New Mexico State: 2017 March Madness

Conference: WAC (Auto-Bid)

Record: 28-5 (11-3)

NCAA Tournament Seed: 14 (East)

How they go to the Big Dance

The Aggies had a very impressive season both in and out of conference play. New Mexico State started off slow, sitting at 2-2, but a loss to New Mexico in the middle of November would be the last defeat they would see in almost three months. The Aggies won an unprecedented 20 consecutive games during the thick of their season. When it was all said and done, New Mexico State had wrapped up the second seed heading into the conference tournament. In WAC postseason play, the Aggies took care of Chicago State and UMKC before defeating the No. 1 seeded CSU Bakersfield to earn the WAC crown and an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. They will play three seeded Baylor in the round of 64.

Why they’re a legitimate contender

New Mexico State’s offensive prowess should not be overlooked because of its seed and conference. The Aggies have four players who are averaging over 12 points per game. The attack is led by senior guard Ian Baker, but the high-scoring guard does not have to do it alone. Junior Braxton Huggins and sophomores Sidy N’Dir and Eli Chuha are all capable of putting up big numbers on any given night. If that is not enough to make opposing teams afraid of New Mexico State, junior forward Jemerrio Jones is averaging close to a double-double while coming off the bench. No matter how strong a team is on defense, trying to defend five players who can put the ball in the hoop is no easy task. The Aggies are also a streaky team, which could be a positive come tournament time. If they can win 20 straight games during the regular season, although against lesser competition, who is to say they can’t rattle off six wins? It is a tough task, but with the Aggies’ offense and streaky play, they should not be taken lightly in March.

Why they’re not a legitimate contender

Level of competition is always a worry for mid-major teams. New Mexico State undoubtedly had a great season, but its opponents’ level of play was not near what the team could see in the tournament. It will be interesting to see how the Aggies can handle a game against a blue blood team in a hostile environment. They were in the tournament in 2015, but for a majority of big minute players on this team, it will be their first taste at March Madness. The Aggies have all the talent on the court to make a name for themselves this year. They can score, defend and are a pretty efficient team, yet you can’t help but wonder if the stage may be too bright for some of their young stars.

Player to Watch: Guard Ian Baker

The Aggies will go as far as Baker is willing to take them. The senior guard is not only the leader of this team, but he is its first option on offense. Baker leads the team in scoring and free throw percentage. If New Mexico State is going to compete, Baker will have to do it all for them. His ability to score and get his teammates involved makes him valuable physically, but his leadership will go a long way in how mentally prepared the team is. Baker has been on this stage before and knows what will have to be done if they want to pull off the upset. However, for as good of a scorer as he is, Baker is a below-average 3-point shooter, as he shoots under 30 percent from deep. If the guard can get some 3-point baskets to fall early, it could open up the floor for him and his teammates, making the Aggies that much harder to defend.