Commentary: Jans was the best option for Aggie Basketball

By: Derek Gonzalez

It is never ideal to lose a head men’s basketball coach at a Division I institution. Either the results were not there and a change in direction was needed, or the results were there and a university with bigger financial resources and facilities comes calling and plucks away a winning head coach.

Losing Paul Weir was a tough blow for the university and the men’s basketball program. But it was inevitable. Weir not only won games and set school records, but his demeanor and sophistication made him an attractive candidate for any university. The elephant in the room is who came calling for Weir. The University of New Mexico has fantastic facilities. The Pit is unique and when the Lobos are good, is a top-20 venue in the country. UNM Director of Athletics Paul Krebs nearly tripled Weir’s salary, and in the Mountain West Conference, the Lobos will have the chance to regional and national exposure. The 37-year-old Canadian native will have every opportunity to build UNM into a west coast power.

Already late in the process and without a substantial increase from Chancellor Garrey Carruthers as it relates to the base salary, NMSU Athletic Director Mario Moccia had to get creative and use well-developed relationships, and did both in the hiring of former Wichita State Associate Head Coach Chris Jans.

The market was not demanding of Jans as a head coach because of his mistake that cost him his job at Bowling Green. It was embarrassing to Jans, his family, and Bowling Green University, but Bowling Green, in just one year, had become a winner as a program who was not known for being a viable team in the Mid-American Conference. Jans took a 20-loss team into a 21-win team in just one year. Without his own players. Without any of his own recruits.

Now Jans come into a situation at NMSU where the team does not lack talent. Subtract Ian Baker, but add Ohio State transfer A.J. Harris and top-100 recruit L.J. Figueroa to a team that went 28-5. Moccia found not only an assistant coach who had run his own program before, but a successful one at that who appears to have learned from his mistake.

NMSU is a good job. The history, the Pan American Center, the warm weather and a beautiful campus makes it an attractive place for a high-level assistant looking for his first big break. Where NMSU falls short is in conference affiliation and money. Moccia walked into an unstable situation where his predecessor did not do enough to ensure that NMSU will be in a stable conference in the immediate future. Since Moccia took over, there has been very little movement in conference realignment. Moccia can only do so much at a university that does not put the emphasis it needs to financially in athletics.

Jans will take over a program that Moccia wants to see get tougher. Moccia saw first-hand what the program looks like when a head coach and his players captivate Las Cruces, as he played baseball at NMSU during the wonderful Neil McCarthy era. He spoke of it during the press conference that he wanted “tough dudes.” Remember Wichita State’s Final Four run in 2013 that Jans was a part of? Their motto was “play angry.”

Do not expect there to be any drop off from the Weir era to the Jans era.

But do not compare the two coaches, as their styles are completely different and they are two separate individuals. Obviously with where Weir is at now, that is what people will do. But keep this is mind. Weir has so much more to work with than Jans. They are not on the same playing field. Jans will bring out the best in the NMSU men’s basketball program, but that best may not be enough to be better than the Lobos. But that is fine. If Weir really hurt your feelings, the best way to get him back is to fill that Pan Am Center and make it the place he wanted it to be. Jans will give you every reason to.

Paul Weir departs for UNM

By: Derek Gonzales

When former New Mexico men’s basketball coach Craig Neal was fired just before midnight on March 31, 2017, the Lobos had their fair share of candidates that were attracted to the position. The Pit is one of the most unique venues in the country. UNM has plenty of support from Santa Fe along with a big base of boosters. Albuquerque is a lovely city. But one by one, things did not work out. Not with San Antonio Spurs assistant James Borrego or East Tennessee State University head coach Steve Forbes. After swinging and missing a few times, Krebs and his search committee focused their attention on a new candidate. This candidate was in his inaugural season as a Division I head basketball coach and led his program to a school-record 28 wins, including a win over Arizona State and earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament, where his team led 3rd-seeded Baylor at the half.

The candidate was New Mexico State’s Paul Weir.

Krebs, who is on the NCAA Selection Committee, was assigned to study the Western Athletic Conference amongst others as a part of his duties for selecting teams for the NCAA Tournament. He caught plenty of New Mexico State basketball as he said at Paul Weir’s introductory press conference last week.

“I saw a team that played hard and played really good defense,” Krebs said in his opening statement. “A team that gave great effort every night and were very strong rebounding.”

