Maybe this is the year the New Mexico State Aggies have a chance to win one of these NCAA Tournament games.
And that might be just the problem. They’re apparently not going to sneak up on anybody.
The 28-5 Aggie basketball men learned Sunday they will face Clemson (23-9) in the round-of-64 of the NCAA Tournament on Friday in San Diego. Game time is inexactly 30 minutes after the conclusion of the 5:27 p.m. College of Charleston-Auburn contest.
The Aggies received a No. 12 seed, the Tigers a five, and already, one prominent basketball icon is giving the Aggies some love.
“I’m going with the upset of taking New Mexico State,” said Charles Barkley during TBS’ production of the Selection Show. Barkley moments earlier said he had watched the Aggies beat Grand Canyon on TV Saturday night and obviously was impressed.
ESPN basketball commentator Jay Bilas: “New Mexico State is an excellent rebounding team. Jemerrio Jones is one of the best offensive rebounders in the country. Zach Lofton averages 20 points a game. When you have a 20 point a game scorer, you are dangerous.”
And former ESPN (and Albuquerque Journal) basketball journalist, now a correspondent for NCAA.com, boldly predicted New Mexico State to win twice and advance to the Sweet 16.
Chris Jans, first-year NMSU coach, suggested on Sunday that the confidence is well-founded. “I see no reason why these kids won’t rise to the level of play that is required to win games in the tournament,” he said.
The winner of the NMSU-Clemson game will face the winner of No. 4 Auburn and No. 13 College of Charleston in the second round on Sunday.
The Aggies have wins over Miami, a No. 6 seed, and Davidson, a No. 12 seed, in this year’s tournament.
“We’re ready,” NMSU sophomore guard AJ Harris said to the Las Cruces Sun-News. “We’re really ready. We’re going to be prepared and coach Jans is going to have us prepared. We’ll be ready. It doesn’t matter what name is on that jersey. We are going to come out there, compete and give it all that we got.”
NMSU seeks its first NCAA Tournament win since 1993, after which they have lost 10 straight NCAA Tournament games since its last win in the tournament.
And now get ready for the slight that forever riles both Lobo and Aggie fans. ESPN.com’s first bracket (shown below) had Clemson playing — you guessed it — New Mexico. ESPN also sent out a push alert to subscribers who identify themselves as UNM fans, congratulating them on the Lobos making the field of 68.
Bleacher Report also put together a game capsule with the Aggies and used a photograph of Lobo Antino Jackson.
Awkward, if not painful.
To be clear, the Lobos aren’t in this field or either of the other two tournaments for which they technically would be eligible, the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) and the College Basketball Invitational (CBI).
And for that matter, two other former Lobos and senior graduate transfers who sought greener pastures didn’t find their way into this year’s NCAA Tournament. Former Eldorado High, UNM Lobo and Ole Miss Rebel Cullen Neal isn’t making it with the Saint Mary’s program , which is one of the controversial left-outs with a 28-5 record.
Nor, for that matter, is former Butler Bulldog and Lobo Elijah Brown going with Oregon, which joins Saint Mary’s in the 32-team field.