Aggies take advantage of depth to lead WAC

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When New Mexico State coach Chris Jans began practicing with this season’s team, which included 10 new faces, he encountered something he hadn’t seen before. 

Almost every player showed he could contribute on the court. 

With a team comprised of mostly juniors and seniors, Jans decided to use a deeper-than-normal rotation. 

Much deeper. 

In the Aggies’ first game of the season, a 73-56 win over North Dakota State, 12 different players logged at least 11 minutes, and none played more than 22.  

Nine different players have played more than 30 percent of available minutes this season, according to data at KenPom.com. Three others have logged more than 20 percent, and just two — freshman Robert Brown and Berrick JeanLouis — have played less than 17 percent of possible minutes. 

Jans has 12 different players who have started a game this season, and eight have led the team in scoring. Thirteen Aggies average at least 10 minutes a game. 

“I may coach 15, 20 years and it may never happen again,” Jans said, according to the website Mid-Major Madness. “It’s a very unique situation, and we just kind of rolling with it.” 

And rolling the Aggies have been. 

Since a hard-to-explain loss to Division I newcomer Cal Baptist in its WAC opener Jan. 3, New Mexico State has won 11 straight games. The Aggies have a three-game lead in the conference standings over rival Grand Canyon, and they’ve already defeated the Antelopes twice. They need one win in their four remaining conference games to clinch at least a tie for the regular-season title. 

Perhaps because they don’t get tired, New Mexico State is one of two teams nationally — East Tennessee State is the other — that rank in the top 12 in rebounding on both ends of the court. For perspective, the best defensive rebounding team in the nation, Loyola-Chicago, is 350th on the offensive glass. Portland State, which is No. 1 in offensive rebounding, is 232nd on the defensive end. 

New Mexico State has 10 players averaging between two and seven rebounds per game, and while just guards Terrell Brown and A.J. Harris are averaging double figures in scoring, 10 other average between 3.2 and 9.6 points per game. 

On Saturday, the Aggies found themselves down 11 at home in the second half against Seattle. So Jans tweaked his lineup, putting sophomore forward Johnny McCants at center and guard Trevelin Queen at power forward. The Aggies responded with a 12-3 run on their way to a 59-54 win. 

“Some (coaches) who play seven or eight guys and for whatever reason, they can’t get going, you are kind of stuck,” Jans said. “That is one positive that we found with this many guys. We can try different guys and see if we can spark them.” 

It’s a ploy that is paying off in Las Cruces.

Friday

Indiana at Iowa: The Hawkeyes are going for their third separate five-game win streak since Dec. 3. The Hoosiers are 4-10 in the Big Ten after a 3-0 start. IOWA

Saturday

Kansas at Texas Tech: The Red Raiders have the No. 1 defense in the nation. But in their four straight wins since losing at Kansas, they’ve averaged almost 78 points per game. OVER 

Wofford at Furman: Wofford has won 14 in a row. The Terriers, who are showing up on various tournament bubble watches, have a chance at an all-important Quadrant 1 win (Furman is No. 44 in the NCAA’s NET rankings). WOFFORD  

Penn State at Illinois: What a late-season turnaround for Brad Underwood’s team. Since a Jan. 30 loss to Minnesota put the Illini’s record at 6-15, Illinois has gone 4-1, with the only loss coming at Wisconsin by six. Penn State is 1-6 on the road in Big Ten play. ILLINOIS 

Last week: 1-3

Season: 25-22-1

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About the Author

Ched Whitney

Ched Whitney has been a journalist in Las Vegas since 1994. He worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 18 years, where he was the paper’s art director for 12. Since becoming a freelancer in 2012, his work has appeared at ESPN.com, AOL, The Seattle Times and UNLV Magazine, among others. ​

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