NCAA tournament team previews: New Mexico State Aggies
As part of its preview of the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team’s national rank. All stats through Monday, March 16.
Record: 23-10, 13-1 Western Athletic Conference
Adjusted offensive/defensive efficiency: 104.1 (120th) / 97.9 (87th)
Seed: No. 15 in Midwest
Impact player: Pascal Siakam, freshman, forward: 13.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 118.5 O-rating
The Case For: New Mexico State has valuable experience among its starting ranks, returning the three leading scorers from last season’s NCAA tournament team and making the Big Dance for the fourth consecutive year. Its four seniors—guards Daniel Mullings and D.K. Eldridge, as well as big men Tshilidzi Nephawe and Remi Barry—provide an inside-outside balance. The Aggies shoot 36.3% from three (81st-best in the country) and 49.7% from two (91st). Defensively, they hold teams to a seventh-best 29.5% from behind the arc.
The most surprising obstacle New Mexico State could present to Kansas is its shot-blocking prowess. Led by Siakam, a 6'9" freshman who averages nearly two blocks per game, the Aggies reject 5.7% of their opponents' field goal attempts, the best rate in the country. NMSU has hung with the top teams it has played, losing to fellow tournament teams Wyoming by just three points and Baylor by only 11. The Aggies also beat tournament-bound UC Irvine back in January.
The Case Against: While the Aggies are used to reaching the NCAA tournament—this is their 22nd trip to the Big Dance overall—they haven’t actually won a tournament game recently. As a double-digit seed in its past seven appearances, New Mexico State has lost each time, albeit by an average of only eight points per game. This year NMSU played just the 326th toughest schedule in the country, according to kenpom.com, while Kansas overcame the hardest schedule in the country to land a No. 2 seed. The Jayhawks' elite defense is a particularly bad matchup for the Aggies, who commit turnovers on more than 20 percent of its trips down the court. NMSU will need every possession it can get in order to try convert on the offensive end. If it can’t protect the ball, look for Kansas’ superior athletes to convert transition points.
SI Prediction: Lose to Kansas in the second round