There may not have been a more unorthodox 2020-2021 season for a college basketball team out there then that of the New Mexico State Aggies. Well, maybe their northern neighbors might know the feeling. But still, relocation and injuries to some of the Aggies’ best players had Chris Jans’ squad in a uphill climb out of the bottom-half of the conference standings last time around.
This Aggie squad battled their way to a third place finish in the WAC during a turbulent 2020-2021 season. Last time out, the Covid-19 pandemic was easy to point fingers at. Now this squad plans to return to their net-cutting ways in 2021-2022 and they do have the talent to do so.
The Aggies had what is becoming a very expected amount of roster turnover for your average college basketball program (out and in). Though, unlike many of their conference mates, I would dare say they added a lot more fire power than they lost. Of course the impact guys like Evan Gilyard II (team highs 2.8 APG & 1.1 SPG) and C.J. Roberts (6.9 PPG in 17.9 MPG) won’t go unnoticed. Ahead of one of the toughest championship races the Aggies have seen in years, the New Mexico State coaching staff has certainly geared up to be the preseason frontrunners in a new look WAC this fall.
Chris Jans, 5th Season
At NMSU: 95-25
2020-2021 Record: 12-8, 7-6 (3rd in WAC)
Postseason: 2-1, lost to GCU in the WAC Tourney Finals
Evan Gilyard II, 5’10, Sr., G
C.J. Roberts, 6’1, Jr., G
Marcus Watson, 6’6, R-Fr., F
Wilfried Likayi, 6’9, R-Jr., F
Teddy Allen (Nebraska) 6’6, R-Sr., F
Nate Pryor (Washington) 6’4, Sr., G
Mario Mckinney Jr. (John A. Logan) 6’2, So., G
Marsei Caston (NW Florida State) 6’3, Jr., G
Jermaine Harris (Rhode Island) 6’9, Sr., F
Yuat Alok (Coppin State) 6’11, R-Sr., C
Jabari Rice, 6’4, R-Sr., G
Clayton Henry, 6’4, Gr. G
Johnny McCants, 6’7, Gr., F
Donnie Tillman, 6’7, Gr. F
Predicted WAC Finish:
Breakdown: A New Look Roster
Jans and his staff went out and secured quite the haul from the transfer portal this offseason. To mesh with his four returning starters, Jans got some heavy hitting transfers in Teddy Allen (Nebraska), Yuat Alok (Coppin State), Nate Pryor (Washington) and Jermaine Harris (Rhode Island). Not to mention several key additions from the JUCO ranks such as Marseilles Caston (NW FL State) and Mario McKinney Jr. (John A. Logan).
There is plenty of new and returning talent on the roster. But, I have two questions for the Aggies before they take their place atop the WAC once again next spring. First, the talent is there of course, but the real task will be naming a cohesive lineup to seal the deal. As mentioned prior, four of last season’s five starters return to Las Cruces in 2021-22, but will there be enough minutes to go around?
Below I list a projected starting lineup for the Aggies this season. The front-court duo of Tillman and McCants win out for me given their time and success in the program. They’ll have competition from transfers Jermaine Harris and Yuat Alok, but if anything they will add to one of the more talented and deep frontcourts in the conference.
A Championship Level Floor General
Jabari Rice will welcome a new face to the backcourt next season, in the well-traveled Teddy Allen who will man the wing in place of Clayton Henry who will likely be the first one off the bench. Henry brings a lot to the floor, but it’s hard to deny the impact Allen will have on the box score after averaging 16.5 points per game in the Big Ten last season with the Cornhuskers. My next concern is who partners with Rice in the backcourt this season with Gilyard II (2.8 APG:1.4 Turnovers a game) suiting up for old WAC member Kansas City in 2021-22?
The next best distributor with a positive assist to turnover ratio is big man Johnny McCants (a ratio of 1.25). The candidacy list is long and positive though. McKinney Jr. and Caston will contend and likely vie for minutes as the declared starter rests. That starter I presume will be Washington transfer Nate Pryor, not judging him by his time with the Huskies most recently (4.1 PPG, 1.6 APG & 1.3 RPG in 17.4 MPG). I look a little further back to his time at North Idaho College where he averaged 18.3 points and 5.3 assists per game with just 2.1 turnovers to match.
But as I said, point guard is an area of question for New Mexico State. We’ll know more with everyone on campus as we get closer to the beginning of the season with more practices under their belt.
So even as the size and strength of the WAC has grown this offseason, the Aggies have a talented group of returners, newcomers and a proven coach who has the experience to put them together. A streak of regular season titles was lost last season. However, Jans and his staff have reloaded to begin another run to the NCAA Tournament and we are all along for the ride.
Projected Starting Lineup:
G-Nate Pryor, 6’4 175
G-Jabari Rice, 6’4 180
G-Teddy Allen, 6’6 225
F-Donnie Tillman, 6’7 225
F-Johnny McCants, 6’7 235
The Aggies have currently announced their participation in the Myrtle Beach Invitational which is scheduled for November 18-21 at the HTC Center in Conway, S.C. Their first round draw was announced as Davidson on Nov. 18th. The rest of the field includes East Carolina, Indiana State, Old Dominion, Oklahoma, Penn and Utah State. The Aggies of New Mexico State would go on to face either Penn or Utah State in their second game depending on the outcome of the first.
Aggies. Wildcats. Round ✌️
— NM State MBB (@NMStateMBB) July 28, 2021
Also official is a road game in Pullman, WA on Dec. 15th against the Washington State Cougars of the Pac-12.
That non-con schedule is coming together 🏀
Mark it down: Aggies. Cougars. December 15 in Pullman. #AggieUp
— NM State MBB (@NMStateMBB) July 13, 2021