Need a team to root for in March Madness? Look no further than the New Mexico State Aggies.
They check-off all of the criteria for Cinderella, feel-good story of the NCAA Tournament:
—They’re a No. 12 seed
— From a one-bid conference (WAC)
— Head coach left them a season ago
— Redemption story form current coach
—They have a 6-5 rebounding-beast
Just over a year ago, the Aggies were celebrating their fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in six seasons with a coaching search.
Ten-year veteran Paul Weir left New Mexico State to take on the same role at the Aggies rival, New Mexico.
No one questioned the move up from a WAC program to a Mountain West school, but from an Aggie to a Lobo, that just does not sit well.
Despite the coaching change, the Aggies delivered the same record heading into the NCAA Tournament (28-5, 12-2 WAC) with a better resume. In non-conference play not only did the Aggies defeat their former head coach twice in the same year, they knocked off Illinois, Davidson, and Miami. Had New Mexico State finished the season undefeated in their conference, some questioned whether they could contend for an at-large bid.
Nevertheless the Aggies rolled through the WAC while celebrating their 50th season as a program. They won their fourth regular season title and eighth tournament title.
This all happening while New Mexico will sit at home missing postseason basketball. Just an added plus for Aggie fans.
This was accomplished with new head coach Chris Jans at the helm of the program.
Name sound familiar? That’s because it probably is. Back in 2015, Jans was fired from Bowling Green for harassing a woman at a bar.
To say that he messed up his first head coaching stint at the Division I level is an understatement. If you want more detail on the interaction between Jans and the woman there are plenty of articles and YouTube videos out there.
You don’t have to condone his actions or like the man to recognize that this is his second chance and a redemption story for him.
Additionally it is the second season ever as a Division I coach.
"I’m happy he got a second chance. I think he’s a guy that’s learned from his mistake. Was always an up and comer in this business,” ESPN’s Jeff Goodman said. “He can recruit and connects with players. Obviously, he’s proven that he can coach and that’s a rarity to see a guy that can do all those things these days.”
Despite four letterwinners transferring out of the program the Aggies bumped up two seed lines from a No. 14 seed to a No. 12 seed. With the new hire, Jans was able to bring Zach Lofton (grad-transfer) from Texas Southern to the program.
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If there is any mid-major team that should be labeled as a gauntlet, it should be the Aggies. With the 10th best defensive unit in the country and only allowing 64 points a contest, New Mexico State is a dangerous team.
Senior Jemerrio Jones has been known to throw a wrench in opponents’ approach to the Aggies. Standing at 6-5, Jones is a rebounding monster from the wing. Listed as a forward and as the third shortest player in the Aggies’ lineup, he brings down 13.2 boards a contest, the second-most in the NCAA. Shooting 50 percent from the field and drawing a ton of mid-range attention, he also scores 11.0 ppg and 3.1 apg.
The graduate transfer Lofton, who has travelled all across the country, is at his last stop of his playing career. He has gone from junior college, to Illinois State, Minnesota, Texas Southern, and wraps up his eligibility with New Mexico State. While at Texas Southern he carried the team to an NCAA Tournament bid and was an All-American Honorable Mention. This year he leads the Aggies with 20 points a game and probably wants to do another trip around the country in these upcoming weeks.
As a team, they outshoot opponents by nearly seven percent. They out rebound everyone else, led by Jones, by nine rebounds a contest. They focus on ball movement (14.1 apg) and do not rely on their three-point shooting.
For both of these two their college days are over after this NCAA Tournament run, along with 6-10 forward Johnathon Wilkins.
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Although all of these guys have made it to the dance, not once have they won. New Mexico State has lost 10 straight NCAA Tournament games. Their last win came in 1993. To end the 25 year drought, the Aggies play No. 5 Clemson in the Midwest region on Friday. With a tip in San Diego at 9:57 pm ET, the Aggies are primed to be yet another No. 12 seed to unset a No. 5.
So if you are not a fan of mid-majors beating high-majors, a redemption story, overcoming all odds, sending out memorable players on a good note, or fun, then do not root for New Mexico State.
But if you are like the rest of us then root for the Aggies on Friday and for the rest of the tournament.
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