The New Mexico State Aggies (26-9, WAC 12-4) earned their way into the NCAA tournament for the third straight year by virtue of winning the Western Athletic Conference tournament title. They were second in conference to Utah Valley during the regular season. Their RPI rank is 71, and their Strength of Schedule rank is 177.
Apart from winning the conference tournament, their biggest win came against home-state rival New Mexico. They defeated the Lobos at The Pit, 67-61. They have a 1-3 record against teams in the top 50.
While the selection committee believes in coincidences when it comes to matchups in the NCAA tournament, the rest of us are a little skeptical. The only coaching staff of a tournament team that has a former San Diego State assistant coach and player on it just happens to be the team playing San Diego State on Thursday in Spokane.
New Mexico State head coach Marvin Menzies was on Steve Fisher's staff at San Diego State for four years. Aerick Sanders was an All-Mountain West selection and team captain for the Aztecs in his senior season. He is now an assistant coach with the Aggies. So while the current players may not have much familiarity, the coaching staffs certainly do.
Junior guard Daniel Mullings leads the Aggies with 16.8 points per game, 4.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists. But it would be hard to deny Sim Bhullar the title of big man on campus. The sophomore center is 7' 5" and weighs in at 355 pounds. He averages 10.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game.
Bigger than most, Tshilidzi Nephawe, 6' 10" and 265 pounds, helps anchor the frontcourt of the Aggies. He averages 11.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. Bhullar and Nephawe finished first and second in the WAC in blocks and field goal percentage.
The Aggies get to the free throw line more than just about anyone. They shot 1,007 free throws this season and made 69%. For comparison, Arizona shot 794 free throws.
You will find New Mexico State University about 50 miles from the border with Mexico, and the basketball team certainly has an international flavor. The current roster has four players from Canada and one each from France, South Africa and Croatia. Less than half of the team comes from the United States.
West Region matchup
When: Thursday, March 20, 2014, 9:57 p.m. ET, 6:57 p.m. PT
Where: Spokane Arena, Spokane, Wash.