By now, you have probably heard the bare essentials on No. 15 seed New Mexico State, Kansas’ opponent on Friday in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Not your usual No. 15 seed. In the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in six years. Four seniors in the top six of the rotation. And so on.
But as the Jayhawks head to Omaha on Wednesday and lock into the final days of prep for New Mexico State, it’s time to take a deeper look at the Aggies. So here are 11 things you need to know about Kansas’ first opponent (with help from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and College Basketball Reference):
1. So who are these guys? In the last five games, the most common lineup for the Aggies looked like this: 6-0 sophomore guard Ian Baker, 6-2 senior guard Daniel Mullings, 6-8 small forward Remi Barry, 6-9 power forward Pascal Siakam and 6-10 senior center Tshilidzi Nephawe. That lineup was on the floor for 41.9 percent of possessions, per KenPom. When Baker is not on the floor, senior guard DK Eldridge comes off the bench and Mullings helps with the ball-handling duties.
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2. Who’s their best player? Well, there are a couple of candidates, but Siakam, a redshirt freshman from Doula, Cameroon, has been the Aggies’ most productive player. He leads the team with 5.9 win shares, a metric that attempts to measure a player’s total value. Barry, a senior small forward with size, is second on the team with 4.5 win shares.
3. Who is most likely to hurt Kansas from long distance? Barry and Baker. Barry, 6-foot-8 small forward, is shooting 44.6 percent (41 of 92) from deep, while Baker is shooting 47.2 percent (58 of 123).
4. As a team, the Aggies shoot a more than respectable 36.3 percent from three-point range. That ranks 83rd nationally. But they don’t shoot many of them. Just 25 percent of their field-goal attempts come from behind the three-point line. And just 20 percent of their points come on threes. Good news for KU: The Aggies don’t profile as a team that will spring an upset with three-point shooting.
5. So what are their strengths on offense? Well, the Aggies NEVER get their shots blocked. Opponents blocked just 5.7 percent of their shots inside the three-point line. That was the lowest mark in the country. This is partly because New Mexico State was a big team in a league (the WAC) with few true big men.
6. So what are their weaknesses? New Mexico State has been turnover-prone. Their turnover percentage (21.9) ranks 326th in the country, meaning the Aggies turn the ball over A LOT. For Kansas, that’s good and bad news. Bill Self’s defenses have never been great at producing turnovers; for years, their bread and butter is forcing teams to miss and then hit the glass — not forcing turnovers. The Jayhawks have forced turnovers on just 17.5 percent of possessions. The D-1 average is 19.1.
7. How about tempo? Yeah, how fast do the Aggies play? Pretty slow. They average just 63.7 possessions, less than the Division I average of 64.8. By comparison, Kansas’ last opponent, Iowa State, averages more than 69 possessions per game.
8. What else about the offense? Siakam, the freshman forward, is not going to hurt Kansas from deep. But he is the biggest threat in the paint, shooting better than 70 percent at the rim. Still, Siakam, according to the numbers, will also shoot his share of two-point jumpers. He’s also making just 39.5 percent of them, so Kansas will want to keep him away from the rim.
9. What about the rebounding battle? Well, the Aggies hit the glass hard, grabbing 39.5 percent of available offensive rebounds. That number ranks ninth in the country and should be alarming to Kansas, which has struggled at times to keep teams off the offensive glass. Siakam and Nephawe, meanwhile, are the biggest threats to pound Kansas on the offensive glass.
10. Did these guys play anybody? Sort of. The Aggies were 0-3 against teams in the RPI top 50 and 2-3 against teams ranked 50-100 in the RPI. But they also haven’t been tested in months. Like against ANYBODY. Playing in the WAC, a league that lacked another strong contender, New Mexico State hasn’t played another team ranked in KenPom.com’s top 100 since Jan. 3 — on that day, the Aggies beat UC Irvine, a tourney team, 70-67. For example: Here is the KenPom rankings of NMSU’s last five opponents: 267, 257, 337, 343 and 272. It goes on like that.
11. So what do we make of New Mexico State? The computer numbers like the Aggies. Their ranking in KenPom (89th on Wednesday) is better than 12-seeds Wofford and Wyoming, 13-seeds UC Irvine and Eastern Washington and 14-seeds Northeastern and Albany. New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies has built the Aggies into a solid program, an NCAA tourney regular in the last five years. They play a slow, methodical pace. They have a big lineup that racked up impressive rebounding numbers against smaller competition. And they cruised to a conference championship. Will that be enough to hang with Kansas in Omaha?