California Baptist
Ty Rowell is a preseason All-WAC selection and leads a veteran guard line for CBU. Courtesy CBU Athletics.
California Baptist Featured New Mexico State

New Mexico State set to host California Baptist in El Paso

 
Yes, third-party game sites were once reserved for early season tournaments and the post season. But the ongoing pandemic has once again caused New Mexico schools to think on the fly. This time around the Aggies will host the California Baptist Lancers at high school in El Paso, TX this weekend. The two game series which begins on Friday night will be played without fans in attendance.
 
As always these two games are must wins for both programs and with some returned firepower on the Aggie’s sidelines we may be in for a treat.

CALIFORNIA BAPTIST 

The Lancers are coming off of a series split with Dixie State at home. The two games were a part of a six-game stretch in Riverside for CBU. Now, the Lancers pack their bags and head for the border as they look to secure a couple of road wins against New Mexico State.

The Lancers make their money on the 3-point line, shooting a league best 39.8% from deep as a team. But two players to keep an eye on out there on the perimeter are two snipers from deep in redshirt junior guard Ty Rowell and sophomore guard Reed Nottage.

Rowell leads the team in scoring and assists at 15.6 PPG and 5.6 APG, playing a whopping 35.0 MPG for the Lancers on top. Rowell is one of the many three-point threats on Rick Croy’s roster and is accompanied atop the team’s scoring column and on the perimeter by 6-6 Aussie Reed Nottage. Nottage is coming off of a Player of the Week performance where he averaged 21.0 PPG,

NEW MEXICO STATE

The Aggies still boast one of the more difficult seasons out of any program in the country, with injuries, relocation and a grand total six games played all year.

With a 3-3 (0-2 in the WAC) record, Chris Jans is encountering a very different season in Las Cruces (or Phoenix or El Paso really) then he has in his previous three years in charge of the program. Aside from a terrible performance against WAC conference title foes Grand Canyon last week, which resulted in two losses for the Aggies. This team is still searching for a win against a division-one opponent. With their only wins this season coming against Arizona Christian (NAIA), Benedictine (NAIA) and against Western New Mexico (NCAA-D2).

Scheduling is tough for everyone this year but the Aggies may have one of the smaller game totals overall in the entire country of any team still actively finishing their season. This along with playing, practicing and living away from home, dealing with positive tests in the program at times and multiple injuries have Chris Jans and his staff in a tough position to win a fourth straight conference title next month.

THE INJURY BUG

The Aggies have had more than their fair share of injuries across the roster during an already difficult season. If there was any positive takeaway from last week’s series against Grand Canyon it was the return of guards Jabari Rice and Clayton Henry. Both guards battled foot injuries all season and returned to face the Antelopes last week. Although they don’t appear to be at full strength, their presence on the court makes a difference.

Two other players hoping to add to the depth chart this weekend are redshirt freshman Marcus Watson, who transferred from Oklahoma State and was deemed eligible to play this past Monday. Watson never logged a game with the Cowboys but was a former top-100 recruit before committing to them and could provide another option on the glass at 6-6, 215. Also hoping to play is big man Mayan Kiir who has missed 5 games with a bruised tailbone but has been practicing with the team all week.

Either way, no matter who is on the court somebody needs to make shots. The Aggies shot an atrocious 38-104 (36.5%) from the field and 12-59 (20.3%) from deep. This can’t happen again, especially against the Lancers who lead the league in scoring per game at 83.5 PPG and have five starters who average double-digits.

MATCHUP TO KEEP AN EYE ON: WHO BATTLES GAK IN THE PAINT?

Both squads play with several undersized players in the post, but one matchup to keep an eye on is whoever is tasked with containing 6-11 235 center Gorjok Gak. Gak is a graduate transfer from SEC country, and is enjoying the uptick in playing time out west where he is averaging 12.7 PPG 10.8 RPG, 2.1 APG & 1.8 BPG in just 25.7 MPG.

The Sydney, Australia native does a little bit of everything for the Lancers and may be the difference maker if the Aggies have trouble stopping him down low.

New Mexico State’s big men are no slouches but the size difference is obvious with their current starting center Johnny McCants standing 6-7 235. McCants uses his length and athleticism to make up for it but given any foul trouble, understudies in the post don’t get much bigger for the Aggies.

WHAT’S ON THE LINE?

For the Lancers it’s a chance to keep winning momentum and catch up with the Antelopes. Currently sitting at third place with a 8-5 (3-3 in the WAC) record, California Baptist has had a completive season thus far. But to remain in any race for the championship they need to secure some sweeps to catch up to Utah Valley and UTRGV. Only then can they consider overtaking Grand Canyon who they face on February 19th on the road in Phoenix.

For the Aggies it’s the need to log some W’s in the win column. Especially if they still consider themselves in the running for the conference championship. The Aggies were riding a 31-0 conference winning streak before falling to Grand Canyon last week. The last loss you may ask, came at the hands of California Baptist in the CBU Events Center 76-82.

Things are anything but ordinary this year, especially for the Aggies who have relocated to Phoenix and now El Paso to play games. But still, anything less than a split against California Baptist is cause for concern regarding their four-peat title run.

PREDICTION

KenPom has the Aggies as 11-point favorites in both games but after last weeks performance I am not so convinced the Aggies pull off the sweep.

Game 1: New Mexico State 82, CBU 77

Game 2: CBU 84, New Mexico State 70

I predict a series split and for the first game to be a bit close with the Aggies still being able to pull this one out give last week’s shame still looming. But for the second leg I see the Lancers coming to play to walk away with at least one win before they head home to host UTRGV at home next week.

Tip off for this weekend WAC matchup is at 6 p.m. PT and 7:00 PM MT and can be seen on the WAC Digital Network. As well as Fox Sports SW, Fox Sports AZ, ‘The CW’ in El Paso and Las Cruces, Comcast New Mexico and Fox Sports Go.

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