Aggies open season at 11th-ranked Shockers

Nov 14, 2014 - 4:35 PM Wichita, KS ( - Two teams favored to win their respective conferences are set to open the season against one another on Friday night, as 11th-ranked Wichita State plays host to the Aggies of New Mexico State.

New Mexico State appears to once again be the team to beat in the Western Athletic Conference under head coach Marvin Menzies. The Aggies went 26-10 last season (12-4 WAC) and went to the NCAA Tournament for the third year in a row. Coach Menzies returns plenty of talent, including the league's reigning player of the year in senior guard Daniel Mullings.

In 2013-14, Wichita State followed up its magical Final Four run by becoming the first team in NCAA history to win its first 35 games, and along the way climbed as high as No. 2 in the national polls. Led by reigning national coach of the year Gregg Marshall and three preseason all-conference selections, the Shockers are a good bet to notch at least 25 victories for a sixth straight season.

The all-time series between these two teams is tied, 14-14.

Mullings was one of four players who averaged double figures for the Aggies last season with his team-best 16.8 ppg. Not exclusively a scorer, Mullings also earned a WAC All-Defensive Team nod with 65 steals as a junior, while also pulling down 4.9 rebounds per tilt. If he can improve upon his 27.7 percent accuracy from the perimeter, another player of the year award is well within reach. Another solid contributor who returns for NMSU is DK Eldridge, the second-leading scorer from a year ago with 11.2 ppg. A much more reliable 3-point shooter with 40.0 percent accuracy, Eldridge also hit the glass for 4.5 rpg. The same goes for Tshilidzi Nephawe who returns after putting up 11.1 ppg and bringing down 7.8 rpg to match Sim Bhullar in the rebounding department. The Aggies have lost the gentle giant in the paint as Bhullar left to pursue a professional career, but the good news is that Menzies has signed his younger brother, the 7-foot-3 Tanveer Bhullar in an attempt to make up for the loss.

Leading the way for Wichita State is All-American and Preseason MVC Player of the Year Fred VanVleet. Last season, VanVleet (11.6 ppg, 5.4 apg) joined Doug McDermott as the only two players ever to win the league's player of the year award as a sophomore. Few, if any, backcourts in the country can match up with that of the Shockers', a group that also features all-around threat Ron Baker (13.1 ppg, 3.1 apg, 68 threes) and reigning MVC Defensive Player of the Year Tekele Cotton (10.3 ppg, 50 steals). The only obvious hole the team must address -- and it's not a small one -- is replacing the production lost from leading scorer and rebounder Cleanthony Early (16.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg), who not only could score down low but also step out and hit the three. But with coach Marshall calling the shots, the Shockers will no doubt have a solution.

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