So I decided to take the time this evening to sit down and watch the New Mexico State Aggies’ championship game against Louisana Tech. The Aggies won the game 88-63 and even the final score doesn’t tell the whole story. At one point the Aggies led the game by 31 points. From the first whistle it wasn’t really much of a contest. The only thing that kept it within reason early (12 point game with 5 to play in the first half) was the Aggies’ playing style.
The Aggies certainly play fast and loose. They are long and athletic and it really allows them to overmatch a lot of other mid-major opponents. Louisiana Tech especially was just overmatched from the get go. The Aggies used their athleticism to get out in transition and run the floor. There truly isn’t much of a half-court offense that I noticed the Aggies run. When the ball did settle into the half-court the offense depends on a ton of off the ball screens and the dribble-drive. What New Mexico State did well was get into the lane. So much so, that in the first half the Aggies scored 32 of its 38 points in the paint. The other six came on free throws.
Speaking of rebounding, now is as good a time as any to mention Wen Mckines. Mckines is the type of player you hope Hanner Perea can be as a sophomore. Truly a guy with a nose for the ball, he’s a physical 6’6" 230 lbs. but with the same athleticism of Will Sheehey. In his four years he’s honed his game with a focus on hustle and intelligence. He isn’t incredibly skilled as a shooter and his ball handling is only slightly above average. He uses his explosiveness to get to the rack and finish with authority. That athleticism also aids him in grabbing rebounds. He’s an offensive and defensive rebounding force. In fact, he rebounds nearly 25% of his opportunities on the defensive end. Expect Christian Watford to start out matched up on him to try and slow his double-double average on the season. Mckines is going to get his. Christian just needs to keep him from getting more than that.
The rest of the team is also very good at rebounding because of their size. 6’11" starting senior Hamidu Rahman just uses his size to bully the opposition on the boards. Cody Zeller is going to really have a problem trying to outfight him for rebounds. Rahman is athletic and big so he cleans the glass well. Fortunately Rahman and the other two bigs (Sy and Nephawe) really struggle to run the floor consistently. The rest of the team can get up and down very well, but the bigs don’t and we all know what that means. Cody Zeller runs like a deer and will be getting a lot of break away opportunities. No one else on the team has the size to handle a full speed 7 footer in Cody Zeller.
With the guard situation Hernst Laroche gets nearly 84% of the minutes at the point. He’s really the only player on the team that can be considered more than an OK shooter. He also does a very good job at distributing the ball. Laroche gets assist results on 20% of his possessions. Unfortunately for NM State and fortunately for IU, he turns the ball over on 21% of his possessions. Overall, 4 players on NM State turn the ball over one of every five attempts. For comparison, IU turns the ball over about 19% of possessions to NM State’s 21%. That gives IU some potential to get out in transition and use that Cody Zeller advantage.
One final thing, that wasn’t seen in the LA Tech game but is in the numbers is that NM State gets to the line A TON. IU gets to the line 23 times for every 50 shots they take. That’s good enough for seventh in the nation. NM State gets to the line nearly 27 times for every 50 shots. Now that could be a due to their size advantage over most of their conference and the fact that they rebound incredibly well. They don’t take a lot of shots outside of the paint which means they force you to stop them. When you have a significant size advantage like they have often this season, it tends to mean a lot of hack a shaq type ball. So yes, their free throw rate is amazing, but I would venture to say that’s more a benefit of their physical superiority over the WAC than an inherent effectiveness at drawing fouls. Nevada is the only team in the conference that is tall than them and the rest of the conference’s average height is nearly an inch shorter.
On the flip side for as often as NM State gets to the free throw line, they only hit 66% of them. Good for 267th in the nation in that factor. You know how we make fun of Purdue for being absolutely terrible at the free throw line? Well the Aggies only shoot 1% better on the season. As a reference point, the Hoosiers hit 76% of their free throws (16th nationally). The talk of free throws brings me to the last major point when discussing the New Mexico State Aggies. Depth.
The Aggies only run about seven deep. The 4 perimeter starters get 70%+ of the minutes and the centers Rahman, Sy and Nephawe split time at the 5. Foul trouble could sink the Aggies’ chances early. If Mckines or Laroche especially draw two fouls in the first half, the game could be out of reach by the time they get a chance to go at it in the second half. The hinge players of the night are Christian Watford and Vic Oladipo. If Christian and Vic can shut down Mckines and Laroche respectively then the game should go smoothly. The same players will match up on the other end of the floor where Vic and Wat do very well at getting to the rack and drawing fouls. Those should be the key battles of the evening and whichever way they go will likely dictate the outcome.