In many ways, the Wichita State University basketball team has arrived at the same destination that the New Mexico State Aggies have been striving for.

A mid-major program playing in a small athletic conference, the Shockers have long been overshadowed by larger, better-funded in-state schools Kansas and Kansas State. But last year they became the first Division I team ever to win 35 straight games before losing to Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Aggies will get a chance to test themselves against the Shockers in the first game of the upcoming season, Nov. 14 in Wichita.

It's one of several marquee matchups on the Aggies' 2014-2015 schedule, announced last week.

Three days after opening against Wichita State, the Aggies play at Saint Mary's in a 1 a.m. early morning tilt as part of ESPN's 24-hour College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon.

The first home game will be Nov. 19 against Northern Colorado. Home matches against traditional rivals will be Dec. 6 against UTEP and Dec. 20 against New Mexico.

Other teams coming to Las Cruces this season include Florida A&M (Nov. 26) Colorado State (Dec. 27) and Cal-Irvine (Jan. 3). Featured road games include Wyoming (Nov. 29), Oral Roberts (Dec. 13) and Baylor (Dec. 17).

"It's going to be very tough, demanding and challenging for our young men and staff. We aren't going to shy away from anyone, and our schedule proves that," NMSU coach Marvin Menzies said. "Our schedule is going to be exciting for the community and our fans."

And, by playing against teams that have had success in the NCAA Tournament, the Aggies will have a chance to improve their Ratings Percentage Index, the formula the NCAA uses in seeding teams for the annual tournament, Menzies said.

NMSU has qualified for the NCAA Tournament three years in a row, and four of the last five. But a low seeding into the tournament has resulted in first-round losses each year.

With last season's Western Athletic Conference player of the year Daniel Mullings, fellow guard DK Eldridge and power forward Tshilidzi Nephawe all returning, the Aggies should be well equipped to defend their WAC championship. Center Sim Bhullar has made the jump to the NBA, but little brother Tanveer, at 7-foot-3, should fill in nicely.

The remade WAC is not as strong as it was before all of the shuffling in college athletic conferences, but NMSU Athletics Director McKinley Boston has still produced a schedule for the 2013-14 season that will be challenging for the team and entertaining for their fans.

And it all starts with a chance to shock the Shockers.

 

Las Cruces Sun-News, Aug. 14