

Prior to them taking the court, No. 6 Hawaii upended No. 3 Idaho.

Such a scenario looks like a good one for the Aggies — while I would have picked them to beat the Vandals, Idaho has also been a thorn in NMSU's side this year and a victory certainly wouldn't have been a sure thing. Meanwhile, NMSU matches up well with Hawaii, a team that looks to get up and down the floor — something the Aggies would prefer to do — and are currently without sharpshooter Zane Johnson who had a career night against NMSU earlier this season.

Unless the Aggies totally overlook the Warriors — thus leaving themselves vulnerable for an upset — I like them in this one.

Meanwhile, Nevada was down 14-13 at HALFTIME to San Jose State before eventually winning 54-44. The reality is that the Wolf Pack could have been eliminated playing that way against anyone but the No. 8-seeded Spartans.

And in the late game Thursday, No. 5 Louisiana Tech — who's actually playing good ball right now — beat No. 4 Utah State. That means the Bulldogs will play the Wolf Pack in the semi bracket opposite NMSU/Hawaii.

Either way, I don't expect Louisiana Tech to be an easy opponent for Nevada — it's a hard game to predict actually.

If the Aggies can hold serve against Hawaii, they would set themselves up for a good performance in the championship game as the hot team in this tournament.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Thursday, March 8, 2012

No. 1-ranked Las Cruces High falls in state tourney

(Photo by JR Oppenheim/For the Sun-News)

The Las Cruces Bulldawgs boys basketball team fell to Clovis 69-58 on Wednesday at The Pit in Albuquerque during the quarterfinals round of the Class 5A State Championships.

First off, this was not a shocking upset. Yes, LCHS was ranked No. 1 while Clovis was ranked No. 8, but the Wildcats have been coming on — they won big at Hobbs for the District 4-5A championship and have good guard play in John Dawson and DJ Blackmon.

It was an early-morning game — granted an unknown quantity that both teams had to deal with.

And going into the tournament we knew that LCHS wasn’t a lock to win the whole thing — about five teams had a legitimate chance at the state crown with the Bulldawgs figuring to be right there. Yes, they were the No. 1 seed, and yes they had the talent to justify such a ranking.

I DO NOT want to make the excuse that officiating cost the Bulldawgs the game, because both teams had to deal with a tightly-called contest with frequent whistles.

But could it have taken the Bulldawgs out of rhythm? Absolutely. Their point guard Joseph Garza picked up three fouls in the first half and his fourth late in the third quarter, which more than likely affected his play. That foul count is going to be in the back of your mind as a player and the Bulldawgs didn’t shoot the ball well during the contest.

Of course, the Bulldawgs had the game in their hands in the first half, jumping out to an 8-0 lead and holding a 29-22 advantage at halftime.

But Dawson came out and hit three big 3-pointers to start the second half to get the Wildcats back in the game and Clovis took a 43-42 lead late in the third quarter. They would continue to build on that lead in the fourth period, and the No. 1 seed was eventually knocked out for good.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Three keys for Aggies heading into the WAC Tournament

(Photo by Shari V. Hill/Sun-News)

The Cruces Sports Blog takes a look at the three keys for NMSU entering the WAC Tournament.

• Know your identity: At this point of the year, we all know what the Aggies are as a team. The beginning portion of the year, and the last month of the season, the Aggies have been a good defensive unit, which creates transition opportunities on offense — something NMSU desperately needs. In the halfcourt offense, the Aggies look to pound it inside and clean up on the offensive glass. No need to deviate from the gameplan at this point of the season.

• 3-point shooting: The Aggies just need to shoot the ball at a respectable rate from deep in order to maintain a balanced offense. If they can’t, teams will slow the game down and pack the paint defensively, daring the Aggies to shoot the ball over a zone defense. When the Aggies hit from 3-land, they become a very tough team to beat.

• A focused approach: NMSU is capable of beating anyone in conference — and capable of losing to anyone as well. Simply put though, if the Aggies are focused on their current opponent — which in the opener is Fresno State — and don't look ahead to a possible championship rematch against Nevada, they should be playing for a league title on Saturday night. At that point it will be anyone’s game — and I like the Aggies chances playing in a winner-take-all scenario with a trip to the NCAA Tournament on the line.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Breaking down NMSU's win over Fresno State

New Mexico State's 83-78 men's basketball win over Fresno State was a microcosm of the Aggies season.

In short, when the Aggies can hit their 3-point shots, they become a very tough team to beat.

In the first half on Saturday night, the Aggies shot 0 of 5 from 3-point territory, hit 4 of 9 in the second half, and then drained 3 of 4 to close out the game in overtime.

They were down 19 points in the second half, yet came back and won.

And Bandja Sy remains an X-factor for this team.

Sy is a good defensive player because he's long and plays hard.

Offensively, however, he's not always the aggressor.

He scored 22 points against Fresno State — a breakout performance, but one that could also be the norm.

