SCOUTING THE AGGIES
New Mexico State presents challenges in itself, but lacks the defensive discipline and physicality of Tennessee, which forced West Virginia into 19 turnovers in one of the more ugly Mountaineer games in recent memory. Guards Jonathan Gibson and Justin Hawkins give the Aggies their 1-2 offensive punch, with Gibson averaging a team=-best 15.2 points. The 6-2 sophomore isn't a slasher, but can score from various points on the floor, something West Virginia must be aware of. He has connected on 53 percent of his field goals and made 13 of 29 threes. He has quick hands, but is prone tomore turnovers than assists, a match-up that should benefit Darris Nichols and Alex Ruoff.
Hawkins is more of an inside scorer, and, at 6-7, a tough match for the opposition. The guard actually serves more as a four-man for the Aggies, who run a three-guard, one forward (who is 6-4) and one center look. The senior averages 14.6 points, and his interior play draws fouls. He will get to the line and attempt to work Joe Alexander and Da'Sean Butler into foul trouble, as No. 7 Tennessee was able to do in its 74-72 win. State only goes seven to eight players deep, however, something the Mountaineers should be able to handle.
The other starters are Wendell McKines, Fred Peete and Hatila Passos. The latter, a Brazilian, is 6-9 and 230 pounds, but doesn't move effectively on the perimeter. This could be one mismatch for WVU, which will likely pull Jamie Smalligan out more than it did against Tennessee, whose defenders proved too quick for Smalligan's slow-release shot. The team's best rebounder, Passos won a junior college national title in 2006. Peete, a 6-4 senior, hasn't yet dialed in on his jumper, struggling to 37.2 percent shooting from the floor. He does have 22 assists to 12 turnovers, however, and will provide some intangible play with his experience. McKines, like Peete, averages 10-plus points per game and has thus far been a significantly better shooter. He wil also battle inside, and must be accounted for on the boards.
The key reserves are Paris Carter and Martin Iti. Carter, a 6-4, 225 pound junior, is anuts and bolts player who has yet to adjust to the speed of the game at this level after a year at community college. He can play multiple positions, however. Iti, a 7-0 center, played at famed Mt. Zion Christian Academy and at UNC-Charlotte before coming to New Mexico State. He actually declared for the NBA draft after being named to the C-USA all-freshman squad. He is averaging 3.8 points and four rebounds per game as he settles in with new head coach Marvin Menzies, a former Louisville assistant.
New Mexico State lacks the depth and ability of Tennessee. But it has enough weapons to cause West Virginia headaches if the Mountaineers are still hung over from the semifinal round loss. The issue isn't so much with the raw skill, but that, like WVU, the Aggies are still adjusting to a first-year coach. And while the styles of Menzies and former coach Reggie Theus aren't as different as those between Bob Huggins and John Beilein, there is still an adjustment period.
|Sat Nov 24
WVU 2-1, 0-0
NMST 2-3, 0-0
|Sirius Channel: TBA|
West Virginia is more talented, and if it can rebound as it did against Tennessee and get a few additional shots to fall, it should be able to handle anything NMSU offers. The depth match-ups are better, and with Nichols and Butler playing exceptionally well, West Virginia should be able to exploit some interior weaknesses. If its three-point shooting also increase in percentage, the Mountaineers could find themselves in a comfort zone.
New Mexico State hung with Texas for a bit, and it helped that the Ags were the lone semifinal team to play a road game entering the Legends Classic. The sense is that, in the semifinals, all teams were still settling. None played well as a whole, and that's as much a product of the early season and lack of togetherness as it is the venue. Still, with a team that doesn't value the ball or control the rebounds as Texas would have, West Virginia has a great chance to leave Newark with a split, and just a two-point loss to the nation's No. 7 team. It's not a win, however, and it will be important to play as well as possible in this outing to ensure a 3-1 mark heading back to Morgantown.
WVU: Cam Thoroughman (Knee) Out
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All four Legends semifinalists have scored at least 100 points in a game this season, and New Mexico State, West Virginia and Texas did it on the same day. NMSU beat LeMoyne-Owen 100-64, WVU defeated Prairie View A&M 106-44 and both Texas and Tennessee crushed Arkansas-Monticello 100-52 and 101-44, respectively.
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Former New Mexico State head coach Reggie Theus starred in the mid-1990s teen television sitcom "Hang Time." Playing basketball coach Bill Fuller, Theus mentored a coed prep team of seven for Deering High. Theus left NMSU to accept the head coaching job of the Sacramento Kings. Theus maintains his own personal website, which can be accessed at ReggieTheus.com. Theus is one of only seven players in NBA history – Jerry West included – to score at least 19,000 points and tally 6,000 assists.
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New Mexico State was chosen just behind Utah State in the preseason WAC Coaches Poll. The teams, both nicknamed the Aggies, combined to take seven of the nine first place votes. Utah State had four to NMSU's three to take first place with 58 points to 57. New Mexico State next plays at UTEP, then at home in the Lou Henson Classic, named for the former coach. The Ags host Prairie View A&M on Dec. 11.