Stevens: Lobos vs. Aggies -- A Big, Big Game
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  12/03/2013

New Mexico Lobos Men’s Basketball – At New Mexico State

WhenWhere:  7 p.m. (MT), Wednesday -- Pan American Center, Las Cruces

On The Air: 770-AM KKOB/Lobo Radio Network (Robert Portnoy-Play-by-Play); ROOT Sports (DISH 414, Direct 683, Comcast 261 - Tim Neverett, Play-by-Play; Marty Fletcher, Analysis)

By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com.

To simplify a scouting report on New Mexico State, you can go to three little words kicked out by Lobo Coach Craig Neal: “They are big.”

However, if you start with NMSU’s Sim Bhullar, then you have to say the Aggies are gigantic.

Here’s some perspective:  UNM’s 7-foot Alex Kirk will be looking up five inches at the 7-foot-5 Bhullar from Toronto.  That’s kind of like a 6-7 center having to go at Kirk.

“We’re just going to see what we can do about getting around Sim Bhullar. He’s a big dude,” said Kirk.

Kirk might not be able to see around Bhullar.  The guy weights in a 355 pounds.  He’s a barn door with a dunk. But it might be easier to get around Bhullar than it is to go over him.  He is no Mikhail Baryshnikov on his feet, but he has blocked 30 shots in nine games.

 He is not the most productive Aggie on the scoreboard, but he can have a huge impact on the game inside with his physical presence. “He affects everyone on the court when he’s on the floor,” said Kirk.

Bhullar is one of several Aggies from a foreign port including a 7-foot-3 freshman from Toronto named Tanveer Bhullar.  Rumor has it that Sim calls him “Shorty.”  The Aggies have something going with Toronto.  They have seven foreign players on their 13-player roster and four of them are from Toronto.

Including their best player: Daniel Mullings, a 6-foot-2 silky guard, who tops the team with a 17.9 scoring average and a team-high 13 steals.

“It’s a big game,” said Kirk. “Early in my career, I didn’t really make a relationship with any of those guys, but Mullings and I ate together in the cafeteria in Russia a few times (during World Games).”

Said Coach Neal:  “They have some good pieces there.  Mullings is going to be one of the best guards we play. It’s going to be a great challenge on the road and we probably need another challenge on the road.”

If you are a Lobo fan, you might not have any lost love for the Aggies, but this series is better when both teams are playing at a high level.  The Lobos (5-1) were a Top 25 team going into the season and New Mexico State is 7-2 with a sweep over UTEP and a tough two-point loss at Colorado State.

The Aggies are pretty good and surely motivated to shift this series which leans toward New Mexico 9-1 over the past ten games.   UNM holds a 15-5 edge over the past 20 games.  Aggie Coach Marvin Menzies has only two wins vs. UNM and his Aggies were swept last season.

The Pan American Center is going to be rocking on Wednesday night and Neal probably will find the challenge he is looking for.

“It’s a big game. It can be kind of crazy,” said Kirk of the Cruces venture.  “Were going to have to figure out what we are going to do about that (Aggies’ size).  He (Bhullar) has definitely improved. He is losing weight and getting better.”

The Aggies can be very good.  To state the obvious, they can be very good when they shoot well, rebound well and take care of the ball. They average 79.1 points and UNM averages 85.2 points so that big Aggie (Bhullar) had better have on his dancing shoes.

 This should be an up-and-down battle for New Mexico bragging rights.  Well, temporary rights.  The Aggies come to The Pit on Dec. 17.

The Lobos are led by their big three in scoring: Kirk (20.8 points per game), speedy Kendal Williams (19.8 ppg) and 6-9 Cameron Bairstow (19.0).  The Lobos like to get down the court and attack the rim.  So do the Aggies.

NMSU is the No. 1 team in the nation (Dec. 1 stats) in free throws attempted (310) and made (212).  Mullings is the Aggies’ straw, but this team has a lot of weapons.  DK Eldridge and Mullings combined for 47 points in the loss at Colorado State.  Eldridge, a transfer from New Mexico Junior College, had a career-high 23 points.

It was a tough loss to swallow.  The Aggies made 59 percent of their 3-pointers and shot a solid 44 percent from the floor.  The Rams out rebounded NMSU 25-13 in the second half and the Aggies hurt themselves with turnovers.

Eldridge is hitting his 3-pointers at a 54 percent rate (15-of-28). He went 9-of-10 in three games this past week.  He was 6-of-6 at CSU.  Bhullar set the NMSU record for blocked shots with 10 vs. Prairie View A&M. NMSU’s K.C. Ross-Miller is averaging 3.8 assists per game and 8.8 points. He went 11-of-14 from the free-throw line vs. UTEP and 10-of-12 vs. Hawaii.

Going back to the Aggies’ height, their 13 players total 84 feet, nine inches. The 6-10 Tshilidzi Nephawe averages 9.3 points and 7.1 boards.   The 6-10 Renaldo Dixon averages 5.3 boards. So, if they want to, the Aggies can go 7-5, 6-10, 6-10 inside and let 6-2 Mullings, 6-2 Eldridge or 6-1 Miller take care of things out front.

Like Neal said: The Aggies are big.

Like Kirk said: This is a big game.