PHOENIX, AZ (KTSM) – After months of uncertainty and just one week after relocating to Arizona due to state guideline preventing the New Mexico State’s men’s basketball team from playing or practicing in Las Cruces, the Aggies are set to open the 2020-21 season against Arizona Christian University in Glendale.
Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. MT and the game will be broadcasted of Fox Sports Arizona.
New Mexico State men’s basketball release
• After a hiatus of a little over eight months, the NM State men’s basketball team is back in action. After moving their operations to Phoenix, Ariz., to begin the 2020-21 season, the Aggies will begin their latest campaign by heading to Glendale, Ariz., Friday afternoon to take on ninth-ranked NAIA foe Arizona Christian at 4:00 p.m. inside the ACU Events Center. Due to COVID-19 restrictions no fans will be permitted for the game but there are a number of ways Aggie supporters can follow the action.
ON THE AIR
• The third all-time meeting between the Aggies and Arizona Christian will be televised on FOX Sports Arizona.
• Making the journey from Las Cruces, N.M., to Glendale, Ariz., to provide play-by-play and analysis are Adam Young and Rus Bradburd.
OVER THE AIRWAVES
• Zia Country 99.5 FM in Las Cruces will also carry the tilt between NM State and Arizona Christian. That means Jack Nixon, who has been handling play-by-play duties for Aggie hoops for over four decades, will be heading to Glendale, Ariz., to call the action court side.
• Listeners outside of the Las Cruces area can access Nixon’s call on the Aggie Sports Network’s affiliate stations which include 103.5 FM KNMZ (Alamagordo), 1150 AM KNMM (Albuquerque, 1240 AM KAMQ (Carlsbad), 1380 AM KHEY (El Paso), 1230 AM, 94.9 FM KYVA (Gallup) and 107.1 FM KMDS (Las Vegas). Fans not in any of those areas can also find his broadcast via the TuneIn app which is available nationwide.
THE LONGEST YEAR
• 2020 is already a year most of the planet would like to forget and it’s been the better part of a year since the Aggies set foot on a basketball court.
• After the WAC Tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Aggies have now not played a game since March 5, 2020 – a period of 268 days.
• The Aggies’ well-documented 19-game winning streak to conclude the 2019-20 season began on Dec. 18, 2019 – some 346 days ago. If the Aggies make it to that date in 2020 (23 days from now), they will have gone one full calendar year with nothing but wins.
• The COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc around the planet also pushed the start date of the NCAA Division I men’s and women’s basketball season back to Nov. 25, 2020.
• The Aggies, meanwhile, aren’t lifting the lid on their 2020-21 campaign until two days later – Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.
• That’s the latest start date for an Aggie squad since the 1986-87 season. In that campaign, second-year head coach Neil McCarthy headed to Laie, Hawaii, to start the year with a non-conference battle against Lou Henson-led Illinois on Nov. 28. NM State dropped a narrow 67-65 decision to the Fighting Illini that day in the BYU-Hawaii Tournament.
THE STORY SO FAR…
• A college basketball season unlike any other is bound to feature stories unlike any other and one of those stories is being written by NM State in the state of Arizona.
• Ready to make a run in the NCAA Tournament in March of 2020, the Aggies’ hopes – and those of all other NCAA men’s and women’s basketball teams from around the nation – were dashed as the NCAA canceled all remaining winter and spring championship events as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
• From there, NM State lost a one-of-a-kind senior class to graduation and focused on reloading for the 2020-21 season. With COVID-19 still a factor, the Aggies assembled their current team and took all necessary precautions in order to go through summer workouts. Those precautions included masking up when out in public and getting tested for COVID-19 from time to time during May and June.
• Things appeared to be moving in the right direction for the Aggies. Just one player has tested positive for COVID-19 since March and preseason workouts and practices were underway when public health orders in the state of New Mexico threatened to throw a wrench into things.