Those qualities, along with an impressive interview by Weir with Krebs and the UNM search committee, earned the 37-year-old first-year collegiate head coach a six-year contract to move up I-25 and replace Neal as the Lobo’s head men’s basketball coach. It was an unprecedented move by Weir to go from one state school directly to its main in-state rival. The only other comparable move in modern college basketball was Rick Pitino’s move from Kentucky to Louisville, but a stint coaching the Boston Celtics in between those two schools softened the criticism.

“I was at New Mexico State for ten years and poured my heart and soul into the place,” Weir said as he donned a cherry and silver tie that would have almost any Aggie fan watching the press conference uncomfortable. “It was very successful. I started my family there, and I got degrees from there. It would have taken a lot to leave and this was that opportunity. It was too good to pass up. There are people back at New Mexico State who are disappointed in me and will never forgive me but this opportunity was too good to pass up.”

Weir is now the first basketball coach to serve as the head man for both of New Mexico’s Division I institutions. In his only season at NMSU, the Aggies went 28-6 overall (10th-most wins in NCAA history for a first-year Division I head coach) and 11-3 in WAC play. After ending the season with a trip to the Big Dance, NMSU ranked fifth in the country in 3-point percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 29.4 percent from the field (UNM ranked 284th in this category, allowing teams to shoot 36.8 percent from 3).

The Aggies also ranked in the top 35 in block percentage (5th), rebounding margin (19th), scoring margin (19th), free throws (21st), rebounds per game (25th), offensive rebounds per game (27th), and free throw attempts (28th).

Weir does have ties to the previous two UNM regimes, as he served as the Director of Basketball Operations at the University of Iowa under former UNM head coach Steve Alford. Craig Neal was an assistant on that staff.

Financial Ramifications

During Weir’s press conference, Krebs said on more than one occasion that the buyout on Weir’s NMSU contract would be “in between Weir and NMSU.” UNM does not hold a contractual obligation to give NMSU any buy out compensation, and per NMSU Director of Athletics Mario Moccia, “It is still my understanding that Weir owes NMSU $500,000.” (This is as of April 12)

“This is the business side of intercollegiate athletics, and though I am professionally disappointed in losing a great coach, I am also personally disappointed in losing a great friend,” Moccia said at a press conference almost 24 hours after Weir and UNM had theirs. “I want to thank him for his ten years of dedicated service to New Mexico State University. He helped produce one of the most successful seasons in the history of Aggie Basketball. As a friend, I wish him well…all but two days out of the year.”

Weir’s base salary for his only season at NMSU was $250,000. This upcoming season at UNM, he will earn a base salary of $625,000. A concern that has been sparked with this move is the state of NMSU’s finances, in the University as a whole and the athletic department. NMSU Athletics is mandated to pay back a debt to the University that was once $10 million. It has been cut to $4.3 million, and through payments of $890,000 this fiscal year, $970,000 next fiscal year, $1.63 million the following year, and $487,000 the year after that pays off the sum owed. Moccia reiterated the word “mandate,” to specify that his department MUST do what is asked by Carruthers. UNM also has a budget deficit in the athletic department, but on top of what they will pay Weir, they also will be paying Neal 24 installments over the next two years equaling $1 million.

Those mandated payments from athletics to the Universtiy would usually be money that amongst other places, could go towards coaching salaries. Moccia was asked about the type of contract he would be able to offer the next head coach, and it appears that Carruthers will not give Moccia increased financial wiggle room to make a more appealing offer than was given to Weir.

President Garrey Carruthers issued out a statement last week which said the following:

“This is an update to our campus community regarding the departure of our men’s head basketball coach Paul Weir to the University of New Mexico. We gave Paul Weir his first head coaching opportunity one year ago. We knew then, as we know now, he is a young, talented basketball coach who has enormous potential going forward in his career.”

Importantly, everyone should know we were proactive in our attempts to keep Coach Weir at NMSU. We knew we had good coach on our hands, and we also knew other universities would notice him, especially after the team rattled off 20 consecutive wins on their way to a 28-6 record. That’s why we started designing an improved bonus package for Coach Weir two to three weeks ago and the plan was shown to both him and his agent. Unfortunately, we never had an opportunity to finish the conversation.

We wish Coach Weir the best and a successful season next year, except for the two games against our NMSU Aggies.”

Incentive-based bonuses will not work going forward in keeping successful men’s basketball coaches. An increase in base salary is will what need to take place, and if an effort by Carruthers to increase Weir’s salary had been made, while probably not the $625,000 UNM offered, maybe Weir stays and waits for a better opportunity. A raise after a record-setting season was not too much to ask for.

