Pac-12 Game of the Weekend: New Mexico State @ Oregon StatePosted by KDanna on November 9th, 2012
Finally, after five weeks of covering college basketball news, we are ready to get down to some actual game action. Each week, the Pac-12 microsite will break down a game we feel is the one to keep an eye on. While November and December are perhaps more important for the Pac-12 than any other conference in terms of restoring respectability, the opening weekend of play is largely devoid of any big matchups. However, considering recent history, that doesn’t mean it will be an easy road to a perfect Pac-12 weekend. One such contest that could provide a few worries will play out on Sunday night, when Oregon State hosts New Mexico State as part of the 2K Sports Classic.
Why it’s important: Perhaps more than any other school in the Pac-12 (last year not withstanding for the most part), Oregon State has struggled in the non-conference portion of its schedule. In the last three years, Oregon State has lost to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Sacramento State (just like football), Illinois-Chicago, Seattle (twice, once by 51 points), Texas Southern, Utah Valley and Idaho, with many of those games taking place in Gill Coliseum. Hence, it is very well within the makeup of this team to lose to New Mexico State, a squad that made the NCAA Tournament last year and won 26 games. Granted, the Aggies lost their top four scorers from last year’s WAC Tournament Championship team (and three of which hit the 1,000-point plateau in their Aggie careers), but Oregon State can’t take anything for granted.
Key player for Oregon State: Roberto Nelson: The junior guard from Santa Barbara came to Corvallis with a lot of hype but was overshadowed in his first two years by Jared Cunningham. Now that Cunningham is gone, Nelson will be a regular starter for Craig Robinson, and it’s time for him to show he can take on that extra responsibility. He had a pretty good season as the sixth man last year, averaging 9.3 points per game in about 21 minutes. If he can increase his scoring by the same proportion of his increased playing time and then some, Nelson can very well be a 15 per night kind of guy, and he needs to be if the Beavers are going to have success this year.
Key player for New Mexico State: Tyrone Watson: A senior forward from Hamilton, Ontario, Watson is one of two returning starters from last year’s team alongside Daniel Mullings. While Mullings is the leading returning scorer, Watson is tasked with the responsibility of trying to fill in the shoes of Wendell McKines, a double-double (18.7 PPG, 10.7 RPG) forward who was the second player in Aggie history to amass more than 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career. Watson himself put up respectable averages of seven points, four rebounds and more than three assists per game as a role player, but he is going to have to be more than just a capable starter for the Aggies in 2012-13.
Matchup/storyline to watch: A clash of different kinds of size: New Mexico State has who could eventually be the first distinguished professional basketball player of Indian descent in 7’5’’ center Sim Bhullar. Originally committing to Xavier, Bhullar opted for Las Cruces because of clearinghouse issues. He redshirted last year, but figures to play a prominent role alongside 6’10’’ Tshilidzi Nephawe (the projected starter for Sunday) as a body down low who can really make it tough on opposing teams. The book on Bhullar out of high school was that he is a good passer, plays physical down low and can dunk on his tiptoes but has conditioning issues. That was when he weighed 330 pounds; now, according to the Aggies’ game notes, he checks in at 355. Given how Craig Robinson likes to use his bigs, will Bhullar be able to guard guys like Angus Brandt and Joe Burton, especially when they run point on the perimeter? Can he keep up with the speed and athleticism of an Eric Moreland? Bhullar’s reportedly 7’11’’ wingspan will make up for many of his deficiencies, but Oregon State’s size is a little different from the kind of size he’ll see in WAC play. For that matter, how will Nephawe be able to handle the unorthodox Oregon State post players? This is shaping up to be his first start since the 2010-11 season after coming off the bench in all 36 games last year.
Prediction: Oregon State 82, New Mexico State 74: I couldn’t decide between 82-78 and 82-70, so I hedged my bets. This will be New Mexico State’s season opener and Oregon State’s second game, so the Aggies will have a bit of a surprise factor working in their advantage and can do a little extra scouting of the Beavers. That said, New Mexico State loses too much from last year’s team to be able to come in right away and win on the road in a power conference venue. Oregon State will have had a game to work out some of its early-season kinks against Niagara and the Beavers will surely need some momentum going into New York City for the 2K Sports Classic Championship Round and a semifinal date with Alabama.