Utah State readying for New Mexico State's big blockers
Thursday's overtime loss is going to sting for a while, but Utah State has to shift its focus to the massive obstacle that lies ahead.
New Mexico State is going to be both emotional and technically challenging. When the Aggies went to Las Cruces, they left a black-and-blue style match with two of their stars suffering from season-altering injuries, so that factor will test Utah State's focus.
But NMSU is also going to be tough because it is so different from Denver. The Pioneers are short, pressuring and pesky. The "other" Aggies are tall and just kind of hard to get around. It would be hard to find more contrasting styles to play against back-to-back.
"You always wonder about that with travel partners and how that affects every weekend," Morrill said Tuesday. "I think travel partners can sometimes play out to help you. Mostly I think it's about quality teams and coaches doing a good job, and having really good players, and all that. I think it's odd that they're so polar opposite in how they play the game."
One of the reasons NMSU is on a 12-game winning streak is a startlingly unusual statistic: It is very hard to score two points on them. Opponents have shot 42.9 percent from two-point range this season against NMSU, which is the No. 36 mark in the NCAA. In WAC play, that figure has lowered down to 42.7 percent, which is tops in the conference.
It's fairly obvious why this is: Sim Bhullar and Renaldo Dixon. Bhullar is hard to get past, period. He's 7-foot-5 and 355 pounds. The floorboards creak when he walks. Dixon is a bit shorter at 6-foot-9 and 210 pounds, but both are exceptional shotblockers.
Bhullar (2.12 per game) and Dixon (1.36 per game) have been the reason why NMSU blocks shots on 13.9 percent of its possessions (No. 20 in the NCAA, thanks KenPom.com). That holds up from USU's last game against NMSU, in which Sim Bhullar had five blocks.
Utah State is likely going to want to try to get those big guys in foul trouble. That means feeding Jarred Shaw, and letting him drive into contact. That means penetration by Spencer Butterfield and Marcel Davis, who can see if they can draw contact in the lane. In some cases, it will be more important to take a shot than take a good shot if the Aggies can get to the free throw line.
One area where USU didn't take much advantage in the last game was in transition, where a player like Bhullar is extremely weak. Reasons fastbreaks didn't happen more? NMSU was too effective on offensive rebounds and shooting.In January, they shot nearly 65 percent and scooped up half of all their rebounding chances on the offensive end.
A consolation is that NMSU will be without Tyrone Watson, a key inside scorer and rebounder. It might make NMSU less effective inside, which could lead to more breakdowns in the transition game.
But make no mistake: New Mexico State is a tough match-up. Even outside of the front court, they're athletic and dangerous on defense. Daniel Mullings and Bandja Sy can steal and beat opponents to the other end. There's a lot of issues to worry about, even on USU's home court.
Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon