The New Mexico State Aggies (24-4) won 13 straight games and are on the verge of winning their fourth WAC regular season title in the last five years.
New Mexico State, located near the West Texas border in Las Cruces, dominated the WAC Conference over the last decade. The Aggies won the WAC Conference tournament seven times in the previous nine years. They locked up the #1 seed in this year’s WAC tournament and seeking their eighth bid to March Madness since 2010.
“Anyone can get hot in three games or four games in a conference tournament,” said New Mexico State coach Chris Jans. “We all understand the eyes on the prize of the NCAA Tournament and what that means. But I think when we all look back, we will be really proud of winning back to back outright conference championships.”
New Mexico State locked up the #1 seed in the WAC tournament, hosted at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. As a special bonus, they are allowed to pick the time they would like to play. Jans said they want to play the early game, which is presumably at 1pm local time.
New Mexico State History
Pascal Siakam from the Toronto Raptors, who is one of the players in contention for the Comeback Player of the Year, played two seasons with New Mexico State before heading to the NBA in 2016.
Head coach Chris Jans, 49, is in his second season with New Mexico State. They won 28 games last season. Overall he is 52-10 with the Aggies. He previously coached one season at Bowling Green where he went 21-12. Jans is a long-time assistant coach with Wichita State. He initially paid his dues coaching community college in Iowa and Kansas around the turn of the century.
A long time ago, the Aggies went to a Final Four. The legendary Lou Henson coached the squad back then. Henson guided them to a 27-3 record and a Final Four berth in 1970. The Aggies lost to John Wooden and the UCLA Bruins in the semifinals. They have not returned since then.
Curse of #12 Seed
The Aggies have not won a March Madness game since Neil McCarthy coached the team in the 1990s. Chris Jans is hoping this will be the year. The Aggies look like they will be another #12 seed this year.
Last season, the NCAA selection committee assigned New Mexico State as the #12 seed. The Aggies were a popular upset pick in 2018 March Madness pools. They faced #5 Clemson, ranked #20 in the nation at the time and were knocked out after a nine-point defeat.
In 2010, New Mexico State was awarded the #12 seed. They were match up against #5 Michigan State, who were ranked #13 in the country at the time.
Between 2012-14, the NCAA gave the WAC champion a lowly #13 seed. The Aggies lost to #4 seeds such as Indiana, St. Louis, and San Diego State when they had Kawhi Leonard. In 2015, the Aggies were a lowly #15 seed and they lost to #2 Kansas.
Las Cruces Troop Rotation
On some nights, coach Chris Jans plays an 11-man rotation. He’s been known to go deep down his bench. As many as 14 players can be spotted in the boxscore.
New Mexico State plays up tempo defense. Jans keeps his troops fresh and rotates them out in order to maintain a high-level of defensive intensity. The Aggies are #38 in the nation in fewest points allowed. The New Mexico State swarming defense allows only 65.3 points per game.
As a result of a super-deep bench, only one player on the team averages double-digits for a team that scores 77.2 points per game. Terrell Brown, a second-year guard, averages 11.2 points and leads the team in scoring, but he only plays 24 minutes per game.
Three other players average just shy of ten points. AJ Harris, a junior guard, averages 9.9 points and 3.4 assist per game. Senior forward Eli Chuha puts up 9.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Ivan Aurrecoechea, a junior forward from Spain, averages 9.6 points and 5.8 rebounds in only 17 minutes of action per game.
“We can score the ball better than we have,” said Jans. “At the same time, I don’t want to go into games talking about trying to outscore someone. I still want to rely on our defense and our rebounding has been terrific.”
New Mexico State is one of the unknown teams from the West that you should keep an eye on during the lead up to March Madness. The Montana Grizzlies are the top team from the Big Sky and can hold their own against the best in the West. That list also includes the top-ranked team in the country, Gonzaga, and mid-major darling Nevada. The Pac-12 is not very good this year, but the Washington Huskies are the best of the bunch on the left coast. Don’t overlook Mike Daum and the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. Daum became the tenth player in the history of college basketball to score 3,000 points in his collegiate career.