Wednesday, March 20, 2013

With NCAA appearances three times in four years, Aggie basketball finds success

(Marvin Menzies has led New Mexico State to three NCAA Tournament appearances during the past four seasons/Associated Press photo)

Three NCAA Tournament trips in four years. It's tough to argue with those results.

It's typically an adventure for the Aggies: From inconsistencies during the season, to a poor record against their rivals, and at times some run-ins away from the court, but head coach Marvin Menzies has also found his program's success at New Mexico State.

It's not always conventional and sometimes counter-intuitive to basketball logic: Leaving your shooter on the bench against New Mexico in the closing moments; playing your suspended forward 38 minutes his first game back in uniform at Denver; having a time-share at point guard, even when one player has out-performed the other. But it's also resulted in good team chemistry and, yes, another Western Athletic Conference championship and NCAA Tournament berth. It proves there's more than one way to skin a cat - or in this case run a program - and get positive results.

It starts with the Aggies players. When Menzies came to the school in 2007, he was known as a recruiter first and foremost, and he and his coaching staff have been resourceful and creative in their craft.

The Aggie roster is three-fourths players from overseas or Canada, with plenty of athletic and physical ability. On this year's team, such a description fits, with shooting guard Daniel Mullings, senior forwards Bandja Sy and Tyrone Watson, 7-foot-5 center Sim Bhullar and power forward Renaldo Dixon, to name a few. And while their offensive performances can have ups and downs, they're exceptional athletes who've turned the Aggies into a top-notch defensive team.

Such a dynamic has managed to overpower the Western Athletic Conference in recent years. While the Aggies typically suffer a head-scratching loss or two during WAC play, they're always in the standings' top-third by season's end, and come WAC Tournament time they've proven too tough to deal with.

Their league counterparts simply aren't accustomed to handling such physical stature and athleticism, and that makeup puts NMSU in prime position to win a three-day, winner-take-all tournament. The Aggies have been to four WAC championship games during Menzies' six-year tenure, winning three. Not once during that time have they been eliminated during the quarterfinals round of WAC play.

And when they do make the NCAA Tournament, we're reminded how important such an accomplishment is for Las Cruces as a whole.

With all the talk of high school football and the tremendous run of success those programs have had over the years, Aggie basketball remains the water-cooler sport in town, and something everyone can rally behind. Reaching the NCAAs is uplifting, with more Aggie hats and T-shirts seen this week in town than any other point during the year. In short, it instills pride in the city, and is an extreme positive for the Aggie program and our local community.

At a time when Aggie athletics is trying to find footing during conference realignment, NMSU's men's basketball has held its end of the bargain. We've said it before: Outside of football, the Aggies have something to sell in their Olympic sports, and it's men's basketball that's leading the charge.

It's about giving credit to Menzies for running his program, but also enjoying the moment. Perhaps a possible upset comes today against Saint Louis - it's the Aggies best matchup in recent years during their opening-rounds of the tourney. And, if it doesn't come this year, maybe the year after. They're becoming an experienced program at this. The track record bears out, that the Aggies will be here again.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg


joe said...

how about them aggies. go mm and boston. My bad i ment go away.

Anonymous said...

Another fool who thinks that going to the NCAA Tournament in a conference like the WAC is a accomplishment.

Now going to the Dance for a WAC team and doing some with that opportunity would be a accomplishment.