“I want Aggie fans to know this,” Moccia stated as his attention shifted towards finances during the press conference. “Athletics has a mandate to balance its budget from campus every year. In my two full years here, we have done that. While we can bemoan what others have financially, to me, that is a tremendous waste of energy. What athletics can control is finding the best head coach that fits our financial means. The $250,000 base salary (Paul Weir’s NMSU salary) isn’t the ceiling, but it is getting close to it.”

Possible Candidates

NMSU is the only men’s basketball job in the nation that has a vacant position. It is mid-April, which is late in the hiring process, but the fact that Moccia is just a year removed from going through the same process will prove to be beneficial. The only candidate from last year’s job who got a head coaching job besides Weir was then-Arizona assistant Joe Pasternack, who has since been hired as the head man at UC-Santa Barbara. Moccia listed 11 qualities he is looking for in the next head coach. They are listed here:

* Ability to recruit quality, character, and talent that fits his staff’s style

* Focused on academics

* Have a tremendous work ethic

* Huge desire to win

* Be positive with the team

* Able to hire a staff that compliments his weaknesses

* Communicates well and directly with the team

* Ability to mentor individuals on and off the court

* Somebody that will instill toughness

* A coach who wants to be at New Mexico State

* Somebody who understands the role of being a head basketball coach and representing the program and department in the community and statewide

These are three candidates to keep an eye on going forward.

Reggie Theus (Current Cal-State Northridge head coach, former NMSU head coach from 2005-07)

This is a big name for most fans and students who remember the Theus era. In just two years, Theus turned around a program that was 6-24 the year before he arrived and won 16 games in his first year before winning 25 in year two and bolting for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. The former NBA all-star is still revered by many in Las Cruces, but in four seasons at CS-Northridge, he has yet to have a winning season.

Ryan Miller (Current assistant at Texas Christian University)

Miller is known for being one of the top recruiters in the nation while working at TCU, UNLV, UNM, and Memphis. While at UNM, he was responsible for the recruitment of J.R. Giddens, Darington Hobson, Tony Snell and Cameron Bairstow. He has won over 250 games as an assistant over 13 years.

Jesse Bopp (Current NMSU assistant coach)

Bopp has only been in Las Cruces one season, but has gained for the respect of most current players on the Aggie roster. A.J. Harris and Matt Taylor have advocated for Bopp to be promoted on social media, but Bopp is a bit young at just 33 years old. He possesses some of the qualities Weir showed as an assistant, being fiery and full of energy as well as a quality coach in terms of X’s and O’s.

National Sports: Tar Heels Redeem Themselves in Return to NCAA Championship

By: Derek E. Gonzales

April 4, 2016

It was of the most memorable moments in NCAA Basketball history. Philadelphia native Ryan Arcidiacono took the inbounds pass in the backcourt with 4.7 seconds left and found Kris Jenkins trailing for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give the Villanova Wildcats a 77-74 win over the North Carolina Tar Heels in the 2016 National Championship. It was the school’s first national championship since 1985 and gave head coach Jay Wright his first championship. As great of a moment as it was, it has a crushing blow to a UNC team who was in hot pursuit of head coach Roy Williams’ third national championship at his alma mater. Seniors Marcus Paige and Bryce Johnson played key roles for the Tar Heels, and Paige tied the game with a miraculous double-clutch 3-pointer before Jenkins out-did him with his own amazing shot.

April 3, 2017

Three hundred and sixty-four days later, back in the same game as a year ago, UNC was looking right the wrong from just a season ago. With essentially the same team back but without the services of Paige and Johnson, they managed to win the South Region and beat an Oregon team who was clicking on all cylinders before running into the Tar Heels. Waiting for them was a Gonzaga Bulldog team who just had one loss all season. Head Coach Mark Few assembled a talented team of homegrown talent and transfer players, such as Nigel Williams-Goss. Having never been to a Final Four in school history, the Zags won the West Region and beat America’s Cinderella in South Carolina in the National Semifinal to reach the final game of the tournament.

Gonzaga led by three at the half but were struggling to get center Przemek Karnowski going. The size and strength of Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks kept UNC within striking distance even though Justin Jackson was 0 of 6 from behind the arc. As a team, the Tar Heels shot just 2 of 13 from three, while Gonzaga was shooting an efficient 5 of 9.

The officiating was a storyline in the second half of the game, as 27 fouls were called between the two teams behind in the final half just alone. Neither team was able to gain much of a rhythm, but the game stayed close. It was not until a Kennedy Meeks blocked shot of Williams-Goss while UNC led 68-65 that led to a run out dunk for Jackson clinched the game and title for the Tar Heels.