Take a look at Sy's teammate Wendell McKines, who takes the court looking to prove a point. If Sy adopted a similar attitude, he could be the guy next year as a senior on the Aggies.

Speaking of McKines, I don't think the Aggies win this game last year, and his presence and leadership seem to be big reasons they won in 2012.

He carried them in overtime on Saturday, hitting three 3-pointers.

For the second game this year, Fresno State took the court with a good gameplan against the Aggies.

They packed the paint on defense and forced NMSU to hit the 3-ball — and for a while it worked.

The Bulldogs are a well-coached and disciplined team offensively as well.

They took a 41-25 lead at halftime and had the Aggies right where they wanted them — until the Aggies came back and hit them even harder.

With that being said, I like NMSU in a WAC Tournament rematch.

For that reason, and I think the quick turnaround works for the Aggies against a Fresno State team that wasn't an easy out on its home floor this year, posting a 3-4 home record during conference while playing teams tough.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Friday, March 2, 2012

Thoughts following NMSU's road loss to Nevada

In Thursday night's Aggies loss to Nevada, a 65-61 defeat in Reno, NMSU looked like the team we saw at times earlier this season.

I don't think Nevada changed its scouting report one bit for this one.

They packed it in and dared the Aggies to shoot the ball over their zone defense, where at times there were five white jerseys in the paint.

While NMSU hit 7 of 18 3-point attempts, many of their open looks came in transition — not in the halfcourt game — and the Aggie offense in general wasn't as balanced as it's been in recent weeks, when they've shot the 3-ball better.

The Aggies won on the glass in the first half and, at that point, things were looking promising for NMSU. They were down 43-36, although Nevada shot the ball very well and, again, NMSU was taking care of business on the backboards. The Wolf Pack clearly made that a priority at halftime. After pulling down 12 offensive rebounds in the first half — an astounding number — NMSU had six in the final 20 minutes of play.

Center Hamidu Rahman was ineffective and I can understand why.

Rahman has a predictable offensive game — he goes right, doesn't fake, and goes up. Such a tactic works against 6-foot-7 post defenders, but not against Nevada's Dario Hunt — who had six blocks on the evening.

Malik Story was uncontious in the first half, hitting from DEEP 3-point territory — Story caught fire and was knocking them down from beyond NBA range.

Lets just say it, you can't guard against that, particularly in a zone defense.

Much has been made about the final 20 seconds of the game, when, with the Aggies trailing 63-61, the team ran an offensive play that ended in Hernst Laroche panicking and throwing the ball away with one second to go.

Should the Aggies have called a timeout on the play?

Lets just start out by saying, calling a timeout there is circumstantial. Of course, you could call one. But it also would have allowed Nevada to make a defensive adjustment, get settled in their alignment and come up with a plan of their own. There is no guarantee the Aggies would have had success if they elected to call a timeout on that particular play.

With that being said, I would have liked to see them call one. The team is on the road and, generally, you don't call one when your team knows what it's doing — which the Aggies clearly didn't. Laroche panicked when Hunt came out to defend him on the perimeter, and the play broke down. At that point, call the timeout.

There was also a questionable timeout called by the Aggies with just over a minute remaining when, down four, they had Wendell McKines on the right side, 10-feet from the hoop, one-on-one with his defender. McKines hit a jump shot, but the Aggies called a timeout right before the play. NMSU actually scored coming out of the timeout — a Tyrone Watson pass caromed off a defender and right to Daniel Mullings, who was able to dunk the ball. It was a lucky play, but it worked out and covered another possible error.

Game management is obviously key, and the Aggies had some questionable moves in this area.

With all this being said, I still like the Aggies chances in a rematch against Nevada in the WAC Tournament Championship game — if both teams get that far.

That isn't a guarantee at this point either, although I do believe if both clubs come out focused — if they aren't looking ahead at each other — than they should beat their WAC competition and find each other in a rematch.

It's not a question of who's the better team — Nevada has proven they are, and if both clubs played 10 times the Wolf Pack would likely win six, seven, eight of those games.

Yes, NMSU would get some wins in there too, though, and are already 0-2 on the season against the Wolf Pack — in other words, the percentages work more in the Aggies favor. It's hard to beat a team with comparable talent three times in a row. If it was just a random night in March, Nevada could very well be the pick, but that won't be the case here.

Again, if a rematch were to go down, the two teams would meet for a third game in three nights. Will the Wolf Pack — a team with limited depth — be able to shoot at a high rate from 3-point territory? It will be tougher.

Meanwhile, we know the Aggies game — they're going to pound it inside regardless, and are big, strong a physical.

And lets look back at Thursday's game. The Aggies had some costly turnovers and went seven minutes without scoring — almost 10 without a field goal. They hit 5 of 11 free throws in the first half. And they were still in it with a chance to win late.

They didn't give up and fought back from a late deficit. Deep down, this has to feel good for this team — they weren't blown out and must know they can beat the Wolf Pack.

