(This is the second installment of Bill Harty’s game recaps as part of The Mid Majority ninth season taking readers to mid-major college basketball games around the country. Visit midmajority.com to find out more about this group-sourced effort to spread the word about the many fine basketball programs around the country that are having success on and off the court while generally not having access to the resources brought to athletic programs by big-time college football. Bill will be recapping most Aggie home games, and the occasional road foray, for both The Mid Majority and bleedCrimson.net.)
This afternoon’s NMSU intrasquad scrimmage was much as one would expect for a first public viewing. It was a chance to see the beginnings of this year’s team: who has added to their game individually over the summer and the start of how they’ll work together offensively. The format was a vast improvement over last year’s disorganized afternoon scrimmage with the dunk contest, and the three-point contest, and a lot of standing around and waiting. This was a 32 minute, running clock scrimmage that moved smartly through the afternoon; there were four planned timeouts, but otherwise the game kept moving. The crimson team at the onset was primarily the returning players and expected leaders at each position: sophomore guards Daniel Mullings and K. C. Ross-Miller, junior center Tshilidzi Nephawe, senior forwards Bandja Sy and Tyrone Watson. While this group was together, they fell behind early 9-2, but pulled back to even at eleven. Players were moved freely from team to team as the coaches wanted to see how different combinations meshed.
The crimson team generally set up in a man-to-man defense, while the white/grey shirted opponents were generally in the matchup zone. As you’d expect from an early scrimmage, defense was not an emphasis. Shot blocking was definitely in evidence; junior center B. J. West and redshirt freshman Sim Bhullar were most notable.
First impressions of the Aggies today: first, acknowledging the lack of defense, the Aggie shooting seems to be improved over the summer. There were ten three-point goals scored, including two each from Sy, sophomore guard Terrel de Rouen, and redshirt freshman Emery Coleman. (DeRouen, from Las Cruces Oñate High, and Coleman, from Tularosa, are two of the three New Mexicans on the roster.)
Second, the inside game seems to be as strong as expected. Nephawe and Bhullar were both imposing in the paint on both ends of the court, and Sy, Watson, West, and junior forward Renaldo Dixon were all active around the basket. Dixon had a very good outing, showing both poise and leadership in his play. The Aggies’ size should be better than almost every team they will face this year, providing a significant advantage.
Third, again recognizing that the defense was minimal, the ball handling seemed pretty good. Ross-Miller and de Rouen brought the ball upcourt with a minimum of difficulty. Late in the scrimmage, Ross-Miller made a great no-look pass resulting in an easy bucket. There was pretty good passing on both ends, among those with assists were Bhullar, Sy, West and Watson, who had several. Getting the ball up the court to the team’s frontcourt strength will be important this season, and the Aggies’ lack of experience at point guard will be something to watch.
Fourth, as they often seem to under the current coaching staff, off the court issues made an impression as well. Head Coach Marvin Menzies tweeted on Friday “… if you wonder why some players are not playing early on – it is because they are learning the importance of punctual class attendance!” Neither sophomore guard Remi Barry and JC transfer guard Kevin Aronis played early in the scrimmage; Barry did not play at all, and if Aronis played, he did not score. Hopefully, this was a lesson learned in a relatively painless way; Menzies has never hesitated to use playing time to encourage all the behaviors he expects from his team. Having this pair on the bench also makes the demonstrated improvement in outside shooting more impressive: Aronis and Barry were expected to be the best pure shooters on this squad.
The final score was about 62-56, and I could not tell you which color jerseys won; it really doesn’t matter given that the players moved back and forth between the teams throughout the afternoon. Leading the scoring was Sy with 20, followed by Nephawe with 18; each of them had three impressive dunks. Mullings showed his athleticism as always, scoring 15 primarily driving to the basket, but only hitting 4 of 7 free throws. Dixon added 13, West 9, de Rouen 8, Bhullar 7, Watson and Coleman each scored 6, and Ross-Miller tallied 5 points. Everyone who played scored: freshman guards Eric Weary and Matej Buovac added 4 each, and freshman forward Aaron Kubinski from Albuquerque La Cueva High School made a three-pointer.
Looking forward, the season is almost upon us. After the preseason fundraising dinner on Tuesday night (call Patsy at 575-646-1447 if you still need tickets), the only public exhibition game will be on Monday, November 5 at 7 p.m., against the Division II Mustangs of Western New Mexico University. (The closed scrimmage was apparently last week at future WAC foe Utah Valley University.) Regular season play begins with a visit to Oregon State on November 11. If this afternoon is indicative, this has the potential to be a fine season for Aggie hoops.