It was an amazing moment for the 2017 version of the North Carolina Tar Heels. Through the heartbreak of last season, the team found the strength to regroup and fight harder and were able to capture that elusive title and place in UNC history.

MBB: Season In Review

By: Derek Gonzalez

For the first 20 minutes of basketball, the 14-seed New Mexico State Aggie men’s basketball team look to be every part of a team ready to play Cinderella. They were outrebounding the mighty 3-seed Baylor Bears front line that led the Big 12 in rebounding margin by three at intermission and were 6 for 14 from behind the arc. Unfortunately, in the end, the two-point halftime lead that was capped off by a Braxton Huggins 3-pointer at the buzzer was not enough, as the Aggies succumbed to a massive Baylor interior in a 93-71 loss Friday afternoon inside the BOK Center.

NMSU ends the season 28-6, breaking the school record for wins in a season that was held by the 1970 Final Four team that was coached by Lou Henson. Head Coach Paul Weir, who has kept Henson involved in the program, had the most wins in the country for a first-year head coach.

“I was talking to Coach Henson earlier in the week before we left, and coach told me ‘you’re going to have to play well but they are going to have a bit of an off night’ and we didn’t catch them on that off night,” Weir said, who in his inaugural season as a Division I head coach, won the Western Athletic Conference Tournament Championship. “They made a lot of two-point jump shots and just made a lot of plays so you got to give Baylor credit.”

The Bears (26-7) shot 19 of 32 from the field in the second half and connected on all 14 free throw attempts. Terry Maston, who came into the game averaging 6.4 points per game, kept Baylor afloat with 12 first-half points while All-American Johnathan Motley was on the bench with foul trouble. Maston and Al Freeman combined for 25 bench points for the Bears in the first half. With Motley acting as a spectator, Maston knew that he would need to step up to help avoid a third-consectutive first-round exit.

“He’s (Motley) is a really essential part of our team and they (NMSU) were giving me the mid-range jumper and I made a couple and they just kept falling for me,” Maston said, finishing with 19 points on the day, three shy of his career high.

Motley’s second-half return to the floor was felt immediately. Baylor opened up the half with a suffocating man-to-man defense that made scoring inside extremely difficult. NMSU was only able to shoot 36.7 percent in the second half as opposed to a 50 percent clip in the first. The Bears’ biggest lead was 20 with 8:43 left and outscored the Aggies in the paint 30-6 in the second half. An early 13-2 run in the second half turned a 42-38 deficit into a 51-44 lead in a game-defining stretch, as the Aggies were never able to stop the bleeding from the point on.

WAC Player of the Year Ian Baker led the Aggies with 19 points and five assists in his last game in an NMSU uniform. Baker was apart four postseason teams in his career and scored a career-high 36 points against UT-Rio Grande Valley on February 18.

“I would say my four years at New Mexico State, I had a blast,” Baker said. “I told one of these people here the other day that in a million years I would have never thought I would have ended up at New Mexico State, but it was the place for me and I’m glad ended up there.”

Tanveer Bhullar Transferring

It has been announced through an NMSU press release that center Tanveer Bhullar will be leaving the program to either join another program as a graduate transfer or playing professionally.

“Tanveer has been an absolute pleasure to coach in my time here,” Weir stated in the press release. “I can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done for us and we all wish him nothing but the best at his future destination.”

The younger brother of former Aggie center Sim Bhullar, the 7’2 Canadian saw a decrease in time this past season, as Paul Weir’s new uptempo style made it tough for Bhullar to carve out a role. Bhullar scored a season-high 11 points against Seattle U and recorded a season-high 10 rebounds against rival New Mexico.

NMSU slated to face Illinois next season

Coming off a school-record 28 wins and another WAC Championship, NMSU is now looking to beef up their non-conference schedule and has added a semi-neutral site game with the Illinois Illni next season. The game will take place inside the United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls, as a tribute game to Hall of Famer Lou Henson, who took both programs to the Final Four. UI will be under the leadership of new head coach Brad Underwood, who left Oklahoma State after just one season to replace John Groce. Groce was fired after failing to lead UI to the NCAA Tournament in four straight years. NMSU will also play in the Diamond Head Classic on the campus of the University of Hawai’i, which will feature Akron (MAC), Davidson (A-10), Miami (ACC), Middle Tennessee (C-USA), USC (PAC-12), Utah State (MWC), and Hawai’i (Big West).

