"I think if you look at New Mexico State, Nevada, Utah State, those teams can play. That's a really good league and very competitive league, just like our league... They've been tested as I think we've been tested."
While Texas (24-9, 12-4) earned an at-large bid, the Aggies (25-8, 11-5) earned the WAC's automatic bid to the Big Dance by winning the conference tournament, played on their home court in Las Cruces, with consecutive wins over Louisiana Tech, Boise State and NIT-bound Utah State. NMSU split its regular season series with seven-seed NCAA Tournament team Nevada, winning in Las Cruces and losing in Reno.
That was the pattern for the Aggies this season: win at home, struggle away from Las Cruces. Head coach Reggie Theus' squad owned a 19-1 home mark, but won just six while dropping seven on the road.
Six-foot-seven G Justin Hawkins leads New Mexico State in scoring and rebounding, averaging 15.7 and 6.8, respectively, but the Aggies are a balanced and deep club, with all five starters averaging close to double figures in scoring, with seven players with more than 16 starts on the season and with nine players averaging more than 10 minutes per game (only seven Horns average 10-plus). For the season, NMSU out-rebounded opponents by almost five per game, with Hawkins, 6-9 F Tyrone Nelson and 6-9 C Hatila Passos all pulling down six-plus boards per game.
"They're a very physically talented team," Barnes said. "They really rebound the ball. Their front line, they go and get it. I don't think they're a real complicated team other than the fact that they're going to play hard. They're physically gifted. They'll show you some different things. What we don't do well sometimes is what they do well. They go get the rebounds and score out of it. We've got to be able to handle that part of the game."
Kevin Durant and his 11.3 rebounds per game obviously plays a big part in the Horns' success on the glass, but Damion James could also be a big factor against the physical Aggies. The freshman big man averages 7.4 rebounds and 7.9 points.
"When he's playing really good basketball, that's when we're probably at our very best," Barnes said. "He's a key for us."
Texas and New Mexico State are scheduled to tip at 6:25 Central Friday in Spokane.