Monday, February 11, 2013
Aggie roster shuffle has had its benefits as well
Through injuries, a suspension, and a .500 pre-conference basketball record, the New Mexico State Aggies may actually be improved today because of the above-mentioned factors.
Particularly the personnel issues. At the very least, such changes have resulted in a wash, as the team rides an 11-game win streak into this week's road trip at San Jose State and Utah State.
Some of this was on display during the Aggies 60-57 win over Seattle on Saturday night.
For starters, point guard Terrel de Rouen was the best player on the floor during the game's second half.
With the Aggies halfcourt offense struggling to generate buckets, he hit a big 3-pointer to give the team a 42-39 lead, then later found Bandja Sy for another triple. On the subsequent Seattle possession, de Rouen was in the middle of a forced turnover, getting NMSU the ball back.
Two more defensive plays stood out, both coming on consecutive Seattle possessions, when de Rouen dove on the floor in the middle of loose-ball scrums, gaining control both times before calling timeout — back-to-back hustle plays from the sophomore out of Oñate High School.
He also helped keep the Redhawks at bay by draining two free throws with just over a minute remaining.
While de Rouen is still growing into point guard position, he also brings energy and ball movement to the team.
“He's just got that stuff. He's a guy, I can jump into his grill and he'll respond,” NMSU head coach Marvin Menzies said. “He constantly wants to give me an explanation, but it's OK. He's learning. He's a little stubborn. But that's why I like him. He's got that toughness to him. …. Someone once said, ‘luck is being prepared for opportunity.’ You can call him lucky right now if you want, but he definitely was prepared for the opportunity.”
Other players have emerged as valuable components during the Aggies' streak: Front-court standouts Renaldo Dixon (forward) and Sim Bhullar (center) have further established their roles, as has, to a lesser degree, reserve Remi Barry.
Dixon received more minutes when Tshilidzi Nephawe went down with a hand injury and has since stepped into the starting lineup with the suspension of senior Tyrone Watson. His first two years at NMSU, Dixon showed promise when given opportunities at playing time, and this season he's proven to be a tough player to gameplan against — a good defender and shot blocker, who's shooting over 75 percent from the free-throw line.
As for Bhullar, his progress has been obvious: An increase in minutes, a better and smoother offensive player who's been a difference maker on defense as a 7-foot-5 lane clogger and shot blocker.
And this has now become the Aggies identity — a team that's morphed from an up-and-down scoring outfit that was inconsistent defensively and in rebounding during Menzies' initial years at the school, to one that's now turned into a defensive-oriented bunch the past two seasons. With a lineup of de Rouen, Daniel Mullings, Bandja Sy and Dixon, the Aggies have incredible range on the court, while Bhullar makes things increasingly difficult for opposing teams at and around the hoop. It also seems, perhaps, their substitution patterns are based primarily around a player's defensive abilities, first and foremost.
Alas, it wouldn't kill the Aggies for at least a few reinforcements to return. Don't count on that being Nephawe (because a medical redshirt simply makes most sense at this point) or Watson (as his ongoing legal investigation stemming from an alleged battery incident remains up in the air).
Ross-Miller will be back soon, however, and his presence can aid the team in two ways: For one, he can help share point guard duties with de Rouen (perhaps in a backup role); secondly, it will give the Aggies an eight-man rotation as opposed to seven, which will make life a bit easier.
At the moment, players are logging major minutes — Mullings and Sy, for instance, rarely if ever came out of the action this past weekend in wins over Idaho and Seattle. Other reserves such as Eric Weary, Matej Buovac and B.J. West take the court hardly, if at all.
There are different reasons for the team's improved play of late: A solidified rotation, a weak WAC, what appears to be a group that plays well together with good chemistry. We also know, when given further chances, some key pieces to the roster have stepped to the forefront.
Eleven-straight wins is 11-straight wins. It can't be discounted.
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