Incoming talent

The Aggies will have the challenge of having to replace WAC Player of the Year and leading scorer Ian Baker next year as well as Matt Taylor and Tanveer Bhullar, but the coaching staff has hit the recruiting trails and look to have the roster reloaded for 2017. L.J. Figueroa was the 87th-ranked player in the class of 2017 out of Orlando’s West Oaks Academy and chose New Mexico State over Louisville and Florida among others. NMSU has also signed junior-college players Tyree Robinson and Jachai Simmons. They are both top 100 in junior college prospect rankings. Marlon Jones and Sidy N’dir will also return to action after both players suffered season-ending injuries.

Aggies valiant effort falls short against Baylor

By: Derek E. Gonzales

 

 

 

TULSA, Okla.- For the first 20 minutes of basketball, the 14-seed New Mexico State Aggie men’s basketball team look to be every part of a team ready to play Cinderella. They were outrebounding the mighty 3-seed Baylor Bears front line that led the Big 12 in rebounding margin by three at intermission and were 6 for 14 from behind the arc. Unfortunately, in the end, the two-point halftime lead that was capped off by a Braxton Huggins 3-pointer at the buzzer was not enough, as the Aggies succumbed to a massive Baylor interior in a 93-71 loss Friday afternoon inside the BOK Center.

 

NMSU ends the season 28-6, breaking the school record for wins in a season that was held by the 1970 Final Four team that was coached by Lou Henson. Head Coach Paul Weir, who has kept Henson involved in the program, had the most wins in the country for a first-year head coach.

 

“I was talking to Coach Henson earlier in the week before we left, and coach told me ‘you’re going to have to play well but they are going to have a bit of an off night’ and we didn’t catch them on that off night,” Weir said, who in his inaugural season as a Division I head coach, won the Western Athletic Conference Tournament Championship. “They made a lot of two-point jump shots and just made a lot of plays so you got to give Baylor credit.”

 

The Bears (26-7) shot 19 of 32 from the field in the second half and connected on all 14 free throw attempts. Terry Maston, who came into the game averaging 6.4 points per game, kept Baylor afloat with 12 first-half points while All-American Johnathan Motley was on the bench with foul trouble. Maston and Al Freeman combined for 25 bench points for the Bears in the first half. With Motley acting as a spectator, Maston knew that he would need to step up to help avoid a third-consectutive first-round exit.

 

 

 

“He’s (Motley) is a really essential part of our team and they (NMSU) were giving me the mid-range jumper and I made a couple and they just kept falling for me,” Maston said, finishing with 19 points on the day, three shy of his career high.

 

Motley’s second-half return to the floor was felt immediately. Baylor opened up the half with a suffocating man-to-man defense that made scoring inside extremely difficult. NMSU was only able to shoot 36.7 percent in the second half as opposed to a 50 percent clip in the first. The Bears’ biggest lead was 20 with 8:43 left and outscored the Aggies in the paint 30-6 in the second half. An early 13-2 run in the second half turned a 42-38 deficit into a  51-44 lead in a game-defining stretch, as the Aggies were never able to stop the bleeding from the point on.

 

WAC Player of the Year Ian Baker led the Aggies with 19 points and five assists in his last game in an NMSU uniform. Baker was apart four postseason teams in his career and scored a career-high 36 points against UT-Rio Grande Valley on February 18.

 

“I would say my four years at New Mexico State, I had a blast,” Baker said. “I told one of these people here the other day that in a million years I would have never thought I would have ended up at New Mexico State, but it was the place for me and I’m glad ended up there.”

 

Tanveer Bhullar Transferring

 

It has been announced through an NMSU press release that center Tanveer Bhullar will be leaving the program to either join another program as a graduate transfer or playing professionally.

“Tanveer has been an absolute pleasure to coach in my time here,” Weir stated in the press release. “I can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done for us and we all wish him nothing but the best at his future destination.”

The younger brother of former Aggie center Sim Bhullar, the 7’2 Canadian saw a decrease in time this past season, as Paul Weir’s new uptempo style made it tough for Bhullar to carve out a role. Bhullar scored a season-high 11 points against Seattle U and recorded a season-high 10 rebounds against rival New Mexico.

 

NMSU slated to face Illinois next season

 

Coming off a school-record 28 wins and another WAC Championship, NMSU is now looking to beef up their non-conference schedule and has added a semi-neutral site game with the Illinois Illni next season. The game will take place inside the United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls, as a tribute game to Hall of Famer Lou Henson, who took both programs to the Final Four. UI will be under the leadership of new head coach Brad Underwood, who left Oklahoma State after just one season to replace John Groce. Groce was fired after failing to lead UI to the NCAA Tournament in four straight years. NMSU will also play in the Diamond Head Classic on the campus of the University of Hawai’i, which will feature Akron (MAC), Davidson (A-10), Miami (ACC), Middle Tennessee (C-USA), USC (PAC-12), Utah State (MWC), and Hawai’i (Big West).

