Over the next few days, you will fill out an NCAA Tournament bracket, and because NCAA Tournament brackets have to have upsets in them, you will pick somebody with a double-digit seed over somebody with a single-digit seed. Will you pick randomly? Will you pick based on mascot? Or will you pick smart? We're going to profile five low-majors that deserve more credit than Random Directional State University, and although we won't guarantee the upset -- or even a close first round game -- these are the no-names whose names you should know.
Up next: 13th-seeded New Mexico State Aggies
I have a favorite college basketball player. It's not Jabari Parker or Doug McDermott or Andrew Wiggins, or any other number of players routinely watchable on ESPN. It's not some preternaturally talented freshman, or some seasoned senior who has finally led his school to relevance.
It's Sim Bhullar, of New Mexico State, whose primary talent is being 7'5 and ENORMOUS.
(Credit: USA Today Sports)
That's Bhullar with teammate Renaldo Dixon, who, by the way, is 6'9. Bhullar weighs 360 lbs., is from Canada, and his little brother -- "little," as every story about them will joke -- Tanveer is a 7'3 freshman who redshirted for the Aggies this year.
He's not the tallest player in college hoops -- that would be Mamadou N'Diaye, the 7'6 UC-Irvine center who I am also passionate about. But at 360 lbs., he is the most massive. His enormous size, particularly for a minor conference, makes him a force that completely changes the complexion of NMSU's games. On offense, the team waits for him to lumber up court -- although he's worked a great deal on conditioning, he's still 7'5, 360-pounds. On defense, teams try to beat the Aggies downcourt. But when he sets up in the paint on either end of the floor, he's like a trebuchet, easily catapulting balls into the basket and launching opposing shots away. He shoots 64 percent from the field -- sixth in the nation -- and blocks 11.2 percent of shots while he's on the floor -- 22nd in the nation.
There's a lot more to NMSU than big Sim -- that's why I'm not gonna write a whole post about 'em! -- but he is the guy who made me tune in, and the guy who makes me think an upset can happen when they take on fourth-seeded San Diego State. MEET THE AGGIES, Y'ALL.
Are they good?
Kenpom ranks the Aggies at No. 72, right between West Virginia and Georgia, if you need a connection to more familiar leagues.
They had some troubling losses -- Western Michigan and Colorado State in the non-con, and, well, all four of their in-conference losses, as nobody in the WAC is particularly strong. But they beat New Mexico in Albuquerque, beat a decent UTEP team twice before the they had three players dismissed for gambling reasons, and won three times as many games as they lost in conference. They're not bad. Pomeroy gives them a 28-percent chance at beating SDSU.
What are they good at?
This will shock you, but a very tall team is very good at tall person things. Teams shoot just 42.8 percent from inside the arc against the Aggies, 11th best in the nation, and 13.5 percent of shots are blocked, 34th in the nation. But this doesn't mean teams are gunning away -- in fact, only 22.9 percent of opposing shots are threes the second fewest in the nation. And only 39.7 percent of opposing buckets are assisted, the third lowest in nation. Translation: It's really hard to score against NMSU inside, but teams are still forced to, and tend to do so in isolation or off rebounds. That means there's very, very sound defense going on.
On offense, they get fouled a ton -- fourth best FTA/FGA in the nation -- get a ton of offensive rebounds -- 37.9 percent of their misses, 17th in the nation -- and never get blocked -- only 6.9 percent of their shots, fourth best in the nation. Like I said! Tall person things!
Who they got?
Like I said, it's not just Bhullar! In fact, he's only fourth on the team in scoring. NMSU also starts Tshilidi Nephawe, who is 6'10, and Renaldo Dixon, also 6'10. Not a whole ton of small conference teams can play a 6'10 dude that's always the second-tallest on the floor. Not a whole ton of large conference teams can do that. Nephawe's the better of the two, averaging 11.1 points and 7.8 rebounds.
But the star is Daniel Mullings, the 6'2 point-ish guard who took WAC Player of the Year honors for his 16.8 points per game, 4.9 boards, and team high 3.5 assists per game. I guess what I'm trying to say is I wrote 750 words about New Mexico State basketball without mentioning its best player, and if you have a problem with that, I'm going to send a lumpy 7'5 Indian man to your house.
