New Mexico State is the unanimous decision to win the Western Athletic Conference in 2019-20. Head coach Chris Jans returns nearly his entire roster and the depth and experience will win out. At least that is how it was supposed to be. Thus far, four games into the season, things aren’t going as planned in Las Cruces. Senior guard A.J. Harris along with fellow guard Clayton Henry are out with injuries. Ivan Aurrecoechea and Terrell Brown are playing through injuries. And East Carolina transfer Shawn Williams hasn’t quite hit his stride with the Aggies, yet.
Not all is lost, though. Preseason All-WAC selection Trevelin Queen is living up to the hype. Queen is 16.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. Queen is also shooting 50 percent from the floor and 43 percent from 3-point land.
And while losing to I-10 rival UTEP for the first time in a century isn’t fun, the Aggies get a chance to make a statement with a win over I-25 rival New Mexico on Thursday night in Las Cruces. The need to beat a Division I opponent is vital. Yes, this is a clichè but it is the truth. New Mexico State lost by 30 at Arizona on Sunday and lost by double figures to UTEP. Its lone Division I win came at home against Southern University who is ranked 343 out of 353 teams in the KenPom rankings.
So, tonight, the Aggies have something to prove. New Mexico State has won the last six contests against the Lobos. The average margin of victory from 2018-19 was 19.5. Plus, this is a game against a KenPom top-100 opponent as New Mexico sits at 93. It is a high-profile, in-state rivalry game among two teams that hate each other. According to KenPom, the Aggies are favored to win on Thursday night. And with a somewhat difficult stretch of games over the next three weeks, a win over New Mexico will put New Mexico State right back on track.
Big Win for Wolverines Solidifies Effort at Kentucky
Utah Valley nearly pulled off a major upset on Monday. Yes, if you were watching ESPN 2, you saw senior guard TJ Washington and company put a scare into Big Blue Nation. Ultimately, it wasn’t to be as Kentucky walked away with an 82-74 win over the Wolverines.
Now, Utah Valley takes on Lamar on Thursday night in the UCCU Center. The Cardinals are at 265 in the KenPom rankings and are 1-1 against Division I opponents. While some didn’t think too highly of Utah Valley when the season began, a big win for the Wolverines on Thursday night will help change that narrative. Utah Valley hung with 9th-ranked Kentucky all night. The guard play was outstanding between TJ Washington, Brandon Averette, Ege Havsa and Jamison Overton. Add in UNLV transfer Trey Woodbury’s big game, and all the pieces were there for an upset. The defensive game plan installed by head coach Mark Madsen worked to perfection.
Now, can the Wolverines repeat that performance against a lesser opponent? In order to show Monday night was no fluke, Utah Valley must win and win big against Lamar. Nearly upsetting a Blue Blood can’t be the highlight of the season. And, to write-off the doubters, a win over Lamar is necessary.
Utah Valley has the best road win in the WAC and perhaps the best showing against a Power 6 opponent. Now, the Wolverines have to make believers out of doubters.
With the WAC falling behind the Colonial Athletic Association in the KenPom conference rankings, two of the best teams in the conference have to do their part and win the winnable games on Thursday night.