• Under current public health guidelines, teams are not allowed to practice in groups of more than five individuals at a time. As stated in COVID-Safe Practice for Intercollegiate Sports guidelines released by the state, teams are not allowed to practice if the county they reside in is categorized as “red” by the New Mexico Department of Health. A “red” county is signified as being a 14-day average daily case count higher than eight per 100,000 and a positivity rate higher than five percent.
• Doña Ana county, where New Mexico State is located, is currently a “red” county, rendering it unusable for the Aggies to practice and to hold games for the start of the 2020-21 season.
• New Mexico is currently the only state in the USA that has imposed these sorts of restrictions, so the Aggies began exploring options to move their operation out of the state.
• Things really started to take shape on Sunday, Nov. 15, when NM State Deputy AD and COO Brawn Cartwright traveled with Associate Head Coach Jame Miller and Aggie strength & conditioning coach Zach Witherspoon to seven different sites in Nevada and Arizona in a single day. Their mission was to find a site which was both financially and logistically suitable for the Aggies to move to in order to save their season.
• Cartwright and company stopped off first at the Arizona Grand Resort & Spa in Phoenix, Ariz., and after visiting the rest of the sites over the course of 13 hours that Sunday they decided the Arizona Grand would be the place the Aggies would call home for a period of almost a month-and-a-half.
• Upon returning Sunday night, preparations started being made to move the team and its operation to the Arizona Grand and on Tuesday, Nov. 17 at approximately 4:00 p.m. the NM State men’s basketball team boarded a bus and headed west to Phoenix to hunker down and try to put together some kind of a non-conference schedule while being able to practice in full.
A GRAND ADVENTURE
• The Arizona Grand Resort & Spa is nestled at the base of America’s largest urban park and wilderness preserve, and has provided the Aggies a true home base of sorts during an uncertain time.
• In one of the most interesting connections imaginable, NM State director of athletics Mario Moccia and Executive Director of the Arizona Sports and Entertainment Commission went to rivals high schools while growing up in Arizona. Years later, that relationship helped Moccia and Balich strike up a deal which allowed the Aggies to call the Arizona Grand home.
• Already used to hosting multiple AAU basketball tournaments in many of its ballrooms throughout the year, the Arizona Grand worked with Balich and the ASEC in order to bring in a full-sized basketball court which would be housed in the Sonoran Sky Ballroom. This court has been where the Aggies have held their practices since arriving in Phoenix.
• In addition to the court which NM State has 24-hour keycard access to, the Aggies are able to make use of a weight training facility at the Arizona Grand Athletic Club which has been made available only for NM State players.
• The team is housed on the ground floor of the Sedona guest room level and as a result is as socially distant as possible from other guests. NM State also has a team room at its disposal where it eats its team meals, a film room to conduct film study and scouting as well as high-speed internet access in order to continue their coursework.
• All NM State classes for the remainder of the fall 2020 semester will be conducted online due to the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s a possibility classes for the spring of 2021 will also be conducted online. As a result, the Aggies are able to build a schedule around practice, treatment, film and coursework during their time in Phoenix.
• In addition to the Aggie men’s basketball team, NM State’s women’s basketball team has also moved its operations out of state to Tucson, Ariz., for the time being. The Aggies’ main rival, New Mexico, has moved its entire operation to South Plains College in Lubbock, Texas, in order to try and have a season.
SCOUTING ARIZONA CHRISTIAN | ROSTER | SCHEDULE | STATISTICS
• One of the nation’s top NAIA squads, the Firestorm has more than enough firepower at its disposal to make them a tough foe.
• Currently ranked ninth in the NAIA Men’s Basketball Coaches’ Top 25 Poll, Arizona Christian has won its first five games of the 2020-21 season and has netted at least 90 points in each of those contests.
• The Firestorm is powered by its formidable duo of De’Ron Kyle and Robby Wilson. An NAIA All-American Honorable Mention pick in 2019-20, Kyle is a pure scorer and pumps in points at a rate of 21.4 per game so far this season. His shooting splits of .442/.357/.796 include a team-high 20 three-pointers.
