The Daily Aggie :: 01/17/14

Yesterday we wrote about the Aggies' two separate win streaks of seven games this season and on this week's episode of the podcast we discussed at length with our co-host Teddy Feinberg from the Las Cruces Sun-News the probability of the team going undefeated in conference play. With the team playing in arguably one of the weaker leagues in the country (ranked around 22nd in overall RPI) and given the way the team had played in their first three conference games, winning by an average of 18.3 points per game (two of which came against the teams picked to finish second and third in the preseason), it stood to reason that the Aggies would continue to ride roughshod over the rest of the WAC.

Instead, that train derailed last night just four games into conference play. The Aggies lost to Chicago State, a team that until joining the WAC this year was a member of the Great West Conference, a conference that was without an automatic qualifying bid, a conference that last year was won with a 6-2 record by the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Chicago State has been, at least over the last 14 years, one of the bottom-feeders in Division I. Prior to this season they had records of 6-26, 4-26 and 11-22 and since 2001 have had just one winning season (their season win totals are between two and 12 wins).

So what does the loss to Chicago State really mean for the Aggies? In the grand scheme of things, probably not a great deal. The Aggies will probably still win the WAC regular season and they'll be the prohibitive favorite to once again win the WAC tournament and make the NCAA Tournament for a fourth time in five seasons. Certainly the loss will hurt the Aggies' RPI which in turn will hurt the Aggies' seeding come March. It probably takes anything higher than a 13-seed off the table.

Historically speaking it also robs the Aggies of a chance to do something that just one other team in New Mexico State men's basketball history has ever done and that is to go undefeated in conference play. It's been nearly 80 years since that occurred (the 1937-38 team is the only one to have done so). It also ends the Aggies' chance at setting the school record for consecutive victories (21) which was also set by the 1937-38 team.

It also knocks the Aggies out of the potential spotlight. Think of all the national media mentions the Aggies would have gotten had they gone on a long win streak and in late February and early March been mentioned as one of the teams with the longest win streaks in the country. They now fade back into the media oblivion that has accompanies the new WAC.

Obviously none of that matters once you step on the court and the ball is tossed up in the air for the jump ball. What does matter however is that the Aggies lost something intangible last night. They lost their air of invincibility that they had quickly built courtesy of their three dominant victories to open WAC play. Had the Aggies been able to make it through the first half of the WAC season unscathed and had they continued to beat opponents by double-digit margins, there would have been some serious seeds of doubt planted in the minds of the rest of the conference of whether or not the Aggies could be beaten. That's a great asset to have. You have to look no further than what Tiger Woods did to opponents for over a decade. When he stepped between the ropes for a tournament, everybody in the field knew they were playing for second. Whether or not the result bore that out didn't matter. There was in intimidation factor there that was not only tangible but it was backed by statistics.

One final thought. We saw a tweet last night after the loss saying that nobody goes unbeaten in conference play and that the Aggies will be fine. We certainly agree with the latter portion of that statement. The Aggies will be fine and we still believe they'll win both the regular season and the conference tournament. However, the notion that nobody goes unbeaten in conference play couldn't be further from the truth. Over the past eleven seasons there have been 21 teams that have gone undefeated in regular season conference play and just one season, 2011-12, did no team go unbeaten in conference play.

2001-02: Kansas
2002-03: Kentucky, Weber State, Penn
2003-04: Saint Joseph's, Gonzaga
2004-05: Pacific
2005-06: George Washington, Gonzaga, Bucknell
2006-07: Memphis, Winthrop
2007-08: Davidson, Memphis, Cornell
2008-09: Memphis, Gonzaga
2009-10: Butler
2010-11: Kentucky
2012-13: Gonzaga, Memphis

As you can see it's a good mix of great teams in great leagues (Kansas in the Big XII, Kentucky in the SEC) to good teams in bad leagues (Pacific in the Big West, GW, Bucknell, Winthrop). If you look closely at the list you'll notice a couple of names that appear multiple times -- Gonzaga and Memphis. These are two examples of teams who had significant talent advantages in their leagues, much like the Aggies have in the WAC which is why so many felt like the Aggies could run the table in conference this year.

So while we briefly mourn the loss of the chance to make history we continue to look ahead to the Aggies completing their ultimate goal which is to win the conference tournament, make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament and hopefully stay a while.