#116 NM State Men's Basketball 2017-2018 Preview


NM State Aggies


2017-2018 Overall Rank: #116

Conference Rank: #2 WAC

The NMSU Aggies are the elite team of the WAC, having made the tournament four times in Marvin Menzies’ last five seasons as NMSU head coach. When Menzies left for UNLV, many wondered if his longtime assistant, Paul Weir, could maintain this level of success. Weir quickly silenced any doubters by posting a 28-6 record and earning a trip to the Big Dance in his first season in Las Cruces. Unfortunately for the Aggies, Weir’s first season was also his last season. Weir took the head coaching job at New Mexico, which is NMSU’s biggest rival. You don’t normally see a coach take a job at a rival school, but New Mexico more than doubled his salary which was enough for Weir to make the move. The Aggies hired Chris Jans, a former Greg Marshall assistant, to replace Weir. Jans had a very promising start to his coaching career at Bowling Green, but was fired after a controversial incident that occurred shortly after his first season. It will be interesting to see if Coach Jans can make the most of his second chance. NMSU lost many key players from last year’s team, but the cupboard is not bare. The Aggies have enough talent to win the WAC tournament for the sixth time in seven seasons, but will need some of their newcomers to step into major roles immediately.
2016-17 Record: 28-6, 11-3
2016-17 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Chris Jans
Coach Record:  0-0 at NM State, 21-12 overall
Who’s Out:
The two biggest losses for NMSU are point guard Ian Baker and small forward Braxton Huggins. Baker was won WAC player of the year and his enormous contributions will be sorely missed. He averaged 16.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game in his senior season. Baker was not the most efficient scorer (39%), but that is directly related to shouldering a huge offensive role. Huggins is transferring to Fresno State where he will sit this season and have one year of eligibility remaining. Huggins was the team’s best three-point shooter by a wide margin and there is no clear candidate to fill his sharp shooting role. He shot 42% from three on 89 makes and scored 13.7 points per game. The losses of Baker and Huggins will definitely sting throughout the season.
Two other rotation players are leaving the program, Matt Taylor and Jermaine Haley. Matt Taylor made a surprising decision to turn pro after averaging 6.5 points per game as a junior. The 6-4 guard will most likely head to the G-League or overseas. Jermaine Haley was a huge 6-7 guard who served as a backup at both guard positions. Haley struggled to shoot the ball, but his elite size for the position made him very valuable and an interesting long-term prospect. Haley will continue his career at Wyoming where he will have three years of eligibility after sitting out this season.
Tanveer Bhullar, Jalyn Pennie, and Chance Ellis did not factor into the regular rotation and all three players will transfer. Bhullar is known for his massive 7-2 and 285 pound frame and will be a grad transfer at Missouri State. He is the younger brother of Sim Bhullar, who was a star at NMSU and had a brief stint with the Sacramento Kings. Tanveer Bhullar saw his role and production decrease from his sophomore to junior seasons, but should play a larger role at Missouri State. Jalyn Pennie also had his minutes dramatically slashed in his junior season. The 6-5 wing played 27 minutes per game as a sophomore, but only 8.6 minutes per game as a junior. Chance Ellis played sporadically during his one season as an Aggie. Finally, LJ Figueroa was a highly ranked recruit who will transfer to junior college before even playing a game in Las Cruces.
Who’s In:
The Aggies have a massive incoming class which includes nine players who will see their first in-game action this season. Their biggest addition is also their most recent addition, grad transfer Zach Lofton. Lofton has had a well-traveled career as he has made stops at Illinois State, Minnesota, Texas Southern, and now New Mexico State. Most recently at Texas Southern, Lofton averaged 16.8 points per game and was named the SWAC player of the year. The 6-3 guard will most likely be a starter and should be a double figure scorer in his one season with NMSU. NMSU is quite fortunate to grab a player of his caliber in early July and he will help make up for the huge losses on the perimeter. Sophomore guard AJ Harris is also poised to make a major impact in his first season in Las Cruces. The 5-9 PG started his career at Ohio State and opted to transfer after one season. Harris’ height is a significant disadvantage, but it should be less of an issue in the WAC where players are generally smaller and less athletic than Big Ten players. He averaged 2.8 points and 1.7 assists in just over 13 minutes per game. Harris should establish himself as the sixth man for NMSU and could easily play over 20 minutes per game.