Also, there's the possibility the game could mean more to the Aggies. Nevada had a 16-game winning streak this year, had a 13-1 conference record and won the WAC outright. They have a shot at an at-large berth into the Big Dance. Meanwhile, for the Aggies it will be clear. Either win and go to the NCAA Tournament, or lose and go to the NIT.

In other words, I think the Aggies could have an emotional edge going into the game.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Thursday, March 1, 2012

2012 State Basketball Championships: A capsules look at local Round 1 games

With the 2012 State Basketball Championships tipping off Friday, we take a look at local teams in their respective classifications, and how they stack up against their immediate competition.

Class 3A

Who: No. 11 Ruidoso at No. 6 Hatch Valley
When: Friday, 6 p.m.
The skinny: Hatch Valley went 21-4 this season, including a 9-0 mark in District 3-3A play. Ruidoso finished 17-10 overall, 3-3 in District 4-3A. Hatch beat Ruidoso by nearly 20 points in both their head-to-head contests this year.

Class 5A
Who: No. 12 Oñate at No. 5 Hobbs
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
The skinny: The Knights have a tough bracket to navigate, playing at Hobbs and then — if able to spring the upset — most likely having to face district rival Mayfield at The Pit. Still, Oñate is an improved team — this is the second-straight season they’ve made state tournament — and, with a full complement of players outside of injured guard Kelsie Niehoff, could battle the Eagles. With that being said, Hobbs is a good club and a tough one to beat on the road.

Who: No. 9 Cleveland at No. 8 Las Cruces High
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
The skinny: In actuality, it’s been a pretty successful year for the Bulldawgs, who finished second in the District 3-5A regular-season standings and were granted a home playoff game. They have a great player in Samantha Mendoza, although have trouble with the bigger teams on their schedule. This home game won’t be a layup for LCHS.

Who: No. 13 Rio Rancho at No. 4 Mayfield
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
The skinny: It’s tough seeing the Trojans losing this game. And a victory would put them back in a familiar spot — in The Pit, contending for a state championship. The Trojans have played in the championship game six times in the past nine years.

Class 2A

Who: No. 15 Tohatchi at No. 2 Mesilla Valley Christian
When: Saturday, 5 p.m.
The skinny: Located in northern New Mexico, Tohatchi is by and large an unknown. A team with a 15-11 overall record, they’ll make the trip to Las Cruces to play a championship program on the road. Don’t expect this mystery opponent to hold down the SonBlazers.

Class 4A
Who: No. 10 Los Lunas at No. 7 Santa Teresa
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
The skinny: The Desert Warriors have some size, anchored by District 3-4A Player of the Year Adrian Ortegon. A disciplined team led by head coach Bob Haack, Santa Teresa made it to The Pit last season, and open the 2012 postseason on their homecourt.

Class 5A
Who: No. 15 Oñate at No. 2 Albuquerque High
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
The skinny: Simply because of their style of play — a slowed-down pace — the Knights have a chance to keep this game relatively close. These two teams met earlier in the year, with the Bulldogs winning 40-28. The Knights have improved since then and, while an upset seems unlikely, it’s not out of the question either.

Who: No. 12 Mayfield at No. 5 Eldorado
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
The skinny: A tough first-round draw for the Trojans, who managed to move up to the No. 12 seed, only to get rewarded with a talented Eldorado team. Guard Cullen Neal is a big and skilled player at his position, while Zachary Lee brings athleticism to the frontcourt. Not the ideal matchup for the feisty Trojans.

Who: No. 16 Rio Rancho at No. 1 Las Cruces High
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
The skinny: Facing Rio Rancho won’t necessarily be an easy game for the Bulldawgs — well, maybe not. Still, Las Cruces High has all the pieces of a No. 1-ranked team, and doesn’t seem likely to get tripped up against a No. 16 seed.

Before tonight's game, some key stats

Below are some key statistics going into tonight’s game between New Mexico State and Nevada in men’s basketball. Check out NMSU’s scoring margin and rebounding margin. Also, the disparity in shots taken and free throws attempted. As Sun-News reporter Jason Groves points out in his game preview story, Nevada leads the WAC in scoring defense.

Also, click here to check out, as they break down seeding scenarios for Aggie hoops going into the final two games of the season.

Points per game......78.8.......71.1
Scoring defense......68.3.......64.8
Scoring margin.......+10.4......+6.3
FIELD GOALS-ATT......808-1695...677-1497
Field goal pct.......477........452
3 POINT FG-ATT.......135-415....196-535
3-point FG pct.......325........366
3-pt FG made per game.4.5.......7.0
FREE THROWS-ATT......612-923....441-686
Free throw pct.......663........643
Rebounds per game....39.9.......36.7
Rebounding margin....+8.1.......+3.2
Assists per game.....13.8.......13.6
Turnovers per game...14.9.......12.8
Turnover margin......0.0........-0.5
Assist/turnover ratio.0.9.......1.0
Steals per game......6.8........6.0
Blocks per game......4.1........4.7