The New Mexico State men's basketball team's season kicks off tonight as the Aggies take on Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore. The game will be televised on ESPNU at 7:30 p.m. (MT). Tonight's game will be a stiff challenge for this new group of Aggies. Not only are the Aggies facing the daunting task of replacing three career 1,000-plus point (and in Wendell McKines' case, a 1,000-plus rebound) players, all three were starters. You may think the toughest player to replace from last year's squad would be Wendell, however, we believe the toughest job will be replacing point guard Hernst Laroche. He was a four-year starter and owns the career starts and career-minutes played records at New Mexico State and he was a consistent, steady player for the Aggies from his freshman year all the way through his senior year.
You throw on top of that the challenge of opening on the road in a hostile environment against a team that returns four starters from a 21-win team along with the fact that said team played their season opener two nights ago (and was impressive in their victory) it's going to be a tough game for the Aggies to win. Can they win? Absolutely, however, it's not going to be easy. First, the Beavers love to play an up-tempo game. They won't be afraid to run with the Aggies. They won't likely get rattled easily by the Aggies' defensive pressure. Last season the Beavers averaged over 74 possessions per game, three more than the Aggies. In Friday night's victory over Niagra, they had an unreal 84 possessions. That's the most of any of the 20 teams that have played so far this season and that resulted in the Beavers scoring 102 points.
The Beavers were also lights out offensively and one player in particular to keep an eye in today's matchup is 6'10" sophomore forward Eric Moreland. He finished with 14 points and was a perfect 7-for-7 from the field in 28 minutes of action. Ironically, Moreland originally committed to UTEP (transferring after Tony Barbee took the job at Auburn) so he could have been a player the Aggies saw on a yearly basis. As a team Oregon State shot 56.7 percent from the field, 58.1 percent from inside the arc and 54.2 percent from outside the arc. Last season the Aggies struggled at times with teams that shot the three ball well, we'll see if that's a factor this season.
The good news for the Aggies is that defensively, Niagara shot 47 percent from distance against the Beavers and that figures to be an improved area on the Aggies' offensive side of the court. However, Niagara shot just 31 percent from inside the arc, a number that the Aggies will have to do much better at if they want to win the game.
If the Aggies are to win tonight three things need to happen. The Aggies need to pound the offensive backboards. The Beavers gave up 18 offensive boards in an exhibition game and 15 against Niagara on Friday night. Second, the Aggies need to avoid the silly turnovers. This figures to be a very fast-paced game and turnovers are going to happen, however, the Aggies need to avoid making dumb turnovers (bad passes or lazy passes, etc). They also need to have good shot selection which is something Coach Menzies was a little critical of in the exhibition win over Western New Mexico. If there's one thing that will kill a team more against an up-tempo team it's taking bad shots. Bad shot selection leads to easy transition buckets for those types of teams and taking bad shots is just as bad as turning the ball over. Third, the Aggies need to take advantage of their size advantage. The Aggies are one of the biggest teams in the country and they need to use that to their advantage.
We're very interested to see how the new pieces fit together, in particular the point guards, Sim Bhullar and junior college transfer Kevin Aronis.
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