Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Veteran club: KU’s opening-round foe boasts four seniors

New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies, right, hugs center Tshilidzi Nephawe toward the end of the second half of the Aggies’ victory over Cal State-Bakersfield in the semifinals of the Western Athletic Conference tournament on Friday in Las Vegas. Nephawe is one of four seniors Menzies will count on when the Aggies open the NCAA Tournament against Kansas on Friday in Omaha, Nebraska.

New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies, right, hugs center Tshilidzi Nephawe toward the end of the second half of the Aggies’ victory over Cal State-Bakersfield in the semifinals of the Western Athletic Conference tournament on Friday in Las Vegas. Nephawe is one of four seniors Menzies will count on when the Aggies open the NCAA Tournament against Kansas on Friday in Omaha, Nebraska.


After a season full of injuries and ups and downs in its starting lineup, the New Mexico State men’s basketball team finally started the same five guys in eight of its final nine games.

Three of the five players in that group were seniors, and as NMSU coach Marvin Menzies prepares his 15th-seeded Aggies for an 11:15 a.m. NCAA Tournament showdown with No. 2 Kansas on Friday in Omaha, Nebraska, the eighth-year head coach said he thought that kind of experienced roster could be one of the few advantages that the Aggies possess in their opening-round matchup.

“I’d much rather go in there with the group we have than five freshmen,” Menzies said before pausing to qualify the statement. “Unless they were Kentucky freshmen.”

That they are not. But they are the closest thing the Western Athletic Conference has to what the top-seeded team in the Midwest region brings.

The Aggies (23-10) won the WAC regular-season title by five games before cruising to a fourth consecutive conference tournament championship last week in Las Vegas. And Menzies said Monday that his four seniors, who will be playing in their fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament, played a huge role in leading his team through the injury-filled season.

Six-foot-eight forward Remi Barry, from Paris, France, was the only NMSU senior to start all 33 games this season. Six-foot-10 forward Tshilidzi Nephawne and 6-2 guard Daniel Mullings each missed 12 games. And 6-2 guard DK Eldridge played all 33 games but only made 25 starts.

A couple of key underclassmen, notably starters Pascal Siakam and Ian Baker, helped round out the Aggies’ lineup, but Menzies said the team always leaned on its leadership.

“Philosophically speaking, I’ve always wanted to have upperclassmen in our program, even if it’s just juniors,” Menzies said. “If we get blown out by 40, it didn’t help us too much. But I’d like to think (that kind of experience puts us) in a position to not be nervous and to feel like we’ve been there before, because we have.”

That’s the mindset Menzies expects his team to have when the ball goes up Friday morning. The former Rick Pitino assistant said he saw endless amounts of individual and team talent during his film study of the Jayhawks this week. He even went as far as to joke about it when he was asked if the Aggies’ stiff zone defense could be considered a strength against the Jayhawks.

“Our strength against Kansas,” Menzies repeated. “That’s a separate question altogether. You might want to go back and ask, ‘Do we have a strength against Kansas.’”

Having respect for one’s opponent is often considered to be a strength in itself, and it’s clear that Menzies and crew have the utmost respect for Bill Self and the Jayhawks (26-8).

“Their overall individual talent was the biggest thing,” Menzies said. “And their ability to transition and finish in transition. There’s a lot of things that jumped out. Their ability to pressure the ball. They really guard you. Man-to-man defense has always been one of Bill’s signatures. There’s some things I already knew about them. I just kind of reinforced them, unfortunately, when I was watching the film.”

But because of his roster, as well as the teams they’ve played and the places they’ve been during the past few seasons, Menzies believes his team will have a shot. They proved that in an overtime loss to fourth-seeded San Diego State last season and again, four years earlier, in a three-point loss to Michigan State in the tournament’s opening round.

“I’m not gonna out-coach Bill,” Menzies said. “We’re not gonna draw up any special play or do anything out of the box that’s gonna have people ranting and raving about our coaching ability. We feel like we’re pretty solid, and we do a good job, but it’s gonna be about our seniors, if we’re able to play a close game and make it really competitive and hopefully be in a position to do something late in the game. ... We’ll go as far as our seniors take us.”


