By: Derek Gonzales
The New Mexico State Aggie men’s basketball team will make their much-anticipated 2016-17 debut this week, as they will face Arizona Christian Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the Pan American Center before heading to Fort Collins, Colorado to face the Colorado State Rams.
Guards Ian Baker, Braxton Huggins, and Sidy Ndir will look to take the next step as scorers for an Aggie offense that only averaged 71.3 points per game, which ranked 215th in Division-I basketball.
First-year head coach Paul Weir, along with college basketball Hall of Famer and former Aggie coach Lou Henson, have implemented a more up-tempo offense in an attempt to be more entertaining and allow their players the opportunity to make plays within the flow of the game.
On the defensive end, the Aggies return the bulk of the number one ranked defense in the Western Athletic Conference, that allowed only 63.1 points per game. Without WAC Player of the Year and current Toronto Raptor Pascal Siakam’s offensive production, the team will need to lean on the defensive end early in the season until the team figures out how to score at an efficient rate.
Here is a preview of the team’s first two games of the season with key players, and how the Aggies can beat them and start the Paul Weir era 2-0.
The Firestorm will come into the Pan American Center on Friday, already playing their third game of the season. They are coached by Jeff Rutter, who is in his fifth year at the helm, and are a respectable NAIA program, having won at least 20 games in each of Rutter’s first four years, advancing to the NAIA Sweet 16 a season ago. On the court, they are led by senior Chris Sterling, who is averaging 24 points per game. The San Jose City College transfer shot an efficient 8-of-11 from the field in the Firestorm’s 88-74 season opening win over West Coast Baptist, including 3-of-4 performance from three-point territory. Behind Sterling, Shy McClelland (16.0 PPG) and Matt Willkomm (12.0 PPG) are the other double digit scorers for a team that is averaging 88 points per game. ACU is good enough to expose a few weaknesses that NMSU may have playing their first game of the year, but it will be tough for an NAIA school to keep the game close with an Aggie team that could have positions and playing time up for grabs. Expect many players to see the court for NMSU. They will look to work out the early season kinks before heading up to Colorado State on Sunday.
After playing a home-and-home series in 2013 and 2014, NMSU and Colorado State decided to renew the non-conference matchup after a one-year hiatus. Both years featured a one-possession game, and both wins were by head coach Larry Eustachy and the Rams. An 85-83 win in Fort Collins and a 58-57 overtime win boosted CSU’s postseason resume each year, and Sunday’s game presents both teams a chance to pick up a key win early in the season. Eustachy is also in his fifth year at CSU, with last year’s team going 18-16, which marked the
worst record in his time in Fort Collins. The Rams lost their top six leading scorers from a season ago, with sophomore guard J.D. Paige being the leading returning scorer with averaging just 4.9 points per game last season. NMSU may not have a lot of film to prepare with on this year’s Colorado State roster, but the Rams will be playing their first game, presumably with four or five new starters, against a top-25 defensive team. It should bode well for NMSU, and will have a great chance to nab a win against a middle-of-the-pack Mountain West team.