New Mexico State Aggies
2016-2017 Overall Rank: #92
Conference Rank: #1 WAC
After yet another year of dominating the WAC, New Mexico State faltered in the conference tournament, falling to CSU Bakersfield. That put an end to the Aggies four consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament. They had to settle for a trip to the NIT instead, where they lost to St. Mary’s in the first round 58-56. NMSU should again dominate the WAC, but they will have to do it with a new coach. Marvin Menzies left to take over at UNLV and the Aggies promoted long-time assistant Paul Weir.
2015-16 Record: 23-11, 13-1
2015-16 Postseason: NIT
Coach: Paul Weir
Coach Record: 0-0 at New Mexico State, 0-0 overall
Pascal Siakam is obviously a huge loss for the Aggies. He left early for the NBA after averaging 20.3 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. New Mexico State seems to always have a talented big man, but Siakam was special. Losing a player of that quality is an issue, but the good news is that the only other departures are Rashawn Browne and Harold Givens. Browne is transferring after 2.2 points and 1.1 assists in limited action and Givens played a total of 15 minutes during the 2015-2016 campaign.
New Mexico State has some more size coming in, which should help replace Siakam. Bollo Gnahore is a 6-11, 260 pound center who can dominate in the paint. He redshirted last season, but still may need some time to develop his game. Johnny McCants is the lone incoming freshman on the roster, but junior college transfer Marlon Jones could make the biggest impact this season. The once relatively highly regarded recruit from Chicago had a successful stint at South Plains College. He is a tough forward who can at least hit the glass effectively. He is also a pretty good free-throw shooter for a big man and that could prove to be very important for a team that often struggled at the charity stripe. The backcourt adds redshirt freshman Jermaine Haley and junior college transfer Chance Ellis. Ellis is a superb outside shooter and he should find a role on this team as a shooter. Few teams in the country connected on fewer three-pointers than NMSU last season, but Ellis can help change that.
Who to Watch:
Yet, with just one key departure, Coach Weir will not have to rely much on his newcomers at all. Seven players are back who averaged at least 11 minutes per game. None are more important than Ian Baker, a 6-0 senior who will be asked to turn into the new leader of the team. Last season Baker averaged 13.8 points and 3.7 assists. He also connected on a team high 69 three-pointers. Just like some of the stars of NMSU in the recent past, Baker is ready to take over the team and lead them to a WAC title. Matt Taylor and Jalyn Pennie were also regular starters on the perimeter last season. Taylor is not much of a scorer, but he is a decent ball handler and defender. Pennie is more of a dynamic scoring threat who can shoot the ball and use his 6-7 frame to attack the basket. Junior Braxton Huggins was mostly a shooter off of the bench last season but, at 6-5, he has the size to get to the basket more often. Sidy Ndir will again add more depth to the perimeter after an inconsistent freshman campaign. The returning experience in the frontcourt mostly belongs to Johnathon Wilkins and Tanveer Bhullar. Wilkins emerged as a solid interior scorer, but he will need to be tougher on the glass now that Siakam is gone. Bhullar is a 7-3, 335 pound junior who changes the game whenever he is on the floor. Last season he averaged 18.1 minutes per game and averaged 5.6 points and 5.2 rebounds. Starting or not, Bhullar will play about 20 minutes per game again this year and the Aggies need him to make the most out of those minutes, especially on the defensive end of the floor.
This is a New Mexico State team that should easily win the WAC again in 2016-2017. As always though, for the Aggies it is about March. They need to get revenge on CSU Bakersfield in the conference tournament and then see how they matchup with teams in the NCAA Tournament. Without Siakam there are some questions about what this team can do in the NCAA Tournament. Thus, look for a gaudy record again, but perhaps a short trip to the NCAA Tournament if the newcomers in the frontcourt fail to be tough enough to deal with teams outside of the WAC.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Ian Baker, Senior, Guard, 13.8 points per game
Matt Taylor, Junior, Guard, 5.4 points per game
Jalyn Pennie, Junior, Guard, 6.4 points per game
Johnathon Wilkins, Junior, Forward, 6.3 points per game
Tanveer Bhullar, Junior, Center, 5.6 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 71.3 (215th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Scoring Defense: 63.1 (10, 1)
Field-Goal Percentage: 46.2 (59, 1)
Field-Goal Defense: 39.2 (11, 1)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 5.3 (327, 7)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 33.3 (236, 6)
Free-Throw Percentage: 67.7 (256, 2)
Rebound Margin: 9.8 (5, 1)
Assists Per Game: 14.1 (118, 4)
Turnovers Per Game: 13.6 (258, 5)