Introducing Cinderella? NMSU set to open NCAA Tournament vs. UConn

BUFFALO, NY (KTSM) — Let the madness begin… March Madness that is.

New Mexico State (26-6), the No. 12 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament West Region, will look to pull off a first round upset over the fifth-seeded UConn Huskies (23-9) on Thursday inside the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York. It’s the Aggies’ third trip to the big dance under head coach Chris Jans, their first since 2019.

“I just can’t imagine anyone not jumping out of their skin with excitement and energy because of this opportunity,” said Jans. “This is what you dream about when you first pick up a basketball.”

NMSU will look to play the role of “Cinderella” in this year’s NCAA Tournament, and over the course of the last three decades, being a No. 12 seed has boded well for programs looking to bust some brackets. At least one No. 12 seed has defeated a No. 5 seed in 32 of the last 36 NCAA Tournaments since the field expanded to at least 64 teams. Five of the last nine tournaments have featured multiple 12-5 upsets, including three in 2014 and again in 2019.

The Aggies cruised to another WAC Tournament championship last weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada, which came after losing two of their last three regular season games. NMSU lost to Chicago State and Stephen F. Austin, which resulted in a share of the WAC regular season title with the Lumberjacks and Seattle U. One might say this team finds ways to play to their opponents’ level, and while they’re standing in front of a perennial college basketball blueblood, the Aggies will have to play up to the Huskies’ level.

“We are going to come out swinging just like they are,” said NMSU junior guard Jabari Rice. “We will come out and play hard just like they are, and it’s going to be a battle. We all think about the same things — rebounding and toughness. I think it’s going to be a good game.”

For the Aggies to have a chance to win, they’ll need a big time performance from the WAC Player of the Year, Teddy Allen. ‘Teddy Buckets’ is averaging 19.3 points per game this season, and has scored 30+ points in four games this season, including a 41-point explosion on Jan. 15 in NMSU’s win over Abilene Christian. Allen certainly has the attention of his opponent.

“He’s [Teddy Allen] a bucket,” said UConn head coach Dan Hurley. “Teddy’s a tough shot-maker, Teddy plays with a lot of pop, a lot of personality and intensity.”

“He’s [Dan Hurley] just blowing that pregame smoke. I can’t listen to that. Dan Hurley is the best coach ever,” Allen said jokingly at Wednesday’s press conference.

“He’s definitely a bucket,” said Jans. “I’ve known since high school. I was on his circuit, and this is my third time recruiting him. It took me a while, but we finally got it done. He’s a game changer.”

Introducing Cinderella? NMSU set to open NCAA Tournament vs. UConn

NMSU hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1993, which was eventually vacated by the NCAA. A win over UConn would be a monumental step forward for the program, and an energizer to a hungry fan base that has grown tired of one-and-done. Tip-off on Thursday is scheduled for 4:50 p.m. MT on TNT.

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Game Notes (Courtesy: NM State Athletics)

Game Thirty-Three | NCAA Tournament | West Region • Round One | NCAA Tournament Central#12 NM State (26-6) vs. #5 UConn (23-9)Thursday, March 17 | 4:50 p.m. MT | KeyBank Center | Buffalo, N.Y.Watch | Listen | Live Stats | Tickets | NM State Game Notes | UConn Game Notes

