Idaho (12-17) vs. New Mexico State (21-10)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, March 14, 3 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Orleans Arena (7,471) -- Las Vegas, Nevada. Television: None. Home Record: Idaho 6-8, NMSU 15-1. Away Record: Idaho 6-8, NMSU 6-8. Neutral Record: Idaho 0-1, NMSU 0-1. Conference Record: Idaho 7-11, NMSU 14-4. Series Record: New Mexico State leads, 22-4.
GAME NOTES: The New Mexico State Aggies begin defense of their Western Athletic Conference Tournament title on Thursday afternoon, as they tangle with the Idaho Vandals in the quarterfinals of the 30th annual event at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
Seeded third in the tournament this time around, the Aggies have actually won the event twice in the last three years and three times overall since 2007. Last season, NMSU celebrated with an 82-57 thrashing of Louisiana Tech in order to advance to the NCAA Tournament.
One of the hottest teams in the WAC since the beginning of the new calendar year, New Mexico State has bowed just twice in the last 17 outings. At one point the Aggies had put together a 12-game win streak, all against league opponents.
As for the sixth-seeded Vandals, a team which has won just a single game in eight tries in this event over the years, they began this season with four defeats in five games and continued to be sporadic throughout. The team did close well with consecutive victories and wins in three of the last four contests in order to generate some momentum heading into the tourney.
The Aggies lead the all-time series by a wide margin at 22-4, sweeping the two regular-season meetings but by just a combined three points. The reward for emerging victorious in this third matchup of 2012-13 is a date in the semifinals of the tourney against the winner of the Texas State/Denver contest.
The Vandals may have had only marginal success during the regular season, but they do feature the WAC Player of the Year in Kyle Barone who, in league play, averaged a double-double with 18.2 points and 10.9 rebounds per outing. Barone shot an impressive 59.0 percent from the floor over the course of 29 contests and was smart enough to know that he did his best work in the paint, as he avoided hoisting up even one 3-point try during the campaign. Stephen Madison (14.5 ppg) and Connor Hill (12.1 ppg) helped to fill the gaps for Idaho, while in the regular-season finale versus Seattle, Mike McChristian (8.5 ppg) filled his stat line with 26 points, on 7-of-11 shooting beyond the arc, seven assists and four steals. McChristian finished the regular season as the team leader in assists (80) and steals (33).
The Aggies are happy that Tyrone Watson (10.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg) is back on the floor because he only adds to the powerful play in the paint for the squad, although for this game NMSU has him listed as a reserve and is instead giving the starting nod to Renaldo Dixon (5.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg). Daniel Mullings (13.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 83 assists, 68 steals), an All-WAC Second Team selection for this season, is one of those players who is capable of and willing to do whatever it takes to win. Earning a spot on the All-WAC First Team is Bandja Sy (11.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg) who beefed up his scoring by almost three points per game in conference play. Sim Bhullar was named the WAC Freshman of the Year and to the third team All-WAC and All-Newcomer team thanks to his 11.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg and 3.0 bpg versus league foes.
Idaho may have Barone who is considered the WAC Player of the Year, but it just seems as though the Aggies have more weapons at their disposal and are capable of letting any number of performers shine in this most critical time.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: New Mexico State 73, Idaho 64
03/14 10:36:45 ET