Auburn is slated to play New Mexico State in the opening round of this year’s NCAA tournament, and though the team is a mid-major from the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), they have an upset run up their sleeve if Auburn doesn’t play at its highest level.
Since 2010, New Mexico State has missed two tournaments. Considering the WAC only gets one bid for the conference champion, the Aggies have carved out a role for themselves as a quiet powerhouse.
Only 21 teams in the country have had six-straight seasons with 20-plus wins, and the Aggies are one of them. They’ve made it to the second round four times while never being seeded higher than 11.
In comparison, Auburn has been to the tournament a total of nine times in program history.
This year, the Aggies have only lost four games. Three of those were against out-of-conference opponents, including a three-point defeat to 4-seed Kansas.
Much like the quarterback position for Auburn football, New Mexico State’s team is comprised mostly of transfers. Eleven of 16 players on the roster have come from another school, effectively putting together a JUCO all-star team.
With the experience that his players have, head coach Chris Jans is able to go deep into his bench.
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There is no clear second unit as the whole team could start. Twelve players have started at least one game and 13 players average over 10 minutes of playing time per game.
This next-man-up strategy is key to the stifling defense that Jans has installed. Only one opponent has scored over 80 points on New Mexico State this season, including Kansas who only scored 63 points, the Jayhawks' second-lowest output of the season.
Offensively, they take 27 threes a game and get the ball in the hands of their leading scorer, Terrell Brown. Brown is lethal from downtown, shooting four 3-pointers a game at a 43-percent clip.
Jans' squad averages 77 points a game because there is never a drop in production. It’s hard for the Aggies to get into a scoring lull with such a deep rotation as half of the roster averages over five points.
If Auburn wants to avoid the notorious 5-seed 12-seed upset, it will have to keep the Aggies off of the offensive glass. New Mexico State is the seventh best team in the nation at controlling the offensive glass and getting second-chance points.
Scoring will not come easy against this team, but limiting the possessions it gets will also help slow down the Aggies' offensive attack.
Even though this team is from the WAC, the Aggies are anything but. There are no easy games in March.
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