It's rivalry week! The Aggie men's and women's basketball teams will take on their rivals this week as the men host UTEP tonight at the Pan Am, the women host UNM tomorrow night in the Pan Am and then on Saturday the men make the 220 mile trek north to Albuquerque to take on UNM at The Pit.
Tonight the men's team faces an undefeated UTEP team. The Miners come into tonight's rivalry tilt with a 4-0 record. Don't be fooled by the record however. The Miners have feasted on four less than frightening opponents defeating Texas Southern, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Arkansas State and North Carolina A&T, a team the Aggies also defeated. Basically the Miners played the Aggies' Christmas week schedule to start the season and it should be no surprise that they're undefeated.
The Aggies are 2-3 on the season and while they haven't exactly played a murderer's row of opponents, they have at least faced some quality teams in St. Mary's (5-1), New Mexico (still undefeated at 6-0) and CS-Fullerton (who defeated UCLA, but apparently so is everyone else).
We spoke with Coach Menzies in this week's interview about the team's progress. He mentioned that he's pleased with the improvements that the team has made playing man-to-man defense saying, "I feel like we're playing exponentially better than we did in the first two games of the season."
The Aggies will need to be exponentially better defensively because UTEP comes into the game with five players averaging double-figures in scoring. They're led by Randy Culpepper who is averaging 17 points per game. Big man Arnett Moultrie is averaging 15.5 points per game. Jeremy Williams, Christian Polk and Julyan Stone are averaging 12.5, 11.5 and 11.3 points per game respectively. UTEP is averaging 80.5 points per game, again against less than stellar competition, however, they are holding their opponents to 61 points per game.
The Aggies are averaging 79 points per game, the issue has been defensively where the Aggies are giving up 84 points per game. Three Aggies are averaging better than 15 points per game. Jonathan Gibson is averaging 21.6 points per game, Jahmar Young is averaging 20.4 points per game and Hamidu Rahman is averaging 16 points per game.
Rebounding gives the slight edge to UTEP who is averaging 37.2 rebounds per game to the Aggies' 36.4. Should the game come down to free throw shooting (and these contests generally do) the Aggies hold the advantage. UTEP is hitting just 66 percent of their free throws while the Aggies are hitting 76.3 percent of their free throws and Hamidu Rahman is hitting 60.7 percent of his free throws but has hit 22 of his last 31 free throws, 70.9 percent.
As we've said in the previous games, the Aggies absolutely need someone else besides the big three to step up and produce for the Aggies. You can be certain that UTEP will try to take away one of the three scorers for the Aggies and that mean that someone or multiple someones will need to pick up the slack. Gordo Castillo has not shot the ball well this season and was 1-for-9 from the field against North Carolina A&T. He is one candidate for a breakout game tonight.
Most importantly tonight Aggie fans need to make the Pan Am rock. UTEP head coach Tony Barbee spoke with the Las Cruces Sun-News' Jason Groves in today's article about that very subject, "The fan bases truly have to be engaged and when we go to Las Cruces, their place should be full of maroon and our fans shouldn't be able to get a ticket and it's the same thing when they come down here," Barbee said. "When we reach that point, it will be a true national rivalry and that's what I want it to be but until it gets to that point, it will be a good local story."
Groves also points out that in Barbee's three seasons at UTEP, none of the six Aggie/Miner rivalry games have sold out. Neither of last year's games came anywhere close to selling out as just under 8200 fans showed up in Las Cruces and roughly the same number in El Paso attended the game (although we're pretty sure there were significantly fewer than the announced attendance). We have our thoughts on how to fix this but we'll save that for another time (plus, it's not a very popular solution).
Tonight's game is set for a 7:00 p.m. tipoff and will be shown on AggieVision, Altitude2 and ESPN Full Court (PPV). Streaming audio and video will be available via Aggie Access (subscription required) and streaming video will also be available via ESPN360.com.
On to today's links...
Aggie Men's Basketball
The NM State athletic website previews tonight's rivalry game.
The UTEP athletic website previews tonight's rivalry game.
Jason Groves of the Las Cruces Sun-News previews tonight's game.
Jason Groves of the Las Cruces Sun-News blogs a few notes for tonight's game.
Jason Groves of the Las Cruces Sun-News talks about UTEP's Randy Culpepper's different role on the team.
Bill Knight of The El Paso Times previews tonight's game.
Travis at Vandal Nation ranks the WAC basketball teams.
Kevan at One Bronco Nation Under God unveils the Aggies' anagram roster.
Dave Southorn of the Idaho Press-Tribune reports that BSU won't have a BCS announcement party, instead they're focusing on the Aggies.
Dustin Lapray of the Magic Valley Times-News talks about BSU's final test... the Aggies.
The Reno Gazette-Journal ranks the WAC football teams.
Cindy Luis of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin talks about the disappointing seed for the Wahine and Dave Shoji earns some Aggie brownie points.
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