NCAA Tournament: NMSU insider tells us about the Aggies

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sp

Q&A with Sam Wasson of BleedCrimson.net about NMSU basketball as we near the SDSU-NMSU matchup

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I contacted Sam Wasson, the editor of BleedCrimson.net, a New Mexico State University sports blog, about the Aggies men's basketball team. I asked him some questions that a lot of SDSU basketball fans want answers to. Here's the conversation:

Me: First let's start with a couple general questions. What are the Aggies' biggest strengths?

Sam: One of the Aggies' biggest strengths are their size in the post with a front line that goes 7'5" (Sim Bhullar), 6'10" (Tshilidzi "Chili" Nephawe) and 6'10" (Renaldo Dixon). They're somewhat interchangeable and you'll often times see two of the three on the floor at the same time. Bhullar is obviously the most notable because of his sheer size but don't sleep on Nephawe who is having a breakout redshirt junior season (he's averaging 11.1ppg/7.8rpg) or Dixon who, while Bhullar was out this season with a foot injury, scored a career-high 33 points in a loss at UMKC.

The other strength the Aggies have are their guards. Junior Daniel Mullings was the preseason pick for WAC Player of the Year and ended up winning WAC Player of the Year. Most of his damage is done getting to the rim, he's not a great jump shooter but can occasionally knock down a long range shot. He is by far the most athletic player on the Aggies' team and his body control when he gets to the rim is incredible.

Me: Areas where they need work?

Sam: The Aggies are not a great half court team. Their offense struggles at times and it can be frustrating to watch the team just swing the ball from side to side with little to no movement from anyone on the court. That being said, they can also be very effective in certain half court sets (particularly when they play inside out).

The Aggies are also not a great ball handling team. They average 12.7 turnovers per game which doesn't sound like a lot but a lot of their turnovers are just a lack of ball control and unforced (they had 21 turnovers against Colorado State). The Aggies' turnover margin ratio is -1.7 which is 286th in the country.

Me: Why are turnovers an issue with this team? (Almost 20% turnover rate)

Sam: I think at times the Aggies are a little careless with the ball and also, sometimes they don't make good passes into the post which result in turnovers. It's definitely a concern going into this matchup with SDSU.

Me: The minutes and points are pretty well spread across the roster. How does this depth help?

Sam: The Aggies were actually a bit deeper to begin the year but lost Remi Barry to a season-ending injury which shortened the bench a little. Sim Bhullar missed a few games with a foot injury and that allowed more minutes for Nephawe and Dixon which has helped with their improvement (but was detrimental for Bhullar's progression, though he seems to be playing at his peak now). In the backcourt the Aggies will be without starting point guard KC Ross-Miller who was suspended from the team following the incident at Utah Valley. That has opened things up for freshmen Ian Baker and Travon Landry. Both of those players have gotten some experience over the course of the season but with Ross-Miller out, their minutes have really increased and that has certainly helped move them along in terms of gaining experience.

Me: Who's NMSU's go-to guy? Why?

Sam: Daniel Mullings is the Aggies' go-to player. As mentioned before, he's the WAC Player of the Year, he's the Aggies' leading scorer and he is also the leader on the team. Because of the Aggies' depth, he can have a bit of an off night scoring-wise and the Aggies do have others who can pick up the slack but if the Aggies are to upset SDSU, Mullings will need to have a good night.

Me: At certain points in the season, NMSU was good enough to beat UNM 67-61 on the road, but six days earlier it gets blown out by Arizona. What's the reason for that inconsistency and was it an issue all year?

Sam: Inconsistency has been a huge issue for the Aggies this season, almost to a frustrating point for both the fans and I'm sure the coaching staff. The Aggies lost to Western Michigan to open the season, which is not looking so bad now that WMU made the NCAA tourney, then won seven in a row. Then they lost four in a row during arguably their toughest stretch of the schedule (home vs. UNM, at Colorado State, at Gonzaga, at Arizona), then turned around and won seven in a row again including drubbing their first three conference opponents.

But then they turned around and lost at Chicago State and UMKC in consecutive games leaving people absolutely befuddled. Then they won three in a row but went on the road and lost at Idaho, then won four in a row, had a chance to take over first place in conference and lost a late lead at Utah Valley (a game which included the post-game incident). So it has certainly been a season-long concern. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure anyone knows why this team is so inconsistent. Aside from a few of the games in the non-conference, they have been favorites in most games but they just haven't always played up to their potential. This isn't a particularly inexperienced team so that shouldn't have been a factor.

Me: What's NMSU's X-factor?

Sam: Shooting guard Kevin Aronis is the Aggies' x-factor. Unlike last season when he was under-utilized (he was a JC transfer), Aronis has blossomed in his senior year. He is the Aggies' main three point scoring threat and he hit at a 50 percent clip in conference play and is at 44 percent on the season (74-of-168). When he's hitting shots, it opens up paint for the big guys and also for Daniel Mullings to drive inside.

Me: Before I let you go, talk a little about NMSU's BIG men. What impact do they have on the team?

Sam: Despite what you might think, the big guys aren't always used to their fullest and sometimes the Aggies go away from sending the ball inside to them. Bhullar is a good passer and at 7'5" can see over the top of the defense and find the open man. Nephawe has blossomed this year after sitting out last year with an injury. He's been a relatively reliable scorer inside and is the Aggies' leading rebounder. He's improved greatly around the basket and has become a better finisher than in his previous years. Dixon is probably the Aggies' most skilled big man. He's a very active player, a good shot blocker and can score (see the aforementioned 33 point game). He also has a little bit of range and can hit from outside the paint. They each individually possess very different skills and combined, they're as solid a mid-major front court as you'll find.

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