New Mexico State team capsule
New Mexico State (22-11)
COACH: Marvin Menzies, three years at NMSU, one year in NCAA Tournament
HOW THEY GOT IN: Automatic bid
MATCHUP BREAKDOWN: New Mexico State draws No. 5 seed Michigan State, which has a long tradition of blue-collar play and toughness on the glass. No different this season, with the Spartans posting a plus-9.0 rebounding advantage. The Aggies are at minus-2.1. It is also a tough matchup for the Aggies in that their pressure defense might not have much of an affect against Spartans’ star point guard Kalin Lucas, a lightning quick junior who is nearly impossible to keep out of the lane. The other thing the Spartans have is a ton of tournament experience, including an appearance in the 2009 national title game.
GO-TO GUYS: Junior guard Jahmar Young can create whenever he wants, and he came up big when he drove and pulled up for a game-winning jumper with five seconds left in the WAC semifinals against Nevada. He’s a smooth, athletic All-WAC player who averages 20.5 points and teams with shooting ace Jonathan Gibson (17.5 points per game) to form one of the highest-scoring duos in the country. Wendell McKines is only 6-6, but he’s a beast in the post and is nearly a double-double man, averaging 10.8 points and 9.9 rebounds. Troy Gillenwater, academically eligible for only the past 12 games, gives the Aggies a versatile 6-8 post who averages 14.4 points and 6.4 rebounds and has shown an improved stroke from 3-point range. He comes off the bench for true center Hamidu Rahman, but look for Gillenwater at crunch time.
THEY’LL KEEP WINNING IF: Take the Aggies lightly at your own peril. Ignore the team’s 3-6 start to the season and anything that happened before conference play, when the team was shorthanded. Wendell McKines returned from academic ineligibility in mid-December, and then Troy Gillenwater, after the school’s appeal to the NCAA, returned from his academic problems in early February. This is the best and most complete New Mexico State has been all season, peaking at the right time. Now, if they can just remember to play some defense …
STRENGTHS: New Mexico State passes the eye test. This isn’t a "mid-major with a system." This is a team of athletes and scorers. The Aggies, with Marvin Menzies borrowing the principles from former NMSU head coach Reggie Theus, are an up-tempo team with an overflow of confidence. They’re capable of playing multiple styles and have the athletes to press and attack when they sense blood in the water. This was the highest-scoring in the WAC in conference games (78.6), and with the return of Troy Gillenwater in February, NMSU was able to comfortably go seven deep, including sharp-shooting reserve guard Gordo Castillo.
WEAKNESSES: New Mexico State hasn’t been as devoted to defense as it could be and was last in the WAC in conference games in rebounding margin at minus-3.3 per game. The Aggies can fall in love too much with the 3-point shot, taking nearly 23 per game, which is far more than anyone else in the WAC. They make those at an acceptable rate (37.1 percent), but there is enough variety on offense for New Mexico State to not be so reliant on the outside shot.