THE OPENING TIP• Back in the Big Dance for the first time since 2019 and hoping to bust brackets around the nation, the NM State men’s basketball team makes its 23rd NCAA Tournament appearance in the history of the program Thursday at 4:50 p.m. MT at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, N.Y., as the 12th-seeded Aggies tangle with fifth-seeded and 21st-ranked UConn in a West Region first round showdown.• The first battle between NM State and a nationally-ranked squad since 2019 will be televised nationwide on TNT. The play-by-play and analysis team of Brad Nessler, Brendan Haywood and Evan Washburn are set to narrate all the action in the inaugural matchup between the Aggies and Huskies.• Over the airwaves, legendary radio play-by-play man Jack Nixon will set up shop courtside to call the action.• The play-by-play and analysis of the nation’s 14th-longest tenured NCAA Division I men’s basketball voice can be heard on 99.5 Zia Country FM in Las Cruces, N.M., and nationwide on The Varsity Network app.• Affiliate stations of the Aggie Sports Network can be tuned in to in Artesia, N.M. (990 AM), Carlsbad, N.M. (1240 AM), Gallup, N.M. (94.9 FM), Alamogordo, N.M. (103.7 FM) and El Paso, Texas (1380 AM). All of those stations will also carry Nixon’s commentary of Thursday evening’s showdown.• In addition to Nixon’s narration of the game, fans can also tune into the play-by-play and analysis of Westwood One’s tandem of Scott Graham and Jon Crispin. Their call of the clash between NM State and #21/21 UConn can be heard on Sirius channel 136 and XM channel 203. Additional ways to listen include the “March Madness Mix” on, on the free NCAA March Madness Live app and on the free Varsity Network app.