Three junior college guards will also compete for playing time off the bench. Wayne Stewart will add three-point shooting and size on the wing. The 6-6 wing averaged 18.3 points per game as a sophomore in junior college. Shunn Buchannan is a 6-foot point guard who will also compete for minutes in the backcourt. Buchannan only played one season in junior college where he tallied 12.7 points and 5.3 assists per game. The third incoming guard from junior college is LaMarcus Lee. Lee averaged 15.2 points per game and is a 6-2 combo guard. He also has three years of eligibility remaining. Johnny McCants should also see some minutes in the frontcourt. The 6-7 forward redshirted last season and looks poised to contribute off the bench as a redshirt freshman. Bollo Gnahore missed last season with a knee injury and should provide depth at the center position. Freshmen guards Gabe Hadley and Kortrijk Miles could compete for a small role in the rotation, but will likely play sparingly. NMSU will have no shortage of depth and should have many quality options at Coach Jans’ disposal.
Who to Watch:
NMSU returns two potential star players in Sidy N’Dir and Eli Chuha. N’Dir is an athletic left-handed guard who has missed most of last season with a foot injury. He only appeared in nine games where he averaged 13.7 points and, if healthy, should be just as productive over a full season. N’Dir made a huge jump from his freshman to his shortened sophomore season by increasing his scoring from 3.9 to 13.7 points per game. The 6-2 guard is also a capable shooter since he shot 36.1% from three while making almost 1.5 per game, but is at his best using his athleticism to attack the basket. Eli Chuha is a bruising power forward who is adept at using his strength to score inside. Chuha is not only the best interior scorer for NMSU, but also the team’s best rebounder. Chuha averaged 12.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game and should put up similar numbers, as a junior, this season. Don’t be surprised if Chuha sees a chunk of playing time at the center position in smaller lineups as well. Both N’Dir and Chuha are legitimate candidates for WAC player of the year and should have the Aggies in the mix for another league title.
At first glance, senior Jemerrio Jones does not look like he would be an elite rebounder, but the springy 6-5 combo forward averaged 8.4 rebounds in just 24 minutes per game. He also averaged 9.7 points and 3 assists per game. Jones will log time at both forward positions and uses his quickness and athleticism to score around the rim. NMSU will split the center position between seniors Marlon Jones and Jonathan Wilkins. Jones only appeared in the first three games due to a shoulder injury, but the 6-9 senior was a rotation player when healthy. He will share time with the starting center from last season, Jonathan Wilkins. Wilkins is a slender 6-10 lefty who happens to be the polar opposite of fellow frontcourt starter, Eli Chuha. Chuha is a very physical player while Wilkins is more of a finesse player who likes to shoot jump shots. Wilkins averaged 5.5 points and 3 rebounds per game last season. Walk-on Joe Garza appeared in 30 games last year and should add backcourt depth this season. The five returning scholarship players will need to make a major impact if NMSU is going to hold its place at the top of the WAC.
Final Projection:
NMSU has a few huge question marks that need to be answered if they are going to make their sixth NCAA tournament in seven seasons. First, are Sidy N’Dir and Marlon Jones going to be 100% healthy for the start of the season? Jones needs to provide around 15 minutes per game at center and N’Dir needs to play like one of the best players in the conference for NMSU to reach their full potential. Second, can N’Dir transition to being a full time PG? N’Dir had the luxury of playing alongside Ian Baker, but with Baker gone he must assume the ball handling responsibilities. If N’Dir cannot make the transition, he will have to play alongside one of the new point guards, which limits the team’s lineup versatility and defensive potential. Finally, will the roster turnover and coaching change adversely affect team chemistry? NMSU brings in nine new players, which does not even include N’Dir and Jones who were injured for most of last season. The Aggies have a lot of depth, but the bench is filled with uncertainty. Zach Lofton and AJ Harris look like reliable contributors, but only time will tell if they can perform as expected at their new school. If Coach Jans cannot figure out a reliable rotation and get all the new players to gel then NMSU could slip behind Grand Canyon and/or Utah Valley in the standings. The Aggies have enough talent to repeat as WAC tournament champions and will be one of the three teams in the mix for the regular season crown.
Projected Postseason Tournament: CBI/CIT/V16
Projected Starting Five:
Sidy N’Dir, Guard, Sophomore, 13.7 points per game
Zach Lofton, Guard, Senior, 16.8 points per game (at Texas Southern)
Jemerrio Jones, Forward, Senior, 9.7 points per game
Eli Chuha, Forward, Junior, 12.4 points per game
Jonathan Wilkins, Center, Senior, 5.5 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 78.8 (50th in nation, 1st in conference)
Scoring Defense: 67.9 (64, 3)
Field-Goal Percentage: 46.7 (64, 1)
Field-Goal Defense: 41.9 (77, 4)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 7.4 (165, 5)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 33.7 (240, 4)
Free-Throw Percentage: 71.2 (135, 3)
Rebound Margin: 6.3 (19, 1)
Assists Per Game: 14.9 (85, 4)
Turnovers Per Game: 13.7 (244, 2)