The Aggie men's basketball team is back in Las Cruces and fresh off a third place finish at the Great Alaska Shootout. The Aggies got wins over Central Michigan and San Francisco, the with the latter coming via come-from-behind fashion. A third place finish isn't exactly what we were hoping for but in the long run, the Aggies' may have gained more by beating San Francisco in the third place game than they would have had they faced (and beaten) Murray State.
Murray State plays in the Ohio Valley Conference and despite being a very good team, the OVC is a one-bid league with a conference RPI of 23. The Aggies wouldn't have gotten help from them in terms of RPI points in the future. However, San Francisco plays in the West Coast Conference. That league is currently 11th in the RPI ratings and features several good teams (No. 19 Gonzaga, Santa Clara, BYU, St. Mary's) and the Aggies will almost certainly receive a good RPI bump from the San Francisco win by virtue of USF playing and likely beating some of those teams during the conference schedule. What will help the Aggies even further is if they can avenge their loss to Southern Miss this coming Saturday. C-USA is currently 10th in the RPI rankings as a conference and USM will also face No. 22 Memphis twice in conference play (and has a decent shot of beating them).
Of course the Aggies can also help themselves a ton by notching a win over Arizona tomorrow night at the Pan Am.
There are a couple of things to take away from this past weekend's games in The Shootout. One, the Aggies will get to the line a ton this season. We already knew that but it's even more evident after they shot 131 free throws in a three-game span. They do need to improve their free throw percentage which is currently 68.3 percent. Right now the Aggies are getting over 36 percent of their points from the free throw line.
Given that the Aggies aren't a great shooting team, getting to the free throw line has been a life-saver. Despite shooting just 68.3 percent, the Aggies' free throw rate (utilizing tempo free possession-based statistics) is through the roof. When calculating possessions in a basketball game, it is standard practice to assign each free throw attempt a value of 0.475 possessions. That means the 249 free throw attempts that the Aggies have had this season account for 118.275 possessions on the season. The Aggies have scored 170 points on those free throw attempts, meaning they scored a whopping 1.44 points per possession when that possession ends in free throws versus .97 points per possession when the possession ends in a field goal attempt/make.
The Aggies have made more free throws (170) than 326 teams have even attempted (there are 344 Division I teams and one transitioning team whose stats don't count in the rankings). That is an insane number.
As long as the Aggies can keep getting to the line, it will help make up for the shooting deficiencies that they have.
And second, the win over San Francisco was a major growing point for the Aggies, particularly in the second half. The Aggies seemed to get out of their season-long shooting funk, they outscored the Dons 33-18 over the final 12 minutes of the game and hit 11-of-15 (73%) from the floor in the final 11:57. Hopefully that can springboard the Aggies' floor offense (free throws notwithstanding) into the remainder of the season.
The Aggies also showed some mental toughness. It would have been easy for the Aggies' to pack it in when they got down by seven points with 12 minutes left. The night before they less Southern Miss, the refs and missed shots get into their heads a bit and didn't finish down the stretch. They shook all that off and closed out the game against USF which outside of the game at UNM, the Aggies really hadn't had to do this season.