In the 2022, NCAA Tournament, the New Mexico State men’s basketball broke a 30-year drought. Yes, the Aggies got an NCAA Tournament win. Behind Teddy Allen’s 37-point outburst, 12-seed New Mexico State beat 5-seed UCONN, 70-63 at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo.
And as it usually goes in college athletics, success breeds change. After leading New Mexico State to a share of the WAC regular season title, a WAC Tournament title, and an NCAA Tournament win, Allen left to test out the professional water. Johnny McCants, Clayton Henry and Yuot Alok all ran out of eligibility/graduated. And head coach Chris Jans headed off to the SEC and Mississippi State.
With Jans’ departure, more Aggies left. Gone are Jabari Rice, Mario McKinney Jr., Donnie Tillman, Nate Pryor, Will McNair, Virshon Cotton and Kiran Oliver. Jans took associate head coach James Miller with him to Starkville, as well.
But, athletic director Mario Moccia made a splash in April with the hiring of Greg Heiar. Coming off winning a JUCO national title while the head coach at Northwest Florida State College, Heiar has hit the ground running in Las Cruces.
The Aggies will don a new group of players in 2022-23. Only Mike Peake, Chi Chi Avery and Shakiru Odunewu return from the 2021-22 squad. But, once again, there is a lot of excitement as the Aggies prepare for their final season in the WAC.
Greg Heiar (1st year)
195-20 overall (All at the JUCO Level)
2021-22 Season Record:
27-7 overall, 14-4 WAC – Lost in 2nd Round of NCAA Tournament
Johnny McCants – Graduation
Clayton Henry – Graduation
Yuot Alok – Graduation
Donnie Tillman – Graduation
Teddy Allen – Professional
Will McNair Jr. – Transfer (Mississippi State)
Sir’Jabari Rice – Transfer (Texas)
Mario McKinney Jr. – Transfer (UTEP)
Virshon Cotton – Transfer (Unknown)
Nate Pryor – Transfer (Eastern Oregon)
Kiran Oliver – Transfer (Unknown)
Issa Muhammad, 6-9, R-Jr, F
Xavier Pinson, 6-2, Sr, G
Ziri Blackwood, 6-3, So, G
Kyle Feit, 6-4, Jr, G
Anthony Roy, 6-5, So, G
DaJuan Gordon, 6-3, Jr, G
Doctor Bradley, 6-8, So, F
Shahar Lazar, 6-3, Fr, G
Deuce Benjamin, 6-1, Fr, G
Jaden Alexander, 6-4, Fr, G
Bol Kuir, 7-3, Fr, C
Deshawndre Washington, 6-7, Jr, G
Mike Peake, 6-7, Jr, F
Chi Chi Avery, 6-8, So, F
Shakiru Odunewu, 6-10, So, F
Projected Starting 5:
1 – Xavier Pinson
2 – DaJuan Gordon
3 – Deshawndre Washington
4 – Mike Peake
5 – Issa Muhammad
There are a lot of question marks. How will the team gel? Will there be too many mouths to feed? How will players adjust to a new system and the Division I level? Can Greg Heiar have the same success at the DI level as he has had at the JUCO level? And, perhaps most important, how will the Aggies fare in their final season in the WAC?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize New Mexico State has been dominant over the past decade in the WAC. This is especially true at the Pan Am Center where the Aggies are 75-3 at home since 2011-12 during conference play.
Chris Jans had a remarkable run with the Aggies. Under Jans, New Mexico State won three WAC Tournament titles, played in three NCAA Tournaments, and broke a 30-year drought with the win over UCONN. Add to that, the fact that New Mexico State has played in every WAC title game since 2013-14. The only time the Aggies didn’t play for a WAC title was in 2019-20 when COVID caused the cancellation of the WAC Tournament.
So, there are big shoes to fill for Greg Heiar. But, the first-year head coach has filled out his roster nicely. SEC guards Xavier Pinson and DaJuan Gordon have WAC Player of the Year talent. Deshawndre Washington, Issa Muhammad and Doc Bradley are all top-30 JUCO recruits. Kyle Feit has shown that he can light it up from the perimeter during New Mexico State’s trip to the Bahamas. Las Cruces native Deuce Benjamin is showing Aggie coaches that they should not redshirt him.
And Mike Peake and Chi Chi Avery are going to be special in their return for the Aggies.
Length, athleticism, and quickness. Aggie fans should expect to see a different style of play in 2022-23. Greg Heiar wants to get up and down the floor and use the quickness and athleticism to create chaos. Fans have seen a bit of that this week in the Bahamas. Multiple guys can play multiple positions. And according to New Mexico State broadcaster Adam Young, Greg Heiar wants his guys to know every position on the floor.
Not only do the Aggies have length, athleticism and quickness. They also have depth, especially at the guard line. The one place to keep an eye on is the paint. There is some concern there isn’t a lot of depth when it comes to a rim protector. But, with the way the Aggies want to play and how they are expected to get after it defensively, that may not be an issue.
Will the Aggies win the WAC in their final season as members? The fan base will answer with a loud affirmative. In a conference that is loaded with quality guards in 2022-23, the Aggies should be right in the mix to win another WAC crown.
Head coach Greg Heiar said on the podcast this week that the Aggies will play at Saint Mary’s of the West Coast Conference. That was confirmed when Saint Mary’s put out its non-conference slate. New Mexico State is headed to Moraga on Dec. 14.
The Aggies are also slated to take part on the Sun Bowl Classic on Dec. 21-22 in El Paso. New Mexico State will face Kent State on Dec. 21 and then either North Carolina A&T or UTEP depending on the outcome on Dec. 21.
Heiar also said the Aggies will play rivals UTEP and New Mexico twice, as usual. And the Aggies are also heading to Las Vegas to take part in the Las Vegas Invitational over Thanksgiving weekend. But no official information has come out about that.
The only official information is that there are three teams so far, New Mexico State, San Diego and UC Irvine. They are waiting for a fourth team to enter per Rocco Miller.