(Below are coach Marvin Menzies’ thoughts on his New Mexico State Aggies’ game on Thursday vs. Indiana.)
PORTLAND, Ore. — They have had flat spells and they been on fire this year.
Now the New Mexico State Aggies hope to be downright Amazin’ once again.
The Aggies, who once earned the Amazin’ nickname by their march through the NCAA Tournament, are back in the field and looking to make some noise here today in the round of 64. NMSU (26-9) plays Indiana (25-8) tonight at the Rose Garden.
“The dangerous (teams) are the ones that have experience,” NMSU coach Marvin Menzies said. “… We’ve got experience. We’ve got some great young men and some great players. Now is our time.”
The 13th-seeded Aggies have had success in NCAA Tournament before. This is NMSU’s 19th appearance and it went all the way to the Final Four in 1970.
The Aggies also made it the Sweet 16 in 1992 and made the regional finals in 1968 and 1969. They might have had another Final Four shot or two in the their heyday, had they not been paired in the same region as UCLA during the Bruins’ period of domination.
It’s been a long time, however, since NMSU has had any real success in the tournament. And “real” is the key word.
The Aggies have lost their past five games in the event — in the second round of 1993, and in the opening rounds in 1994, 1999, 2007 and 2010. And in 1995, they were forced to vacate their two victories in 1992 and their one in 1993 because of academic fraud issues. Thus, NMSU hasn’t officially won a game in the tournament since beating St. Bonaventure in the Final Four consolation game in 1970.
But that’s all distant past. Much like early December, when the Aggies lost three of four games and looked like they might be an also-ran in the Western Athletic Conference.
NMSU, however, caught fire in February and won eight of nine before a 65-61 loss to regular-season champion Nevada on March 1. That loss put the Aggies in a must-win situation for last week’s WAC tournament in Las Vegas, Nev., and they responded by rolling to three impressive wins — including an 82-57 blowout of Louisiana Tech in Saturday’s title game.
“It’s been like a roller coaster,” says Aggie senior guard Hernst Laroche. “We won some big games, then we lost some. But we’re playing good right now. “The lulls at the beginning helped us to play good right now. With the experience we’ve got, I think we’re going to make some big runs.”
But before any run, first comes 16th-ranked Indiana, a team that has returned to the national limelight this season under coach Tom Crean. The fourth-seeded Hoosiers pulled off a number of stunners early in the year — including beating top-ranked Kentucky — and finished fifth in the 12-team Big Ten at 11-7. The Hoosiers have 36 NCAA Tournament appearances and have won it all five times.
But who’s worried about the Hoosiers?
“It’s just basketball,” says Laroche. “They have great players, but you can’t worry about the name on the jersey.”
Adds NMSU senior forward Wendell McKines, “Teams that are intimidated and infatuated by playing bigger-name schools, those are the teams that lose by 40.”