The New Mexico State Aggies have not had much success during the NCAA Tournament in recent years. They’ve lost their last three appearances in 2015, 2017, and 2018 by a total of 48 points. Each loss has been by double digits. However, the Aggies are coming into the 2019 NCAA Tournament with a (30-4) record.
Profile: New Mexico State Aggies – 12 Seed – WAC Automatic Bid
Opponent: Auburn Tigers (SEC)
Streak: 19 Wins
The Aggies earned a No. 12 seed in the Midwest region. Normally, teams like the Aggies would be a trendy pick to win a first-round game. They share the load in all aspects of the game. Opponents never know which player is going to be the scoring force on a given night. More importantly, the Aggies play together and seem ready to bust your bracket. Unfortunately, they are facing a former Top 10 team that may be hitting their stride just like the Aggies.
The Auburn Tigers started the season as the No. 11 team in college basketball. They rose as high as No. 7. However, the Tigers dropped out of the national rankings in late January. They never returned. Yet, they won the SEC Championship on Selection Sunday and earned a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. As a result, both teams are coming into March Madness, hot. The Tigers have won eight straight games, including a pair of wins over the Tennessee Volunteers. More importantly, the Aggies are playing a highly touted team that’s playing their best basketball of the season.
The Aggies earned the automatic bid though the WAC. Due to all of their accomplishments, they may scoff at Auburn’s eight-game winning streak. They have won 19 consecutive games. Moreover, the Aggies have been competitive in every game this season. Yes, they lost to Saint Mary’s Gaels by 15 points in November. However, the three other losses came by a total of 12 points. They lost to a full strength Kansas Jayhawks team by three points. They lost to regular season MVC champion Drake Bulldogs by three points. The Aggies final loss came to the California Baptist by six points in the conference opener. In other words, they have been perfect since January 3rd.
The Aggies are scoring 78 points per game. They are giving up 64 points per game. The 14-point per game differential means the Aggies know how to control a game on both ends. Despite only having one double digit scorer, they play at an elite level on offense. They embody the mantra- strength in numbers. Nobody averages more than 25 minutes per game. Although, that may change in the round of 64.
Guard Terrell Brown leads the way with 11.3 points per game. He’s lethal from 3-point range, connecting on 43 percent from beyond the arc. If the Aggies expect to pull an upset, he must have a strong shooting night from the field. The Aggies also have three players scoring over nine points per game this season. Forward Eli Chuha is producing 9.8 points and a team-leading 6.7 rebounds per contest.
Key Player: Point guard A.J. Harris is averaging 9.7 points and 3.4 assists per game. He will have one of the more interesting matchups of the first round against Jared Harper. Both players are explosive, but Harper is looked upon to score more. Can Harris contain Harper’s dribble penetration? That remains to be seen.
The Aggies attempt 28 3-pointers per game. Opponents are only attempting 21 3-point shots per game. Meaning, the Aggies do a great job of running shooters off of the 3-point line. However, they are not a great shot blocking team. Therefore, opponents may take advantage of the lack of size. The Aggies are only blocking 2.6 shots per game. We will see them more concerned with lane protection that rim protection. In fact, the Aggies contain opponents to under 42 percent shooting on the season. To advance in the bid dance, they’ll need to make it tough without fouling. So far, the’ve done a good job, with only about 17.8 fouls per game. It certainly helps that 13 players earn double figure minutes on the season.
New Mexico State tips-off on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. Et. This will be an early start for a team coming from the west coast.