 

Incoming talent

 

The Aggies will have the challenge of having to replace WAC Player of the Year and leading scorer Ian Baker next year as well as Matt Taylor and Tanveer Bhullar, but the coaching staff has hit the recruiting trails and look to have the roster reloaded for 2017. L.J. Figueroa was the 87th-ranked player in the class of 2017 out of Orlando’s West Oaks Academy and chose New Mexico State over Louisville and Florida among others. NMSU has also signed junior-college players Tyree Robinson and Jachai Simmons. They are both top 100 in junior college prospect rankings. Marlon Jones and Sidy N’dir will also return to action after both players suffered season-ending injuries.

Men’s Basketball: 5 Things to Look for in the WAC Tournament

By: Joseph Fullbright

1. Motivation

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.

Aggies drop first conference home game since 2012

By: Derek E. Gonzales

 

 

The New Mexico State men’s basketball team has officially hit a major bump in the road. For the first time since Jan. 12, 2012, the Aggies lost a Western Athletic Conference basketball game on the Pan American Center parquet floor.

The Aggies fell victim to another second-half scoring drought, this one lasting 6:21, while the Wolverines hit shot after shot to embark on a game-clinching 19-0 run to beat NMSU 84-72 Thursday night.

NMSU (23-5, 9-3 WAC) continue to show signs of fatigue, and whether it’s physical or mental, the team right now looks vulnerable with 14 days left until the WAC Tournament.

The Aggies shot 2 of 20 from 3-point territory in the second half and 27.8 percent from the field while being outscored 41-29. It didn’t help the cause that NMSU shot 7 of 16 from the line as well. After guard Jermaine Haley made a free throw to put the Aggies ahead 52-50, UVU hit three 3-pointers in the barrage and capped it off with a Kenneth Ogbe 3-pointer on the right thing to force Weir into a timeout.

By then, the life appeared to be taken out of not only the Pan American Center crowd, but out of a team that had a 22-game winning streak that now seems so far ago.

“We just got outplayed the whole game,” senior guard Ian Baker said, who led the Aggies with 21 points on the night. “It was just a poor defensive effort. I don’t know where our defense has been the last four or five games, but we need to find it quick if we plan on winning anything because if we don’t, we are going to have an early spring break.”

Utah Valley (12-15, 4-8 WAC) shot 55.1 percent from the field in the game and had four players score at least 14 points. The Wolverines have an impressive win against BYU (114-101), but also have a head-scratching loss to Chicago State in Orem. Nonetheless, NMSU Head Coach Paul Weir acknowledged that UVU played well.

“If it was just one thing, I would have hoped by now that we would have fixed it, but this has been a month in the making, and we have squeaked by in some games, but there is no way to sugarcoat it-we have been awful for a month,” a visibly upset Weir said post-game. “It’s unfortunate that this is the way the season’s gone given how it started with all the life and optimism.”

The chances of NMSU winning the conference regular season championship took a huge hit with the loss. The Aggies needed Cal-State Bakersfield to lose once in their final three games, while NMSU needed to win out. With the loss and the Bakersfield win tonight, NMSU will need to win their final two games of the regular season (vs. Seattle, vs. UTRGV), while Bakersfield needs to lose both games (vs. Grand Canyon, vs. Chicago State) for the tiebreaker to be the RPI, in which NMSU would most likely have the edge in.

For now, the Aggies will look to rebound on Saturday night, as they welcome in the Redhawks of Seattle for a 7 p.m. affair inside the Pan American Center.

Aggie Women’s Basketball Remain Undefeated in WAC Play

By: David A. Gest

NM State 69    Cal-State Bakersfield 55

The New Mexico State women’s basketball team continued to roll as they won their 10th straight game with a 69-55 win over the Cal State-Bakersfield Roadrunners inside the Pan American Center to improve to 17-6 on the season and a perfect 9-0 in conference play.

To start the game, the Aggies came out hot, scoring the first seven points of the first quarter. Momentum was undoubtedly in NMSU’s favor, as they enjoyed a 16-0 run between the end of the first frame and beginning of the second quarter. At the half, there were four Aggies with six points or more, though none had been to the free throw line.

Perhaps the best first half performance belonged to CSU-Bakersfield’s center Jazmyne Bartee, who demanded attention with 10 rebounds and four blocks. Bartee’s performance down low and the Roadrunner’s 9-of-10 showing from the charity stripe was still not good enough to be down less than nine at the half as the score was 35-26.

