March 3, 2012; Fresno, CA, USA; New Mexico State Aggies forward Wendell McKines (31) battles for position next to Fresno State Bulldogs guard Jonathan Wills (2) in the first half at the Save Mart Center. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE
New Mexico State Aggies
Current record: 26-9 (10-4) (WAC Tournament champs)
Current RPI: 59 (IU is #17)
Current Sagarin: 63 (IU is #9)
Current Pomeroy: 63 (IU is #11)
2010-11 record: 16-17 (9-7)
2010-11 RPI: 139
2010-11 Sagarin: 154
2010-11 Pomeroy: 139
Series: IU leads 1-0
TV: approximately 9:45 Thursday, CBS
Indiana has returned from oblivion. Just one year after going 12-20 and finishing 3-15 in the Big Ten, IU is back in the NCAA Tournament with a four seed, only the second time IU has been seeded so high in the past 19 seasons. No matter what happens on Thursday, this has been a successful season. Before the season, any of us would have taken a trip to Dayton for the First Four; instead, IU will be wearing its home uniforms for the first two games of the Tournament (if there is a second game). Every IU fan should read this excellent Les Carpenter article from Yahoo! Sports. The bottom line: IU is very fortunate to have Tom Crean, and as ugly as the previous three seasons were, it could have been worse, and might have been if IU didn't have such a tireless and dedicated leader. Crean makes a couple million dollars a year, so he isn't an object of sympathy, but I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Crean put his career on the line to come to IU, and that decision is finally paying off personally and professionally for Crean. Obviously, aspirations for IU's program reach far beyond a four seed and the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Nevertheless, I doubt that those who mock Crean have ever accomplished anything like what he has done, taking a program from zero scholarship players to a consensus top 16 team within four years.
But hey, let's not turn this preview into a retrospective on a season that isn't yet over, and may be far from over. New Mexico State is playing in its second NCAA Tournament in three seasons, and gave Michigan State a run before falling 70-67 in 2010. AJ did a nice job scouting the Aggies a couple of days ago. Major takeaways? They're fast (#19 in the nation at 70 possessions per game in adjusted efficiency per Kenpom). They're tall (#45 in D-I in average height). They get to the line better than any team in the country. They are a force on the offensive boards, rebounding 41 percent of their own misses.
|Terrel de Rouen||6||8.5||0.7||1.8||36.4||0.0||0.5||0.0||0.8||1.5||55.6||0.3||1.0||1.3||0.7||1.0||0.0||0.0||1.0||2.2|
As AJ noted, McKines and Rahman are the guys to watch. As others have noted, including Tom Crean, NMSU is something of a Michigan State-style team. They will be very physical, and as AJ noted, it will be up to Cody Zeller and Christian Watford to stay strong down low.
All that said, NMSU has one quality win this season: a road win over New Mexico in November. UNM avenged that loss by 20 points a month later, and the Aggies are 1-4 against the Pomeroy top 100 (the aforementioned 1-1 record against the Lobos plus a loss to Arizona and two losses to Southern Mississippi). This is a tough game, but IU and NMSU move in different circles. After UNM, NMSU's best win was over Pomeroy #134 Utah State. Seventeen of IU's 25 wins came against teams rated higher than that. None of that is to suggest that IU should take the Aggies lightly or that IU is assured of victory. Stranger things happen in this Tournament every year. IU will miss Verdell Jones III. But I have to say I am a bit surprised by some of the pessimism. This team has put it together when necessary this season, and I have every reason to believe the same will happen tonight.
Most of all, enjoy it. It's the first time in four years that IU fans can face the first day of the Tournament without longing for the future. The future is now, finally.