Is San Diego State a good matchup?
In some ways, yes! The Aztecs' offensive fingerprint looks a lot like teams that lose to NMSU -- they take very few threes and rarely take assisted shots. So they're gonna try to get buckets inside, which is exactly what NMSU is good at defending against.
The Aggies will need to get keep 6'8 Josh Davis and 6'10 Skyler Spencer off the offensive glass, which considering NMSU plays three guys as tall or taller, could be a thing they can do.
Scoring will be a bit trickier, since the Aztecs are an outstanding defensive team. Daniel Mullings vs. Xavier Thames will be a fantastic guard battle, and Bhullar has seven inches on the tallest SDSU player. But if NMSU's going to win, they're going to do it by wreaking havoc on SDSU's interior scorers.
It should be noted that New Mexico State and Oklahoma State have the same mascot, Pistol Pete.
An Aggie is just a person that goes to agricultural school, so they co-opted a cowboy.
Neither of which is Pete Maravich.
I mean, just a college student, really.
Wyoming also uses Pistol Pete. People who run colleges are boring.
Anyway, this seems like another mismatch: It's a guy with a gun facing off against a member of a Pre-Columbian empire.
We're giving the Aggie a gun?
Like, all he does is have a gun.
His name is "Pistol Pete."
(Photo credit: Thearon W. Henderson)
Man, fuck him.
This sucks because the Aztec has arrows and darts and slings and shit.
But ... guns. Two guns.
If your name was "Sword Seth," I'd be pretty pissed if you didn't have a sword.
My name is Hands Seth.
So the two-gunned human rides again.
What you need to know to be an NMSU bandwagonner
Where: Las Cruces, aaaaaaaaall the way down in the southeast of New Mexico near El Paso. No Breaking Bad references, besides this one.
Conference: The WAC! The WAC is a conference in major flux: Once home to Arizona, Arizona State, BYU, it springboarded Boise State's football relevance, and housed schools like Fresno State and Hawaii and Air Force and even, for a time, SDSU. But the football wing of the conference went defunct after the latest round of realignment, and the league focused on non-football sports. The Aggies will play football in the Sun Belt, and now play against seven new schools such as Utah Valley, Texas Pan-American and Chicago State after a complete revamp of the league's hoops membership. NMSU is now the old-timer of the WAC, having been a member since 2005, and fended off the newcomers in the conference tournament.
You might have heard about the brawl between NMSU and Utah Valley at the end of an overtime game this season. UVU ended up winning the conference in the regular season, but fell in the conference tournament to fifth-seeded Idaho, who NMSU promptly dispatched by 22 points in the final. Kenpom doesn't feel very highly about Utah Valley, so I probably wouldn'ta written 'bout them.
Mascot info: We already discussed Pistol Pete up there a bit, but there's more of a story: Pistol Pete is based on a very real mustachioed, gun-holding individual, Frank Boardman Eaton, who was nicknamed Pistol Pete. His father was killed by a gang of former Confederate soldiers in 1868 when he was 8 years old, so he began teaching himself how to shoot and eventually had his vengeance, killing five of the six men responsible for his father's death. (The other died in a fight over a card game, otherwise he would have gone six for six.) Eaton became one of the most feared gunfighters in the West, serving as a lawman, and lived to become a legend, dying at 98 as one of the last living remnants of the cowboy era.
Oklahoma State was the first to adopt a version of Eaton as a mascot, but NMSU and Wyoming soon got Pistol Pete's of their own. Derivative? A tad. AWESOME? Hell yeah.
Hoops history: NMSU has had a lot of hoops success, as this is their 16th trip to the NCAA Tournament and third in six years under Marvin Menzies. They even made the Final Four in 1970 under Lou Henson! But they haven't won a game since 1993. Notable hoopsters include Randy Brown, who won some titles with the Bulls in the '90s, and Jordan! (Reggie Jordan, who played for the Timberwolves and a few other teams in the late-'90s.)
Hate hate hate: Obviously, there's a rivalry with New Mexico, but they're not gonna meet in this tournament unless both teams make the Championship game. Bummer. The teams played a home-and-home this year, and oddly, the Lobos won in Las Cruces and the Aggies won in The Pit. There's also a rivalry with UTEP, which is really closer.