NMSU voted unanimous WAC favorites, Rice tabbed Preseason Player of the Year

NMSU

LAS CRUCES, NM (KTSM) –– 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 – New Mexico State was unanimously selected as the favorites to win the WAC regular season title. It would be the Aggies’ fourth consecutive regular season title.

The WAC announced the preseason polls on Tuesday where NMSU was chosen as the league favorite in both the preseason coaches’ and media polls. It is the seventh time in the last eight seasons NMSU has been picked to finish first by both the media contingent and the WAC coaches.

The Aggies have compiled at least 20 wins in each of the last nine years and are one of just seven teams in the nation who have won 25 or more games in each of the last three seasons. NMSU has 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. Since coaches could not vote for their own team, Grand Canyon received the other vote and was picked to finish second in the WAC. UTRGV was tabbed third while California Baptist is picked to finish fourth in the league. 

In the media poll, of the 12 available first-place votes, the Aggies collected 10 of them to take the top spot. Much like the coaches’ poll, Grand Canyon is picked to finish second while UTRGV and California Baptist were voted to finish third and fourth in the WAC respectively.

Following a breakout season in 2019-20, 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. Rice led the Aggies in total points (384), free throws made (86), and free throw percentage (.827) while averaging 12.8 points per game. The Houston, Texas, product conjured up impressive shooting splits of .466/.385/.827 throughout the year while averaging 5.1 rebounds per game. Rice was named to the All-WAC First Team at the conclusion of the year. 

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 a season ago, the Las Cruces, New Mexico, 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 NMSU’s 19-game unbeaten streak to close out the year. 

Despite never having suited up in an Aggies uniform, 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. Tillman earned Preseason All-WAC First Team honors from the coaches as well as a Preseason All-WAC Second Team nod from the media. 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 where he averaged 10.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in 25 games.

Upon becoming eligible near the midway point last season, Evan Gilyard II was selected to 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 last season.

NMSU has won 34-straight games against WAC opponents and owns a 31-game winning streak in WAC regular season games – the longest winning streak in the history of the league. The Aggies have not yet released their non-conference schedule, but will open up WAC play on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, at league newbie Dixie State in St. George, Utah. 

2020-21 Preseason WAC Men’s Basketball Coaches’ Poll
Rank. Team (First-place votes | Points
1. NM State (8) | 64
2. Grand Canyon (1) | 52
3. UTRGV | 45
4. California Baptist | 43
5. Seattle U | 33
6. Tarleton State | 31
7. Utah Valley | 28
8. Dixie State | 20
9. Chicago State | 8

2020-21 Preseason Men’s Basketball Coaches’ All-WAC Teams
First Team
Alessandro Lever, Sr., C, Grand Canyon 
Javon Levi, Sr., PG, UT Rio Grande Valley 
Johnny McCants, Sr., F, NM State 
Jabari Rice, Jr., G, NM State
Donnie Tillman, Sr., F, NM State

Second Team
Jovan Blacksher, So., G, Grand Canyon 
Oscar Frayer, Sr., F, Grand Canyon
Riley Grigsby, Jr., G/F, Seattle U
Evan Gilyard, Sr., G, NM State 
Hunter Schofield, Sr., F, Dixie State 

Preseason Player of the Year
Jabari Rice, Jr., G, NM State

2020-21 Preseason WAC Men’s Basketball Media Poll
Rank. Team (First-place votes | Points
1. NM State (10) | 150
2. Grand Canyon | 125
3. UTRGV | 114
4. California Baptist (2) | 105
5. Seattle U | 84
6. Utah Valley | 74
7. Dixie State | 49
8. Tarleton State | 46
9. Chicago State | 18

2020-21 Preseason Men’s Basketball Media All-WAC Teams
First Team
Jovan Blacksher, So., G, Grand Canyon 
Alessandro Lever, Sr., C, Grand Canyon 
Javon Levi, Sr., PG, UT Rio Grande Valley 
Johnny McCants, Sr., F, NM State 
Jabari Rice, Jr., G, NM State 

Second Team
Evan Cole, Gr., F, Utah Valley 
Gorjok Gak, Gr., F, California Baptist 
Evan Gilyard II, Sr., G, NM State 
Hunter Schofield, Sr., F, Dixie State 
Donnie Tillman, Sr., F, NM State

Preseason Player of the Year
Jabari Rice, Jr., G, NM State

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