The New Mexico State Aggies come into the first round the NCAA tournament the champions of the Western Athletic Conference. In fact, they have been the WAC's NCAA representative five of the last six seasons, with last year's NIT bid the only exception. The head coach for the first part of that run, Marvin Menzies, is now at UNLV, with assistant Paul Weir taking the reigns this year.
The loss of their 9-year head coach was just one of the negatives coming into the year, with sophomore forward Pascal Siakam declaring for the NBA draft after two strong seasons. With a new coach and the loss of their star player, expectations were muted for the Aggies. All they did is win 28 games, including their first win over a power-five school in 12 years, Arizona State. At 28-5, the Aggies beat up on a very weak non-conference schedule, highlighted by the Sun Devils, and Colorado State, the only Top-100 KenPom team they played this season.
Breaking Down New Mexico State's Record
|Top 101-200 KenPom||8||4|
|Top 200+ KenPom||17||0|
The Aggies played an incredibly easy schedule, ranking 299th in terms of strength of schedule on KenPom. The Bears will be by far the most talented team they will see this season, at least unless they win.
Player to Watch
Ian Baker, Senior Point Guard
The 2017 WAC player of the year, Baker is the player to watch for the Aggies. At 6-feet tall, Baker is a little undersized but is a natural scorer. While he has made just 30.8% of 3-pointers this season, he is a much better shooter than that. He made 45.7% his sophomore year on 127 attempts. He is a career 37% shooter from deep, but has been very inconsistent this season. He shot just 5-17 in the three-game WAC tournament, but was 3-4 in their 70-60 championship game victory over top seed Cal State Bakersfield.
In addition to his scoring load, Baker is the primary table-setter on offense for New Mexico State. He averages 4.1 assists per game, and also chips in 4.3 rebounds per game, amazing for a 6-foot tall point guard. Baker is also very good at forcing contact and getting to the foul line, drawing 5.6 fouls per 40 minutes. He is also an 82% free throw shooter, and plays heavy minutes (81.2% of minutes this year, and 86% during conference play).
As the primary weapon for the Aggies this year, Baker's efficiency has fallen off a cliff. He is shooting under 40% overall on the year on 12.6 shot attempts per game. That is down from 42.6% shooting on 10.8 attempts during his junior season.