AGGIES IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT• 23 | NM State is making its 23rd appearance in the NCAA Tournament in program history.• 12 | For the fifth time in program history, NM State is a 12-seed in the NCAA Tournament. NM State has been a 12-seed all three times it has made the NCAA Tournament under head coach Chris Jans.• 12 vs. 5 | The always-popular 12-seed over five-seed upset is once again in the cards for NM State. Heading into the 2022 NCAA Tournament, 12-seeds are 51-93 (.352) against five-seeds since the NCAA Tournament field expanded in 1985. Since 2016, at least one 12-seed has succeeded in springing an upset over a five-seed in all but one NCAA Tournament (the 2018 edition).• NM State owns a 2-4 on-court record as a 12-seed in NCAA Tournament games. The Aggies’ four losses as a 12 seed have come by a combined 22 points, or an average of 5.5 points per game. Officially, though, NM State’s record as a 12-seed will be remembered as 0-3.• 1993 | NM State returns to the state of New York for NCAA Tournament action for the first time since 1993. That year, the Aggies made it to the second round in Syracuse, N.Y., though neither one of those games are officially a matter of NCAA record any longer.• 4 | While four members of the current NM State men’s basketball team have been to various NCAA Tournaments, only three of them have logged minutes in the Big Dance. Teddy Allen advanced to the Sweet Sixteen with West Virginia in 2018 while Johnny McCants played major minutes in the Aggies’ NCAA Tournament tilts with Auburn (2019) and Clemson (2018). Clayton Henry made his NCAA Tournament debut in 2019 against Auburn. Jabari Rice was on the Aggies’ roster for their 2019 tilt with Auburn but never entered the game.• The Allen’s | Teddy Allen and his brother Timmy Allen (Texas) are the only set of brothers playing in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.• BIG EAST | This is the first matchup featuring NM State and a current BIG EAST foe in the NCAA Tournament. Though the Aggies matched up with Creighton in the opening round of the 1991 NCAA Tournament, the Bluejays were member of the Missouri Valley Conference at the time.• BIG EAST II | NM State holds an all-time record of 8-15 against current BIG EAST institutions. Officially, in the eyes of the NCAA, though, that record stands at 7-15 (more on that below).• The 90’s | NM State was forced to vacate its 1992, 1993 and 1994 NCAA Tournament appearances due to academic fraud. That decision by the NCAA Committee on Infractions wiped away NM State’s memorable run to the Sweet Sixteen in 1992. Included in that run was a first-round win over DePaul (then a member of the Great Midwest Conference, not the BIG EAST). In all, those academic fraud infractions nixed a 3-3 NCAA Tournament mark from NM State’s history.• 1970 | With the vacation of its 1992, 1993 and 1994 NCAA Tournament appearances, NM State’s last “official” NCAA Tournament win came in 1970. That year, led by the late head coach Lou Henson, the likes of Jimmy Collins and Sam Lacey led NM State to the Final Four for the first – and so far, only – time in the history of the program. NM State lost to eventual national champion UCLA in the Final Four but won the NCAA’s third-place game by a 79-73 tally against St. Bonaventure.• Chris Jans | NM State’s fifth-year bench boss has led the Aggies to three of the four available NCAA Tournaments during his tenure. NM State didn’t make the cut for the Big Dance in 2021 and did not do so in 2020, either, as the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the entire NCAA Tournament.Jans’ NCAA Tournament record stands at 0-2 with those games decided by a total of 12 points.• Buffalo, N.Y. | The only connections NM State has with the city of Buffalo, N.Y. on its 2021-22 roster come from head coach Chris Jans and junior guard Virshon Cotton. Jans is 0-2 against Buffalo (including an 0-1 against the Bulls in Buffalo, N.Y.) with both meetings coming in the 2014-15 season during his tenure as the head coach at Bowling Green. Cotton, meanwhile, competed for Akron as a freshman and dropped two games to Buffalo including one to the Bulls in Buffalo, N.Y.• WAC in March Madness | Teams from the Western Athletic Conference are 20-42 all-time in NCAA Tournament action.LAST TIME OUT IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT | NM State 77, #14 Auburn 78 | Thursday, March 21, 2019• A game that garnered a lot of fanfare lived up to the hype at Vivint Smart Home Arena as the 12th-seeded New Mexico State men’s basketball team took fifth-seeded Auburn to the brink Thursday afternoon in a crushing 78-77 loss in the opening-round of the NCAA Tournament.• NM State’s deficit stood at 73-68 with 2:13 left in the game before a 7-0 run by the Aggies was capped off by a deep three from Trevelin Queen to cut the Tigers’ lead to 73-72 with 28 seconds remaining. That run was aided by huge charges drawn by Shunn Buchanan and Terrell Brown. During that stretch Auburn saw both Horace Spencer and Jared Harper foul out as well.• A foul from Johnny McCants saw Chuma Okeke hit both shots at the line before it got cut back down to 75-73 when Harris hit the front-end of his two free-throws. From there, madness ensued.• Subbing in for Buchanan, JoJo Zamora came in with his usual rocket arm and drilled a 3-pointer from the far wing and brought NM State within 77-76 with :07 remaining. A foul from Harris on the other end saw Samir Doughty hit 1-of-2 from the stripe but it remained a one-possession game.• With :06 remaining, Harris found an open Brown for the three and was fouled with 1.7 on the clock. Brown, who came into the game shooting .780 from the stripe, missed his first, made his second and missed his third – which was fortunately tipped out by a Tiger with 1.1 left to play.• Despite its chances to put the game away, New Mexico State was given one last opportunity to pull off the 12-5 upset with Queen getting an open look from the far baseline that was just too strong as the score held 78-77 in favor of the Tigers.LAST TIME OUT | NM State 66, Abilene Christian 52 | Saturday, March 12, 2022 | WAC Tournament Championship• A 16-2 first-half run helped NM State take control for good as the Aggies won their 10th WAC Tournament title by taking down sixth-seeded Abilene Christian 66-52 Saturday night at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev.• Four Aggies pumped in 10 or more points including redshirt senior guard Clayton Henry who matched his season high with 15 points on a 6-of-11 performance from the field. Henry added a season-best eight rebounds to help lift NM State to its first WAC Tournament crown since 2019.• Teddy Allen, who captured the title of WAC Tournament Most Valuable Player, finished with 10 points on a 2-of-8 shooting clip. The Phoenix, Ariz., product fouled out of a game for the first time this season. It marked the first time Allen fouled out of a game since Dec. 22, 2020, in a 67-53 loss at ninth-ranked Wisconsin.• Jabari Rice pumped in 11 points to earn a spot on the All-WAC Tournament Team, too.• Mario McKinney Jr., came off the bench and contributed 10 points to the Aggies’ cause. In 24 minutes, he also added four rebounds, a pair of assists and a steal while playing some tough defense.• Will McNair Jr., neared double-double territory with eight points and a game-high nine rebounds. McNair Jr.’s rebounding prowess helped NM State enjoy a 44-28 (+16) edge on the glass.• Also closing in on a double-double was Johnny McCants who won his third WAC Tournament title. The Las Cruces, N.M., product finished with eight points, seven rebounds, three assists and a trio of blocked shots. With those eight points, McCants rose into the top 30 all-time in program history in terms of scoring (30th, 1,051 points) while he hiked his career rebounding total to 755 – the eighth-most by any Aggie in the history of the program.• Rice’s 11 points on the night increased his career scoring total to 1,092 – the 24th-most in NM State lore.• NM State head coach Chris Jans pushed his all-time record in WAC Tournament games to 10-1 (.909) by leading NM State to its third WAC Tournament title in their four trips to that tilt under Jans.• The Aggies picked up their 26th win of the season with Saturday night’s triumph. Under Jans’ five-year reign in Las Cruces, NM State has failed to win fewer than 25 games in a season just one time.

