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Tiny Dancers: New Mexico State three-peats to the party

By Jeff Borzello | College Basketball Writer

More: Updated bracket projection | Bubble Watch | Live Blog Updates

New Mexico State was supposed to run through the WAC. With Utah State, Denver and Louisiana Tech all leaving, no one was left to push the Aggies for the title. Or so we thought.

The Aggies, despite having the best metrics of anyone in the league, actually finished second to Utah Valley in the WAC standings -- a disappointment highlighted by the infamous fan/player brawl that took place back on February 27. When the chips were down, though, New Mexico State proved why it was the favorite in the first place.

For the third straight season, New Mexico State won the WAC tournament -- this time taking down Idaho in the title game, 77-55. Daniel Mullings had 18 points, eight rebounds and four assists, while 7-foot-5 Sim Bhullar had 14 points and nine rebounds.

Marvin Menzies has now been to the NCAA Tournament four times in his seven seasons at New Mexico, although he has not won a game in the big dance yet. He's got the size and experience to change that this season, with a frontline that features 7-foot-5, 6-foot-10 and 6-foot-10 impact players, as well as a talented backcourt.

Player to know: Daniel Mullings. He does it all for the Aggies. Mullings leads the team in points, assists and steals, while also grabbing nearly five rebounds a game. In the championship game, Mullings went for 18 points, eight rebounds and four assists -- following up a 21-point, four-assist performance in the semifinals. He's aggressive defensively, forcing turnovers that he can turn into points, while also getting to the free-throw line at a high clip.

Of course, you should probably know 7-foot-5 Sim Bhullar. It might come up once or twice during New Mexico State's Round of 64 game.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 26-9 overall, 12-4 in the WAC
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2013. Lost to Saint Louis in the Round of 64 as a 13-seed.
  • Jerry Palm predicts: 14 seed
  • RPI: 76
  • KenPom ranking: 78
  • Sagarin ranking: 85
  • Best wins: at New Mexico, vs. UTEP (x2)
  • Worst losses: at UMKC, at Chicago State
  • Notable stat: 55.4. That's New Mexico State's free-throw rate, according to KenPom, ranking third in the country. The Aggies are aggressive with the ball and they work through the post often as well. That strategy lends itself to drawing contact around the rim and getting to the free-throw line. They rank fourth in the country in free throws attempted and sixth in free throws made.
  • Closing quip: The Aggies are dancing for the third straight season and for the fourth time in five seasons, so they have plenty of NCAA Tournament experience on the roster and on the sideline. The past two seasons, they entered the dance as a No. 13 seed and promptly exited via double-digit Round of 64 loss. Can this year's team be any different? They have more size than most high-major teams, and they utilize it effectively. Winning at New Mexico proved they could hang with any team in the country. If they get the right matchup, it could be an intriguing contest.
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