One of the enjoyable aspects of playing in the NCAA Tournament (as best as I can remember) is running into programs that IU has rarely or ever faced. That is the case this season, so perhaps it's worth a look at New Mexico State University, IU's first round opponent.
The school: New Mexico State University was founded in 1888, a generation before New Mexico actually became a state, and its first president was a Hoosier, Hiram Hadley, a Quaker with ties to Earlham College. NMSU is located in Las Cruces, in the far south of New Mexico, only 50 miles from El Paso, Texas and over 200 miles from Albuquerque.
The series: IU and NMSU have met only once in basketball, in December 1961. IU prevailed 74-68 in Bloomington. That was something of a middling IU team, at a point at which Branch McCracken's best IU teams were behind him: 14-9 overall, 7-7 in the Big Ten. They were indeed the "Hurryin' Hoosiers" that year, averaging 88 points per game, including 29.8 per game from the legendary Jimmy Rayl. The game was played at what is now known as the Gladstein Fieldhouse, long known as "the new fieldhouse," immediately east of Assembly Hall. Over the years, there have been fairly strong ties between IU and the Aggies' rival, New Mexico. Steve Alford is now the coach at UNM, former IU assistant Dave Bliss (now disgraced after the scandal at Baylor) was the head coach there for years, and IU won a regional at the Pit in Albuquerque in 1992. I was very surprised to see, however, that IU has never played the Lobos. I'm not sure how the lone matchup with NMSU arose 50 years ago.
NCAA Tournament history: The Aggies have a very solid NCAA Tournament history: 18 appearances all-time plus a Final Four appearance in 1970. NMSU hasn't won a Tournament game since 1993, when the Aggies knocked off current Big Ten member Nebraska in the first round, and last reached the Sweet 16 in 1992, where they lost to UCLA. That game was played in Albuquerque, and IU was in that regional as well. The Hoosiers stomped UCLA on their way to the Final Four. Seven of NMSU's 18 NCAA Tournament appearances, including the 1970 Final Four, came under the leadership of Lou Henson, best remembered by IU fans as the longtime Illinois coach. Henson left NMSU for Champaign-Urbana in 1975, and after he retired from Illinois in 1996, ultimately returned to NMSU for a successful second go-around in Las Cruces (I remembered that Henson had returned to NMSU, but I am floored that he was there for nearly eight full seasons (he stepped down for good for health reasons during the 2004-05 season, which also culminated in an NCAA bid). NMSU's only NCAA game against a Big Ten school was NMSU's most recent NCAA Tournament game: a 70-67 loss to Final Four-bound Michigan State in 2010. As an aside, UCLA had given NMSU four of its 18 elimination losses in the NCAA Tournament.
The coach: Marvin Menzies is in his fifth season at New Mexico State, with a record of 102-67. Menzies came to NMSU from Rick Pitino's staff at Louisville, and he also worked for Steve Fisher at San Diego State and Lon Kruger at UNLV. This is his second NCAA Tournament appearance.
Well, that's a quick look at the Aggies' history. Later, we'll discuss more about their present.