Arthur Ankeney 7 years, 6 months ago

I think this will be a good first (second) round game for KU. I expect it to be similar to last year's win against EKU. I think it's tight through the first 30-35 minutes with KU pulling away late for a 10 point victory. I think getting a win against an EXPERIENCED team will give a boost of confidence going into the second round game against (likely) Witchita St. I know we got a tough bracket because of Kentucky, but I like this bracket with regards to our chance to make it to the Elite 8. Wasn't sure we would have a chance to do so but I think ND is a pretty easy 3 seed especially considering their complete inability to perform well in the NCAA tournament over the last decade.

Steve Zimmerman 7 years, 6 months ago

This is going to be a very tough battle. We have 2 experienced starters with health issues, and a bunch of non-starters that have just been promoted to 10+ minutes, and 1 great frosh with prospect, a couple of great guards with no-fear attitudes. I'd say we can win this game if everyone plays with a heart of a champion. Let's ROCK 'em, JAYHAWKS!!

Mike Riches 7 years, 6 months ago

One of the biggest challenges for our team this week will be not to look past this NMSU game. A potential matchup against Wichita State will certainly be in the media spotlight this week, and probably on the minds of most fans. But our players need to give Friday's game everything they've got. If they do, we'll be fine.

Reggie Flenory 7 years, 6 months ago

This is still new Mexico state and we are still Kansas I don't care if they have the ghost of Wilt Chamberlain this team is not going to get any breaks or favors in this bracket so they need to treat every team but they're playing Kentucky

Gerry Butler 7 years, 6 months ago

exactly, not on todays posters but there are WAY to many people already looking ahead to the W.S.U. matchup there is only ONE problem with that,we have to win our game against NMSU 1st seems people think that its a given, & I'm here to tell you no its not. we are not good enough to just think we are automatically going to the next round. we have had way to much inconsistency this year like we slept walked thru these games no fire, no intensity now is the time we just can't do that I am hoping that the team realizes there is NO TOMMORROW each and every game is the last possible game of the season, like a famous coach of ours said in the past and it fits this bunch perfectly, we just have to survive and advance 1 game at a time. we have played so many ugly games this year, large deficits to overcome, so many big leads lost, to many turnovers time after time after time, poor shooting multiple times just have not jelled. So lets win our 1st game 1st then worry about Sunday thank God I'm sure coach self is making sure to get it into the guys heads to concentrate on NMSU & on top of that WSU has to beat Indiana think we can win now they just got to go out and show we can win GO HAWKS

Ludwig Supraphonic 7 years, 6 months ago

Few comments here. For a Senior laden team like NMSU, this is the last game of their careers and they will play accordingly. We're anticipating WSU. This could be the last game for only one player our roster. I hope no one is looking forward to next.

Michael Leiker 7 years, 6 months ago

Remember when this would not have been a headline...

Armen Kurdian 7 years, 6 months ago

I'm certainly not looking past these guys, they will fight to the end. What I want to see from Coach is a more timely defensive shift when necessary. If and when we are so lucky to play Kentucky, I'd want to see us switching D every three or four possessions, going man to man, to triangle & two, to zone and just keep switching things up on them.

Another objective for us is not to miss so many bunnies in the paint. That's killing us.

Arthur Ankeney 7 years, 6 months ago

Now this is thinking WAY too far ahead, but I completely disagree on the Kentucky approach. Kentucky isn't an offensive juggernaut. We play great man-to-man defense. Provided they aren't destroying us, I would stick with our pro.

James Donnell 7 years, 6 months ago

There should be NO discussion about any game except Friday's. KU is a team that has had key guys disappear at times, and we are strongly relying on really young players. That is scary to think about in the tournament. We have been so inconsistent that the thought of us going up against a senior laden team with 13 straight wins that is the underdog is really frightening--we have seen disappointments way too often to think past Friday.

Aaron Paisley 7 years, 6 months ago

We (the fans) don't play the games and are allowed to look ahead at potential match ups because we do not play the games. In actuality, the players are looking ahead a little bit to Wichita State and Indiana because there's only a one day turnaround so Self and players are doing some practicing to prep for those two potential opponents as well as NMSU. Every high seed does some prep work on the potential second round opponents because there isn't enough time to properly break down a team and scout and practice for them the day before a game.

Don Papst 7 years, 6 months ago

Very well said James. All of those thoughts are my greatest fear. I just hope we can play consistent basketball in both halves. Stay away from those 6 to 8 minute brain dead lapses, and we should be okay. Best of luck KU guys. ROCK CHALK!!!!

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