TEDDY ALLEN AND THE GREAT RECORD BOOK REWRITE• The call the man “Teddy Buckets” in college basketball venues around the nation and since stepping foot in Las Cruces ahead of the 2021-22 season, the WAC’s premier scorer has started making various edits to the Aggies’ top-ten single-season statistical charts.• Starting with the scoring column, Teddy Allen’s 618 points thus far in 2021-22 are the seventh-most in a single season in the history of the program. With a 41-point outburst against Abilene Christian on Saturday, Jan., 15, Allen posted the fifth-best single-game scoring performance by any Aggie in program lore.• Allen’s 448 field goal attempts are the 10th-most in a single season in NM State history.• From long range, Allen has hoisted up 210 three-point field goal tries in 2021-22. That’s the sixth-most in a single season by any Aggie.• At the free throw stripe, Allen has been especially lethal this year. The Phoenix, Ariz., product ranks eighth in terms of free throws made in a single season (150) and fourth in terms of single-season free throw percentage (.867).

BACK IN THE NEW YORK GROOVE• NM State is playing a game in The Empire State for the first time since 2012-13. The Aggies have lost their last three games played in the state of New York and are looking for the first win in the state since Nov. 23, 1994 – an 81-78 triumph over Memphis.

FAST BREAK POINTS• NM State laid claim to its fourth regular-season WAC title in the last five seasons with a 62-46 home win over Utah Valley on Saturday, March 5. Though they had to share the regular-season crown with SFA and Seattle U, the Aggies claimed the top seed for the 2022 WAC Tournament by holding a 3-1 head-to-head record against SFA and Seattle U.• NM State head coach Chris Jans is 8-1 in regular season games during the month of March as the Aggies’ bench boss. Against WAC teams in March, Jans is the owner of a 18-2 (.900) record and overall he’s 18-4 (.818) in the month as NM State’s head coach.• NM State’s 26 wins are the 15th-most among all NCAA Division I men’s basketball teams this season as well as the most by any WAC team.• Since the start of the 2009-10 campaign, NM State owns an 88-5 (.946) record in WAC home games. Those five losses came by a combined 36 points (an average of 7.2 per game).• NM State head coach Chris Jans is 63-12 (.829) in regular-season WAC games as the Aggies’ head coach. Included in that record is a near-perfect 31-1 (.969) showing against WAC squads inside NM State’s home venue of the Pan American Center.• NM State’s .829 winning percentage in WAC regular season games under Jans is the nation’s second-best in-conference winning percentage figure since 2017-18. Only Gonzaga’s (76-3, .962) is higher.• With a win at SFA on Saturday, Jan. 22, NM State senior forward Johnny McCants overtook Ian Baker for the highest number of wins in the history the program (111). Baker, who suited up for NM State from 2014-17, amassed 110 wins through the course of his storied Aggie career, but McCants is slowly increasing the number of wins on his resume with 120 to his credit.• NM State head coach Chris Jans is 1-4 against nationally-ranked opponents throughout his tenure in Las Cruces. That one win, though, came over then #6/7 Miami at the 2017 Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic. Jans has led his troops to six victories over Power Five opposition since taking over the reins of NM State ahead of the 2017-18 season. Four of those wins have come on neutral courts while he has one to his credit at home and another on the road.• High-scoring guard Teddy Allen currently leads the WAC and ranks 35th nationally in scoring at a clip of 19.2 points per game. Allen has put in 30 or more points four times this season which are the most 30+ point games by an Aggie in Chris Jans‘ tenure as head coach. Those four 30+ point games are the most by an Aggie in a single season since Troy Gillenwater went for 30 or more four times in the Aggies’ 2010-11 campaign.• Currently the Aggies have four players on their roster – Teddy Allen, Johnny McCants, Jabari Rice and Donnie Tillman – who have amassed 1,000 or more points in their respective NCAA Division I careers. Just three other programs – UAB (six), Notre Dame (five) and Florida (five) have more players on their 2021-22 rosters with 1,000 or more career points. NM State is one of 14 programs around the nation who have four 1,000-point scores on its roster.• In addition to in the program’s 1,000-point club, McCants has also jumped into the program’s top-ten career rebounders. As of this writing, McCants has 748 to his credit which is the eighth-most by any Aggie player in the history of the program.• Of the Aggies’ four 1,000-point scorers, two of them – Johnny McCants and Jabari Rice – have piled up all of their points at NM State. McCants’ 1,051 career points are the 30th-most on the Aggies’ all-time scoring charts while Rice’s 1,092 points put him 24th on that list.• Chris Jans is 26-5 (.839) in games directly after a loss as the Aggies’ head coach.