The third quarter belonged to the home team as the Aggies outscored CSUB 18-6 run, beginning with a 13-0 run right out of the halftime break.

Coming into the fourth, NMSU was enjoying a comfortable lead before allowing a 14-2 run by the Roadrunners that cut the game to within nine points. Just past the seven-minute mark, the Aggies answered the call with back-to-back three pointers from Moriah Mack and Zaire Williams. If those 3-pointers weren’t enough to put a cap on the game, Brooke Salas hit a three from long-range as she stumbled backwards to get a round of applause from the crowd.

For the Roadrunners, Jazmyne Bartee enjoyed a double-double with 11 points and 17 rebounds. Brianna Freeman of the Aggies enjoyed her own double-double scoring 10 points to go along with her 12 rebounds and three blocks. There were three more scorers in double digits on the winning team, Moriah Mack (14 points, 7 assists), Zaire Williams (15 points, 4-5 from behind the arc) and Salas, who led the team with 16 points.

NM State 67    Grand Canyon 60

Originally slated for a 2 p.m. Saturday tip-off, the game was moved to Sunday to accommodate the WWE coming to Las Cruces. The extra day of preparation for both teams made for a well-played game. NMSU trailed until Tamera William nailed a 3-pointer with 2:05 left in the quarter and never trailed again in the 67-60 victory over the Lopes.

The win for NMSU keeps the team in sole possession of first place in the WAC standings after the weekend’s games. Seattle U is in second place at 8-1, but NMSU beat the Redhawks 73-69 (OT) on Jan. 26, and will visit Key Arena for the rematch on Feb. 25. The Aggies struggled offensively in the first half, trailing by nine at the half. Leading scorer Brooke Salas was 1-of-7 from the field in the first half, and as a team, NMSU shot just 36.4 percent from the field, while GCU was shooting 45 percent. Marina Laramie scored 26 points for GCU, but was held to just 10 points in the second half after her 16-point first half explosion.

The Aggies are now 18-6 overall and 10-0 in WAC play with four games left, and have a 36-2 record against conference opponents the last two and a half seasons.

NMSU will finish up their regular season on the road, as the team will begin a three-game road trip at Utah Valley on Thursday at 7 p.m. The Aggies will venture up to the Great Northwest to Seattle for what could decide who will be the conference’s top-seed in the WAC Tournament. The team will take a week off and close out the season at UTRGV on Mar. 4.

Losing is Part of the Game

By: Joseph Fullbright

February is almost over and the New Mexico State men’s basketball team is 22-4 on the season. This past week, the Aggies dropped back-to-back road games at CSU-Bakersfield and at Grand Canyon. Prior to those defeats, they were riding a 20-game winning streak. First year head coach Paul Weir has been everything that the university has hoped for replacing Marvin Menzies. He has had to deal with the loss of a first round draft pick in Pascal Siakam to the NBA and a roster with only one senior. Yet, with the two recent tough losses, there seems to be a little bit of uneasiness in Las Cruces.

Each loss had it’s own sort of painful toll. NM State fell 72-53 to CSU-Bakersfield, the team that ended their quest for five consecutive WAC titles last March. The Aggies could not buy a basket, hitting only 17 of 58 shots (29.3%) from the field, including 3-26 from behind the three-point line (11.5%). Senior Ian Baker was among the players who had a hard time getting anything to fall, finishing with 19 points, but missed 16 shot attempts. A positive note from the blowout, however, was Jemerrio Jones, who had 11 points and 16 rebounds.

There are the losses where a team is completely dominated from start to finish by another; and then there are ones where a team is in complete control of the game, but cannot finish and blow the lead. The latter is tougher.

Last Saturday at Grand Canyon, the Aggies found themselves trailing by eleven towards the end of the first half. They then went on a 13-0 run to get back into the game, and were only down two entering halftime. That momentum seemed to carry through into the second half as the Aggies were clearly the better team and took a commanding 62-52 lead with 11:02 left in the game. They could not be stopped- the big men were dominating the post, the defense was lock down, and the imposing crowd was put to silence. What happened next was a total meltdown. The Antelopes went on to close the game out on an insane 31-9 run that included an Aggies scoring drought of over seven minutes. Nobody really knows what happened to NMSU; possibly fatigue, bigheadedness, questionable coaching decisions- they’ve all been hypothesized and evaluated. At the end of the day, Grand Canyon won.

