Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 3/13/12
It would have been a shame for New Mexico State to waste the senior talents of forward Wendell McKines, point guard Hernst Laroche and center Hamidu Rahman. The Aggies had the pieces in place for a big year, and they accomplished one of their goals by winning the WAC tournament and advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons. "I feel like we can play with anybody right now," coach Marvin Menzies after NMSU dispatched Louisiana Tech 82-57 in the conference tournament final in Las Vegas on March 10. That first "anybody" will be Indiana. New Mexico State drew a 13th seed in the South Regional and will play the fourth-seeded Hoosiers in Portland on Thursday. Indiana (25-8) will be fired up to play because it ended a three-year tournament drought in which it lost 20 games each season. Indiana enters the NCAA second in the nation in 3-point percentage (43.2) and has the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in big man Cody Zeller. New Mexico State (26-9) finished second in the WAC regular season, trailing Nevada by three games with a 10-4 record. But the Wolf Pack was knocked out in the tournament semifinals, so the Aggies didn't have to tangle again with Nevada, which swept two games in the regular season. In the title game, Louisiana Tech had little chance to match NMSU's interior size and strength. The Aggies had a plus-19 margin in rebounding, and McKines was completely dominating. He had 27 points and 14 rebounds, shooting 12 of 16 from the field. He enters the NCAA Tournament as the WAC leader in scoring (18.8 points per game) and rebounding (10.8). "Night in and night out, there is not a more passionate player who I have ever coached," Menzies was quoted as saying in the Las Cruces Sun-News. McKines will have to lead the way if the Aggies are going to make it to the weekend. NOTES, QUOTES --Senior PF Wendell McKines won WAC Tournament MVP honors after leading New Mexico State to the title. He scored 64 points and pulled down 32 rebounds in three games. He made 6 of 10 3-point shots in the final two games. --McKines earned All-WAC first-team recognition, while senior G Hernst Laroche made the second team. Senior C Hamidu Rahman was an honorable-mention selection. Freshman G Daniel Mullings was selected to the All-Newcomer team. --When coach Reggie Theus left New Mexico State after the 2007 season, Aggies fans were worried they couldn't get back to the success that Theus had attained. But Menzies has guided NMSU to tournament appearances in two of the last three years and could be starting to build a power in Las Cruces. "Bottom line is: I love Las Cruces," Menzies said. "I love New Mexico State, and I hope I can stay for a long, long time. You think they'll keep me around as long as I keep winning, right?" --New Mexico State has lost a first round game in its past four NCAA Tournament appearances and hasn't won a game in the Big Dance since defeating Nebraska in 1993. --NMSU's 26 victories match the program's best since it went 26-8 in 1993-93. QUOTE TO NOTE: "In 2010, it was like, 'Oh my God, we are going to the tournament.' Now we know what to expect in the tournament and we know we can play with anybody. We are looking forward to the tournament now and making noise." -- McKines, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, on returning to the NCAA Tournament after being part of the 2010 team that lost 70-67 in the first round to fifth-seeded Michigan State, which went on the Final Four. STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL SCOUTING REPORT: New Mexico State had the interior size, strength and skill to dominate most of the teams in the WAC, which resulted in a plus-8.7 rebounding margin -- more than twice as good as the next best team. The Aggies are going to ride the all-around talents of McKines, who can muscle up shots around the basket or step out beyond the 3-point line (35.2 percent on 142 attempts), making him your basic matchup nightmare. Menzies, a disciple of Rick Pitino, likes his team to play fast, which includes pressing in the backcourt and plenty of on-ball pressure. NMSU enters the NCAA Tournament second in the WAC in steals (6.8) and turnovers forced (14.6). FUTURES WATCH: Menzies will have to do a bit of reloading after this NCAA Tournament appearance, losing seniors McKines, Laroche and Rahman. Menzies will be counting on several newcomers and has a couple of intriguing players who are redshirting this season: sophomore point guard K.C. Ross-Miller and 7-foot-5 freshman Sim Bhullar. Ross-Miller, who was once committed to Kentucky (under coach Billy Gillispie), played at New Orleans last season. He should be the replacement for Laroche. Bhullar, who is listed at 360 pounds, could team with Tshilidzi Nephawe for a sizable rotation at center. REGULAR SEASON REVIEW: New Mexico State beat rival New Mexico in Albuquerque in the second game of the season, although the Lobos won the rematch in Las Cruces. The Aggies also lost a pair of games to Southern Mississippi, and dropped a home game to Arizona, missing a chance for a marquee victory. NMSU took a hit before conference season when athletic sophomore guard Christian Kabongo decided to transfer after being suspended. That took away a prime offensive weapon, but his departure might have created a more stable team. New Mexico State was a step behind Nevada through the conference season, dropping two to the Wolf Pack and finishing three games back in second place. ROSTER REPORT: --Junior F Tyrone Watson has a lot of experience, which includes playing in the NCAA Tournament two years ago. He redshirted his first year at NMSU and has steadily improved each season. Watson, a starter who averages 7.0 points, must use his effort to score because he doesn't get a lot of set plays drawn up for him. --Freshman G Daniel Mullings stepped up in a big way after the departure of Kabongo in early January. His ability to penetrate and attack the rim forces the defense to collapse, opening the floor for his teammates. And when he is active on the glass, he can get the Aggies' transition game going. That's when NMSU is most dangerous. He is averaging 9.3 points.
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