WAC HARDWARE• In an announcement made by the WAC office Monday, March 7, NM State redshirt junior guard Teddy Allen headlined a trio of Aggies who collected all-league accolades from the conference by being named the WAC Player of the Year.• Allen, the fifth Aggie to lock on to WAC Player of the Year honors, also collected the title of WAC Newcomer of the Year and was placed on the All-WAC First Team as well as on the WAC All-Newcomer Team.• Redshirt senior forward Johnny McCants and redshirt junior guard Jabari Rice both earned spots on the All-WAC Second Team. McCants additionally received a nod to the All-WAC Defensive Team.• Joining the likes of Daniel Mullings (2014), Pascal Siakam (2016), Ian Baker (2017) and Jemerrio Jones (2018), Allen enters an exclusive five-man club of Aggies who earned WAC Player of the Year honors. One of the nation’s best pure scorers, the Phoenix, Ariz., product consistently elevated his game in other areas through the course of the season to help lead NM State to a regular-season crown and the top seed in the 2022 WAC Tournament. Setting Allen apart from the other four WAC Player of the Year winners boasted by NM State’s program is the fact that he’s the first Aggie in program history to claim WAC Newcomer of the Year honors. He’s the first Aggie to grab both honors and as well as the first NM State student-athlete to claim a league’s Newcomer of the Year award since Jamie Peña did so in 1981 (Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Year).• During his first season in Las Cruces, Allen maintained his reputation as one of the best point-producers in college basketball. Able to change the lights on the scoreboard at an astonishing pace, Allen amassed a total of 581 points – good for a WAC-leading average of 19.4 per game.• The land’s 33rd-highest scoring player, Allen finished with 10 or more points in all but one of his team’s 30 regular-season contests. Known also by the apt moniker of “Teddy Buckets”, Allen piled up 15 performances of 20 or more points, four games of 30 or more points and one 40+ point night. Able to do a little bit of everything, Allen also served as the Aggies’ leading rebounder (7.0 per game) and racked up seven double-doubles – a total which stands as the third-most by any player in the WAC. A do-it-all kind of guy, Allen added 2.5 assists and 1.2 steals per game while putting up shooting splits of .449/.320/.853.• For the second-straight season, Rice reeled in a spot on the All-WAC Second Team. The Houston, Texas, product’s third All-WAC honor through his days at NM State was made possible by a scoring average of 12.0 points per game as well as a team-leading assist figure of 3.4 per outing.• Rice totaled 20 outings of 10 or more points as well as three games with 20 or more markers. His two double-doubles were one fewer than McCants, placing him third on the team in that category. Often times running the points for the Aggies, Rice dished out five or more assists on eight occasions while also adding 5.2 rebounds per outing. Putting up shooting splits of .391/.329/.777 allowed him to rank second on the team in scoring as one of the more recognizable faces in the league.• For the better part of the last decade, McCants has been affiliated with NM State and the Las Cruces, N.M., product gained his first All-WAC selection with Monday’s announcement. One year after securing All-WAC Honorable Mention laurels, McCants decided to come back to Las Cruces for one last ride with his hometown club in 2021-22. That decision paid off as NM State wouldn’t have claimed its fifth league title in the last five seasons without his 8.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and team-leading 1.8 blocked shots per game.• The WAC’s best shot blocker in terms of both average (1.8 per game) and total rejections (49), McCants was one of three Aggies – a group which also includes Allen and Rice – who reached the 1,000-point plateau this season. With a trio of double-doubles on the year, McCants career rebounding numbers are good for the top ten in the history of the program. Currently, the hometown hero is one of just four players in the history of the program who have amassed 1,000 or more points, 700 or more rebounds and 100 or more blocked shots in their respective careers.