• Arizona Christian’s interior is anchored by 6-9 senior Robby Wilson. The Tucson, Ariz., product has been a load down low so far, averaging 19.8 points and a team-high 11.0 rebounds per game. Wilson’s field goal percentage of .623 tops the team charts.
• Three other players – Xander Bowers (15.0), Angelo Johnson (13.0) and Dominic Gonzalez (12.8) are all averaging north of 12 points per game.
• Dating back to last season, Arizona Christian has won its last eight games and it is the favorite to win the Golden State Athletic Conference crown once again this season.
JANS THE MAN
• A phrase emblazoned on t-shirts and buttons around the Las Cruces area, it would be difficult to argue that Chris Jans, the Aggies’ fourth-year bench boss, is anything other than “The Man” upon taking a look at his coaching resume since he arrived at NM State prior to the start of the 2017-18 season.
• .782 | Owning an impressive winning percentage of .782 (104-29) through his four seasons of service as an NCAA Division I head coach, Jans ranks second in the nation in terms of winning percentage among active NCAA Division I head coaches. The only individual who owns a better winning percentage than Jans is Gonzaga’s Mark Few (.828).
• 104 | Averaging over 25 wins a season during his tenure as an NCAA Division I head coach, Jans’ 104 total victories through his first four seasons as a DI leader rank 10th all-time on the NCAA Division I charts.
• 83 | Jans’ time at the helm of NM State has been particularly memorable. Since his arrival before the beginning of the 2017-18 season, the Aggies have gone 83-17 (.830) and have piled up the seventh-highest number of total wins among all NCAA Division I teams in that same time frame.
• 43 | The Aggies have been nearly unbeatable in the WAC since Jans arrived. Since 2017-18, NM State has gone 43-3 (.935) in regular season WAC contests, owning the second-highest in-conference winning percentage in the nation during that time frame.
• 27.7 | On average, the Aggies have won 27.7 games per year under Jans’ direction. Over the last three seasons, that ranks as the nation’s fourth-highest wins average behind Gonzaga (32.0), Duke (28.7) and Kentucky (28.3).
• 3 | The 2019-20 campaign marked the third consecutive season in which Jans was named the WAC’s Don Haskins Coach of the Year. He’s one of just three coaches in the league who won the award for three consecutive seasons, joining Mark Fox (Nevada, 2005-07) and Stew Morrill (Utah State, 2009-11).
• 3 | By guiding the Aggies to their third consecutive WAC regular season title last season, Jans became one of just seven current NCAA Division I head coaches who have won league crowns in each of their first three seasons at a school.
• 2 | For the last two seasons, the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) has lauded Jans as its District Six Coach of the Year.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
• Heading into their season opener at Arizona Christian on Friday, Nov. 27, the Aggies have put up a 69-42-1 (.621) all-time mark in season openers.
• Dating back to the 2015-16 season, NM State has emerged as the victor in each of its last five season openers. Over the last decade, the Aggies have gone 7-3 (.700) in their first game to begin a season.
• Ever since he stepped foot in Las Cruces to take over the NM State men’s basketball program, head coach Chris Jans has done a number on opponents from the state of Arizona.
• As he enters his fourth year in charge of the Aggies, Jans owns an 8-1 (.889) mark against opponents from Arizona. All eight of those victories have come at the hands of WAC adversary Grand Canyon while the lone setback came last season when the Aggies dropped an 83-53 decision at #17/19 Arizona on Nov. 17.
LET’S GO STREAKING
• The Aggies’ dominance in the WAC as of late has resulted in any number of impressive winning streaks for the squad.
• 34 | Dating back to the 2018-19 season, the Aggies have won 34 consecutive games against WAC opposition – the nation’s longest active run against league foes.
