If you fill up the mailbag, I'll deliver.
The New Mexico State men's basketball team recently wrapped up its run at the Cayman Islands Classic with a second-place finish, and now the Aggies are set for a rivalry rematch against UTEP this Tuesday at the Pan American Center.
With plenty of buzz around the program, numerous Aggie fans reached out to me on Twitter for some input on the state of the team. Here are my responses in the first edition of a weekly article where I reach into my mailbag and give my takes on your most pressing quandaries.
Disclaimer: A few people sent me numerous questions in one post, so I picked one from each for time's sake. Others asked me about the thoughts of coaching staff and players, which I can't speak on. These are my answers regarding what I think of certain topics.
Thank you to everyone who reached out. Let's begin.
Question: At this point, who do you think has the most potential to complement Ivan (Aurrecoechea) down low?
The Aggies have started redshirt senior C.J. Bobbitt at the power forward spot every game so far this season, and although I've heard people suggest that Johnny McCants fits better with Ivan Aurrecoechea in the frontcourt, the stats show otherwise. In Bobbit and Aurrecoechea's 84 minutes and 11 seconds on the court together this season, the team is +29 points. In McCants and Aurrecoechea's 55 minutes and 56 seconds on the court together, the team is -2 points. Although Bobbitt is only shooting a mere 20 percent from deep so far this season, he has still attempted 20 long balls compared to McCant's 13 attempts. That willingness to space the floor is what compliments Aurrecoechea's inside game, and the two will only become more efficient together if Bobbitt begins to make his shots from deep like he did last season when he knocked them down at a rate of 34.6 percent.
Question: Is it time to start (Jabari) Rice over (Terrell) Brown?
I don't see Jabari Rice starting over Terrell Brown at any point this season for a number of reasons. The first is that Rice plays point guard while Brown plays shooting guard. Although those two positions are usually interchangeable, I feel that Rice should stay at the point guard spot because that's where his 6-foot-4, 180-pound frame creates the most mismatches. My second reason is that we're seeing an injured Brown at the moment as he continues to heal a strained groin. If anything, I think Brown should sit out one or two of these non-conference games in order to really get to full strength, but benching him isn't going to help his recovery process. Finally, the Aggies have been most effective when they have scoring off the bench. In New Mexico State's four wins this season, the team is averaging 36.8 bench points per contest. In New Mexico State's four losses this season, the team is averaging 23.5 bench points per contest. Rice a key scorer in the second unit with an average of 12.6 points per game, and I think he has embraced that role. Brown's play while injured has been frustrating so far, but benching the team's leading scorer last season isn't going to bring the best out of him.
Question: Stats don't show that it's number of TOs leading to losses. So, then what is it?
For those that didn't see me break the turnover situation down on Twitter last week, the Aggies are averaging 13.8 turnovers per game in their wins this season and 15.3 turnovers per game in their losses. With this season's defeats coming by an average of 12.5 points, it's safe to say that those extra 1.5 turnovers aren't the difference maker. Similar to my answer on the previous question, I think depth is a major factor. What has made the Aggies so tough to stop during the Chris Jans era has been the fact that the team rolls 10-11 players deep, but they haven't had a consistent scoring input from the second unit so far this season. The team is averaging 36.8 bench points per contest in wins compared to 23.5 points per contest in losses. That's a difference of 13.3 points per game for a team that has lost by an average of 12.5 points per defeat. That makes a lot more sense than the turnovers.
Question: How much press should the Aggies expect against the Miners after a tough response to it from George Mason?
They should expect a good amount of press, but that was assumed prior to the George Mason game. The Miners are a team that thrive off putting pressure on opposing offenses and forcing turnovers. According to Kenpom.com, UTEP ranks 22nd in the country in turnover percentage (24.8), which is the amount of turnovers forced per 100 possessions. That pressure was a big reason why the Miners ran away with the first game against the Aggies this season. After not pressing much in the first half and holding a slim 28-25 lead at the midway point, UTEP pressed to start the second half and forced five turnovers in the first five minutes. Expect the Miners to turn to that again on Tuesday, and the Aggies are going to be in trouble if they react the same way they did against George Mason in that second half (seven turnovers).
Question: Does (Shunn) Buchanan's scoring limitations hurt us?
The Aggies need more scorers to step up in the absence of AJ Harris. That's pretty clear. However, scoring wasn't the veteran guard's biggest contribution last season. The thing the Aggies miss the most from Harris is his facilitating. His ability to get into the lane and create quality opportunities for the team's shooters is something that gets overlooked unless it translates into an actual assist, and Buchanan is doing his part in that sense. Harris averaged 3.3 assists in 25.5 minutes per game last season, while Buchanan is averaging 3.9 assists in 25.4 minutes per game this season. He's also averaging nearly twice as many rebounds. It has to be stated that Buchanan is averaging 6.5 less points per game and is attempting about five less shots per night than Harris did last season, but again, each player has his own role on the team. New Mexico State needs Buchanan to create shots for his teammates above anything else. Is he limited in creating shots for himself? Yes. But the Aggies would be much more limited if they didn't have him at all right now.