We hope everyone had a Merry Christmas. The holiday season is nearly over and with that means the wrapping up of non-conference play. The Aggies play three more non-conference games before the start of WAC play with "The Big One" tomorrow night in the Pan Am. The Aggies host 10-2 New Mexico and it's the last chance the Aggies have for a solid RPI victory in the non-conference. To date, the Aggies' best victory is over UNM in The Pit. The Lobos come into the game with an RPI of 74 and an eight game winning streak.
The Lobos' best victories since the Aggies beat them in Albuquerque are over the Pac 12's Washington State, the Big 12's Oklahoma State and the Missouri Valley's Missouri State. The Lobos do have two more victories over Pac 12 teams in Arizona State and USC but neither of those teams is very good.
The Aggies played arguably their best defensive game in ages against the Lobos in The Pit holding UNM to just 28 percent shooting. A large part of that was due to the Aggies' defense but a large part of that was also due to UNM just not making any shots that night. UNM has struggled offensively this season at times. Against Southern Cal they shot just 33 percent and did not score a field goal in the final 12 minutes. Against Oklahoma State they shot just 36 percent from the field and in those two games they scored just 44 and 66 points respectively. However, their past two games, albeit against weak opponents, they've shot 56 and 53 percent respectively and scored 91 and 87 points.
So are the Lobos the team that shot just 28, 33 and 36 percent against the Aggies, Trojans and Cowboys? Are they the team that shot 56 and 53 percent against the Montana State Bobcats and UMKC Roos? We think they're probably somewhere in between, around a 42 percent shooting club.
Can the Aggies duplicate that defensive effort tomorrow night? The biggest keys for tomorrow night's game? Turnovers, rebounds and three point shots. The Aggies have to cut their turnover mark way down. Thirty-nine turnovers in the past two games (against inferior opponents who weren't exactly pressing the Aggies) is way too many. Both the Aggies and Lobos are very good at turning over their opponents. The Lobos force their opponents to turn the ball over on 24 percent of their possessions, that's 17th in the country. The Aggies are close behind forcing opponents to turn the ball over on 22 percent of their possessions, 64th in the country. The team that wins that battle (and can turn those into easy points) is going to have a big advantage.
Second, the Aggies have to keep the Lobos off the offensive glass. Against Southern and McNeese, the Aggies gave up a combined 19 offensive rebounds. They can't afford to let UNM get second chance points. Nothing deflates a team more than playing good, solid defense for 30 seconds, forcing a bad/contested shot only to give up an offensive rebound. It's also something that the Aggies have struggled with in their losses (not necessarily the volume but the timeliness of those offensive boards). Conversely, the Aggies need to get second chance buckets. Wendell and Hamidu need to control the glass when the Aggies are on offense. With a team that struggles to shoot jump shots, the Aggies' best friend is the offensive rebound/putback.
Third, three point shooting. The Aggies don't have a consistent three point threat. Yes, Wendell can knock down threes (20-of-47), Bandja can also knock down threes as can Hernst (15-of-31). However, that's not where those three players thrive. Wendell is best when he's flying around and grabbing offensive rebounds and getting putbacks. It gets the crowd excited and it also fuels McKines. Bandja is a streaky shooter (12-of-36). If his first shot goes down, that's usually a good sign. The Lobos have four players who have hit at least 10 three pointers (three of them over 40 percent from long range) with Tony Snell (30-of-71) and Phillip McDonald (13-of-27) being their best percentage shooters.
The Aggies will have to make eight to ten threes tomorrow night if they want to win this game because the Lobos will likely hoist a few up and as a team the Lobos get 31 percent of their scoring from the three point shot.
The x-factor tomorrow night will be the Lobos' defense and namely, what sort of gimmick will Steve Alford trot out to try to stop Wendell McKines. In the Aggies' losses, McKines is averaging just 7.75 rebounds per game and only 1.75 offensive rebounds per game. However, in the Aggies' eight wins, he's averaging 11.25 rebounds per game and 3.75 offensive rebounds per game. Perhaps a bigger stat is that in the Aggies' victories he's grabbing 18.06 percent of the missed shots but in losses he's grabbing just 8.73 percent of the missed shots.
Turnovers, rebounding and three point shooting. Those will be the three things to watch for tomorrow night. Tomorrow we'll take a look at who we think will need to have a standout game in order for the Aggies to win.
On to today's links...
Aggie Men's Basketball
Teddy Feinberg of the Las Cruces Sun-News talks about the importance of tomorrow's game for the Aggies.
KRQE in Albuquerque previews tomorrow's game. (video)
KRQE also shares press conference video.
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