• 31 | In regular season WAC tilts, NM State has reeled off 31 consecutive triumphs – the longest streak in the history of the league and the longest active run in the nation. The Aggies’ run of 31-straight regular season conference wins is the fifth-longest in the 21st century, too. NM State’s current run of consecutive regular season conference wins this century has been surpassed only by Davidson (43 from 2007-09), Gonzaga (40 from 2018-20), Memphis (33 from 2006-10) and SFA (32 from 2013-15).
• 25 | Inside their home venue of the Pan Am Center, the Aggies have racked up 25-straight triumphs over WAC opposition. That’s the nation’s second-longest winning streak in conference home games bettered only by South Dakota State’s 27 consecutive home victories over Summit League adversaries.
• 19 | NM State’s current 19-game winning streak is the second-longest among all NCAA Division I squads at the moment and the third-longest in the history of the program.
• 16 | NM State has won its last 16 WAC road games. The Aggies’ streak of conference road wins is the longest in the nation at the moment.
• 8 | NM State has won each of their last eight road games – a streak that’s the sixth-longest in the nation at the moment.
12 ANGRY MEN
• Due to situations that are out of their control, the Aggies will begin the 2020-21 season with just 12 healthy and eligible players available.
• Sophomore guard Kalen Williams suffered a foot injury during summer workout that will keep him on the sidelines until the start of WAC play. That reduces the Aggies’ depth at the guard position.
• Despite college basketball analyst Jon Rothstein’s claim that, “The NCAA continues to hand out waivers like they’re seedless watermelon at a 4th of July Party,” the Aggies have not received a whole lot of those those sweet, sweet fruits.
• On August 13, 2020, AJ Harris was denied a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA despite playing in just three games in the 2019-20 season due to a pair of separate injuries.
• Adding insult to injury, the waiver claim submitted to make redshirt freshman guard Marcus Watson immediately eligible was denied, too. As a result, Watson will be sitting on the bench until Feb. 1, 2021. At that juncture of the season, the Aggies will have 10 regular season games remaining.
• Now at his third NCAA Division I institution, redshirt junior forward Mayan Kiir will also be missing some time this season due to a denied waiver. Kiir transferred to NM State in January of 2020 and must complete his full year of sitting out. That means the lanky Floridian will be on the Aggies’ bench until WAC play begins in January.
• The lone piece of good news the Aggies received on the NCAA waiver front came in July when it was announced senior forward Donnie Tillman was granted immediate eligibility. The Detroit, Mich., product played at Mountain West program UNLV last season after spending his first two collegiate campaigns suited up in Utah colors. And, uh, speaking of Tillman…
TILLMAN’S TOOTH TROUBLE
• Lauded by head coach Chris Jans as, “my kind of player,” Donnie Tillman’s toughness was on full display during summer workouts.
• In a particularly physical segment, Tillman took a limb to the face and found himself missing one of his front teeth. Undeterred, Tillman located the tooth on the floor and swept it up on his own before remaining in the workout.
• That’s not the end of the story, however. After successfully getting an appointment at a local maxillofacial center, Tillman was on his way over to get his tooth replaced when the car he was riding in got t-boned by an opposing driver. Tillman, the passenger, bore the brunt of the impact as the opposing driver nailed the passenger side of Tillman’s vehicle. Fortunately, the Aggie forward walked away from the accident unscathed.
• Tillman’s surgery to replace his missing tooth was successful and he is now back in possession of a full set of choppers.
LEADERS OF THE WAC (AGAIN)
• After ending the 2019-20 season on a 19-game winning streak – a run which produced the first 16-0 record in WAC regular season action – the Aggies were unanimously selected to hoist a fourth-consecutive WAC regular season conference championship trophy. The news came via a press release issued Tuesday, Oct. 27, in which NM State was chosen as the 2020-21 league favorite in both the Preseason Coaches’ and Media Polls.
• For the seventh time in the last eight seasons, NM State has been picked as the league favorite by both the media contingent and the WAC coaches. The Aggies have piled up 20 or more wins in each of the last nine seasons, are one of seven teams from around the nation who have won 25 or more games in each of the last three seasons and have made seven appearances in the last eight NCAA Tournaments.
