The 2020-21 college basketball season is a little over 24 hours from tip-off. And we have another team preview. The New Mexico State Aggies are the favorites to win the WAC…..again. Head coach Chris Jans is looking for his fourth straight WAC championship and Johnny McCants can become the first player in Aggie history with four conference championships.
New Mexico State has faced some challenges leading up to the new season. The Aggies have had to relocate to Phoenix in order to practice and prepare due to COVID-19 restrictions in New Mexico. The Aggies won’t play a true home game for some time. And, scheduling for the 2020-21 season has been a real burden on Jans and his staff.
However, the Aggies are preparing to play and working to keep the rivalries with New Mexico and UTEP alive. The defending champs are hungry and loaded once again.
A.J. Harris, Ivan Aurrecoechea, Terrell Brown, Shunn Buchanan, Trevelin Queen
It was with great disappointment that A.J. Harris didn’t receive a waiver to play this season. Harris was the floor general for Jans and Co. but played in just three games due to a foot injury. Aurrecoechea and Queen combined to average a little over 24 points per game and created mismatches all over the place. Queen is now in the Houston Rockets organization and Aurrecoechea is going to play overseas.
Brown was a first-team All-WAC and All-Newcomer selection in his first season with the Aggies in 2018-19. And in 2019-20, Brown had a down season but still helped the Aggies win 19 straight games and a third WAC title. Buchanan is just a winner. Simple as that. Having to fill in for A.J. Harris prior to Evan Gilyard becoming eligible, Buchanan was the floor general. Buchanan played three seasons in Las Cruces and each Aggie team won a WAC title. Had it not been for COVID-19, Buchanan would have played in three NCAA Tournaments.
Evan Gilyard, Clayton Henry, Jabari Rice, Johnny McCants, William McNair
After having a breakout sophomore season, Jabari Rice is the sure-fire preseason pick for WAC Player of the Year. Rice’s work ethic is second to none and his competitive streak is what makes him even better according to his head coach. Rice was second on the team in scoring last season, averaging 12.8 points per game. Despite only starting 19 games, Rice still played the second most minutes and was second on the team in rebounds per game.
Evan Gilyard stepped on the floor on Dec. 18 and the Aggies didn’t lose again in the 2019-20 season. The stats don’t pop out at you as Gilyard averaged 7.5 points, 1.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. However, it allowed Jabari Rice to go back to his natural position at the two. And Gilyard added depth at the point guard position who had a great deal of experience.
Clayton Henry returns after missing the majority of the 2019-20 season due to injury. Henry averaged 5.4 points and 3.2 rebounds in 2018-19 and only played in one game in 2019-20 due to a pair of hand injuries. Henry is a bonafide shooter and showed off that shooting range by hitting eight 3-pointers in the 2018-19 WAC Tournament. With Trevelin Queen and Terrell Brown gone, Henry is expected to play a more significant role in 2020-21.
Perhaps the player with the most to gain in 2020-21 is Johnny McCants. Now, with Ivan Aurrecoechea gone, McCants is the man in the middle for the Aggies. McCants is one of the best rebounders in the WAC and has much more athleticism than many give him credit for. And, on top of all this, McCants is gunning for his fourth straight conference championship. If the Aggies win the WAC this season, McCants becomes the only player in New Mexico State history to have won four conference titles.
McNair is a big body that provides rim protection. At 6’10, McNair is the tallest player on the Aggies’ roster. McNair played in 28 games as a freshman but should see an uptick in minutes in 2020-21.
Donnie Tillman, C.J. Roberts
UNLV transfer Donnie Tillman is the biggest newcomer in Las Cruces. Tillman averaged 10.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists playing at UNLV last season. Prior to UNLV, Tillman was the Pac-12 Conference’s Sixth Man of the Year at Utah during the 2018-19 season. The work ethic, experience, and competitiveness is something Chris Jans loves about the newest member of his team.
C.J. Roberts adds depth at the point guard position. Roberts started all 30 games at Ranger College last season averaging 9.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. The Rangers went 27-3 overall and 13-1 in NJCAA Region V.
Rashaun Agee, Marcus Watson, Wilfried Likayi, Mayan Kiir are among some of the other names to remember for the 2020-21 season. Agee is a redshirt freshman and Likayi redshirted due to injury last season. Watson and Kiir both transferred mid-season from Oklahoma State and South Florida, respectively.
Chris Jans – 4th Season
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG – Evan Gilyard, 5’10, 170 lbs
SG – Jabari Rice, 6’4, 180 lbs
SG – Clayton Henry, 6’4, 200 lbs
SF – Donnie Tillman, 6’7, 225 lbs
PF – Johnny McCants, 6’7, 235 lbs
Projected Finish in WAC Standings
It’s no surprise the Aggies are picked to win the WAC again. New Mexico State returns a majority of its starting lineup. Plus preseason WAC Player of the Year Jabari Rice is back. And add in some really good transfers with UNLV transfer Donnie Tillman being the big name, and Chris Jans has another loaded roster.
Perhaps the Aggies are just a bit behind due to COVID-19 restrictions. But, Jans and his staff have dealt with adversity prior to the start of a season before. Prior to the 2019-20 season, the Aggies were dealing with a multitude of injuries especially to A.J. Harris and Clayton Henry. Yet, New Mexico State still found a way to win 19 straight games and their third straight WAC title.
With a hunger to get on the floor and go to work, this New Mexico State team is primed for another run at a WAC championship.
What to Expect:
The 2020-21 season is going to be crazy. There will be cancellations, postponements, and perhaps games scheduled even after the season starts. But, one constant is the New Mexico State Aggies winning games. The non-conference schedule is being hashed out as we speak. But, with a loaded roster once again, New Mexico State should win the WAC. Perhaps there will be a bit more emphasis in the transition game as the Aggies have a lot of quickness and athleticism.
Can Jabari Rice have an even better season in 2020-21? Or now that the target is on his back, will he take a step back? Johnny McCants will have an even bigger role and is a dark horse for WAC Player of the Year honors. And how quickly will the newcomers adjust considering the Aggies have been limited in practice? This is a ‘What to Expect’ section. However, with so much going on around this program it’s hard to put expectations into words.
Perhaps the only expectation that Aggie fans want to hear is that the Aggies will win the WAC once again. It’s pretty simple. It may take a miracle every now and again like it did in February against Utah Valley. But, it can and most likely will happen.