SCOUTING #21/21 UCONN | ROSTER | SCHEDULE | STATISTICS• Defense and rebounding. That’s pretty much the M.O. of #21/21 UConn as head coach Dan Hurley leads the Huskies into the NCAA Tournament field for the second-straight season.• The BIG EAST had to contend with one of the nation’s best shot-blocking and rebounding clubs in 2021-22. UConn ranks second nationally in blocked shots per game (6.5) and sixth in the land in rebounding (40.88 per game).• UConn especially excels when it comes to crashing the offensive glass. The Huskies’ 13.97 offensive boards per game are the third-best figure among all NCAA Division I men’s basketball teams.• Leading the charge on the glass – and for the team in general – is Adama Sanogo. The sophomore out of Bamako, Mali, ranks second on the team in scoring (14.9 points per game) while topping the BIG EAST charts in rebounding at a rate of 8.9 per game.• As a matter of fact, three of the top 15 rebounders in the BIG EAST sport UConn jerseys. Tyrese Martin’s 7.6 boards per game rank seventh in the league while Andre Jackson’s 7.0 per outing are the 13th-most.• Sanodo (1.96 blocked shots per game) and Isaiah Whaley (2.16 blocked shots per game) are two of the BIG EAST’s top five shot blockers.• Stationed in the backcourt and leading the way from there is graduate student R.J. Cole. The Huskies’ leading scorer at 15.7 points per game, Cole also tops the team’s charts in terms of assist-to-turnover ration (2.16) and assists per game (4.1).• Keeping things close has not been a good sign for the Huskies thus far. UConn holds a 3-7 (.300) mark in games decided by five points or less in 2021-22.

THIS DATE IN NM STATE HISTORY• For just the second time in the history of the program, NM State will be playing a game on St. Patrick’s Day. The Aggies’ only other game on this date came in 2018 when they dropped a #12/11 Baylor in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in Tulsa, Okla.• NM State head coach Chris Jans is 1-0 on this date with a win over St. Francis in the opening round of the Tournament back in 2015.

COMING UP NEXT• With a win, NM State would move on to the second round of the NCAA Tournament where it would take on either fourth-seeded Arkansas or 13th-seeded Vermont at a time to be determined Saturday. A loss would end the Aggies’ 2021-22 campaign.

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