• As they did last season, the Aggies received eight of the nine available first place votes in the coaches; poll as well as 64 points. Since coaches could not vote for their own team, Grand Canyon received the other vote and was picked to finish second in the league race with 52 points. UTRGV was tabbed third with 45 points while California Baptist wasn’t far behind the Vaqueros after amassing 43 point to be listed fourth. Seattle U (33 points) and league newcomer Tarleton State (31 points) were selected fifth and sixth respectively, putting them ahead of Utah Valley (28 points) who was picked seventh. Dixie State (20 points) and Chicago State (eight points) were tabbed for eighth and ninth place respectively.
• Of the 12 available first-place votes in the media poll, the Aggies amassed 10 of them as well as 150 total point to take the top spot on the nine-team list. Behind the Aggies was Grand Canyon, who gathered up 125 points. Mirroring the top five order from the coaches’ poll, UTRGV was picked to finish third with 114 points while California Baptist (105 points) secured the remaining two first-place votes and was chosen to finish fourth. Seattle U (84 points) was tabbed to finish fifth while Utah Valley (sixth, 74 points), Dixie State (seventh, 49 points), Tarleton State (eighth, 46 points) and Chicago State (ninth, 18 points) rounded out the poll.
• Following a breakout 2019-20 campaign, junior guard Jabari Rice was tabbed the WAC Preseason Player of the Year by both the coaches and the media while also notching a spot on the Preseason All-WAC First Team by the two groups as well. All the Houston, Texas, product did last season was lead the Aggies in total points (384), free throws made (86) and free throw percentage (.827) to finish second on the team in scoring at 12.8 points per game. Rice conjured up impressive shooting splits of .466/.385/.827 throughout the year while averaging 5.1 rebounds per game. Because of that, he earned an All-WAC First Team award at the conclusion of the year.
(PRESEASON) ALL-WAC, ALL THE TIME
• Johnny McCants, who enters the 2020-21 season with a chance to become the first player in program history to win four consecutive regular season titles, joined Rice on the Preseason All-WAC First Team on both the coaches’ and media members lists. One of only four players who took part in all 31 games for the Aggies one season ago, the Las Cruces, N.M., product showed off his versatility on a nightly basis by averaging 9.3 points, a team-leading 6.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.0 steals and a team-best 0.5 blocked shots per game. The team’s leader in total minutes (797), McCants generated shooting splits of .580/.403/.538 and posted a pair of double-doubles during NM State’s 19-game unbeaten streak to close out the year.
• Despite not having played in a single game for the Aggies as of this writing, senior forward Donnie Tillman has already been touted as one of the league’s best as he prepares to enter his first – and only – season in Las Cruces. The Detroit, Mich., product earned Preseason All-WAC First Team honors from the coaches as well as Preseason All-WAC Second Team laurels from the media as a result of his power five pedigree. A four-star recruit coming out of high school, Tillman played two seasons at Utah and was named the Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year as a sophomore in 2018-19. Last season, Tillman suited up for UNLV in the Mountain West where he averaged 10.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 25 games.
• Upon becoming eligible near the midway point of the previous year, Evan Gilyard II proceeded to help lead the Aggies on a 19-game winning streak to close out the year. A pick for the Preseason All-WAC Second Team by both the coaches and the media, Gilyard II earned a spot on the All-WAC Newcomer Team in 2019-20 and averaged 7.5 points, 1.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. His three-point field goal percentage of .397 was the second-highest on the team and Gilyard II is primed to begin this season as the Aggies’ starting point guard.
COMING UP NEXT
• Needing to remain in or around the Phoenix area for the time being, the Aggies are scheduled to take on Benedictine Mesa on Tuesday, Dec. 1, at The PHHacility in Phoenix. A game time will be announced at a later date and no fans will be allowed for the showdown.