To make matters worse, with CSU-Bakersfield handling UT-Rio Grand Valley, the Aggies have fallen into second place in the WAC. Yes, you read that correctly. A team that is 22-4 on the season is in second place in their respective conference. The Runners are 17-7 overall on the year, but are 8-1 in WAC play and control their own destiny as far as clinching the #1 overall seed in next month’s WAC Tournament goes. With the two losses, the Aggies are 8-2 in WAC play, which means they are in sole possession of second place. In order to retake first place, they would have not only win, but hope Bakersfield drops one (or more) of their remaining conference games (@UVU, @SEA, vs. UMKC, vs. CHST, vs. GCU). With Grand Canyon serving it’s final year of postseason ineligibility, the WAC sends seven teams to the WAC Tournament. Whoever finishes the regular season in first place gets the elusive first round bye, which is an automatic berth in the tournament semifinals.

But the thing is, in sports, losing can sometimes be a blessing in disguise. The Aggies, before the road trip, were 22-2, riding a 20-game winning streak, and had not tasted losing since falling to UNM all the day back on November 18. The team is super young and were no doubt feeling like they were at the top of the world. These losses may just be what Paul Weir and the Aggies needed to kick it into an even higher gear. Look for the team to come out and finish out their final three games of the season in dominating fashion. We, as citizens of Las Cruces, have been extreme

    ly spoiled with coach Weir’s team                                                this season. So much so, that we forgot that even the great teams like Duke and Kentucky lose sometimes. And don’t give me the “we play in a weak conference” argument- it’s HARD to run the table in any conference, regardless of teams. Sure, this isn’t the mid-2000’s WAC with Boise State, Nevada, and Utah State, but it does have well-coached Bakersfield, on-the-rise Grand Canyon, juggernaut NMSU, and a plethora of mediocre teams that can put up an upset any given game.

The Aggies are by far the most talented team in the WAC. So, Aggie Nation, take a deep breath and relax, because I can promise you that there is something different and special about this team than in years passed. They close out the season with three home games: 2/23 vs. Utah Valley, 2/25 vs. Seattle, and 3/4 vs. UTRGV.

WBB: Aggies Defeat Chicago State: Remain Unbeaten in WAC

By: Joseph Fullbright

While the talk in Las Cruces seems to be the insane success of first year head coach Paul Weir and the men’s basketball team, Mark Trakh and company h ave the women’s team rolling as well.

The New Mexico State women’s basketball team won their ninth consecutive game last Saturday by defeating Chicago State 65-54 on the road. With the victory, the Aggies improved to 16-6 on the season, including a perfect 8-0 in WAC play.

The Cougars (0-22, 0-8) came into the game winless on the year, but came out of the gate aggressive and looking for a major upset. They kept it close the entire first half, finding themselves only trailing by two.

The third quarter was a mirror image of the second, as the Cougars would not go down quietly. Both teams were anchored by their defenses and struggled to get anything going offensively. The Aggies were up 48-46 entering the final frame.

The Aggies began the fourth quarter on fire with a 13-4 run and were finally able to blow the game open. They would hold on to win the game 65-54.

“We played a well-coached team to the end,” said head coach Mark Trakh. “This was a close game and I’m happy walking away with a win after a tough 40 minutes of play.”

Brianna Freeman led the way for the Aggies with 17 points and seven rebounds on 8-11 shooting from the field.

The Aggies have still yet to lose in 2017, and will look to keep up their WAC dominance on Saturday, February 18, vs. UT-Rio Grande Valley at 2:00 pm at the Pan American Center.

MBB: Aggies to Continue on Without Solid Piece 

The New Mexico State men’s basketball team has been one of the hottest teams in the entire country and will have to finish out the year without one of their most talented players.

Redshirt sophomore guard Sidy N’Dir will be out for the rest of the season due to a foot injury. N’Dir has not played since the Aggies’ win vs. Long Beach State on December 3 where he scored 18 points.

“Sidy did everything he could to try and come back this season and continue what he started with us,” said head coach Paul Weir. “Unfortunately his injury has not healed enough for us to bring him back anytime soon.”

The France native was leading the Aggies in scoring through the teams first nine games with 13.7 points per game. Despite N’Dir being out, the Aggies have managed to go 15-0 since his original diagnosis. There was speculation that he would be able to return to the floor sometime this season.

N’Dir is eligible for a medical redshirt since he played in less than half of the Aggies’ games this season. He redshirted his first season at NMSU as a freshman, so it will be up to the NCAA to grant him a sixth year of eligibility.

“We look forward to a full recovery for the start of the 2017-18 season and him resuming his promising playing career,” added Weir.