By: Joseph Fullbright
It’s hard to believe that it has already been a year since the New Mexico State Aggies men’s basketball teams had their hearts broken in the 2016 WAC Tournament championship game. Trailing by as many as ten, the Aggies put together a big second-half rally to tie the game up at 54 with 13 seconds left. On the final play of the game, Cal-State Bakersfield player Dedrick Basile nailed a three-pointer to send the Runners to the NCAA Tournament with a 57-54 victory. The Aggies had won the previous four WAC Tournaments entering 2016. If you ask any player which team they want to face in the tournament, they will say the Runners. If NMSU can play with the fire that the loss lit under them, then they will be hard to stop.
2. Coach Weir
Having spent the past nine seasons as an assistant coach under Marvin Menzies, coach Paul Weir is no stranger to big moments. In fact, under Menzies’ reign, the Aggies went to five NCAA Tournaments. Weir was with them the entire way. He has obviously shown his ability to be a successful coach- just look at his 25-5 record in his inaugural season. Aggie fans can be the first to tell you that Weir is more vocal and energetic than Menzies was, and his passions shows in his players. He is a player’s coach; so look for the players to stand behind him and play their hearts out.
3. Defensive Pressure
Coach Weir has always been the mastermind behind the Aggies’ defensive success in recent years. This season, he decided to overlook the entire team and appointed assistant coach Jesse Bopp in charge of defensive duties. Bopp has done a very solid job. During the Aggies losing skid a few weeks back, the defense has struggled. Following their loss to Utah Valley last Thursday, the Aggies and coach Paul Weir met together and decided to return to their full-court pressure that was so key all year. It was a fatigue issue, as the Aggies only have 11 players due to injuries and needed to save their legs. Here comes the tough stretch, where they would have to play three games in three nights- their defensive pressure is going to be much needed if they want to get to the big dance.
4. Ian Baker
They say you improve every year and Ian Baker has shown that is true. Baker is the lone senior on the roster and has been the key leader for the Aggies this season. He is having the best season of his career averaging 16.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. Big time players make big time plays and he is going to be counted on to lead this team and keep them cool, calm, and collected in Vegas. It’s time for one last run at an NCAA Tournament bid for the senior point guard.
5. Do Your Job
Despite a shaky stretch that included losing three of their final five games, the Aggies are definitely the best team in the WAC. Don’t let the fact that they are only the #2 seed distract you from their solid victories over Arizona State, UNM, and Long Beach State. The Aggies need to put their last few weeks behind them and just do what they did to earn their 25-5 record. No other team in the tournament offers the dynamic players like Baker, Braxton Huggins, and Eli Chuha. Leave the past in the past. Like the New England Patriots’ mantra: do your job, and you’ll be ok.
The #2-seeded Aggies will open up the 2017 WAC Tournament vs. #7 Chicago State on Thursday, March 9 in the quarterfinals.