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NMSU men’s basketball preview: Expectations high in Jans’ second season

The New Mexico State Aggies men’s basketball team went 28-6, came out on top as WAC champions and made it to the Round of 64 in the NCAA tournament last year. Overall, it’s safe to say the 2017-2018 season was a prominent one for the Aggies, but having such a successful first year with NMSU has placed a target on head coach Chris Jans’ back and on the entire program as well. Going into the new season, it’s clear expectations for the team are high. The upcoming schedule reveals the competition at home will be tough, but despite the pressure, Jans and his team remain optimistic.

“I’d rather be the hunter, to be honest with you. I think most coaches would agree it’s a little more easy to motivate players when that’s the case. But it’s not something we shy away from either,” Jans said at a press conference at the Pan American Center last Monday. “You just have to accept and understand it and try to guard against any complacency.”

New Mexico State’s AJ Harris, left, drives around teammate Johnathon Wilkins and is met by University of New Mexico defenders Dec. 9, 2017, in Albuquerque. (Photo by Juan Antonio Labreche/Associated Press)

The Aggies are scheduled to play the first three games of the season at the Pan Am, and although NMSU will have the home advantage, the schedule is tight and the competition is stiff. After playing their season opener Tuesday, Nov. 6, against North Dakota, the Aggies will take on UTEP the following Friday, Nov. 9. The game against Saint Mary’s, a powerhouse from the West Coast Conference, is scheduled less than a week later on Wednesday, Nov 14. The Aggies are also scheduled to play the Kansas Jayhawks, who are ranked No. 1 in the country, on the road in late December.

Zach Lofton and Jemerrio Jones, both of whom were some of NMSU’s most prominent players last year, are no longer on the team. This means veteran players like guards AJ Harris and Shunn Buchanan must take on more of a leadership role on the court going into the season.

Head men’s basketball coach Chris Jans talks to the media ahead of his 2018-19 season opener against North Dakota State. (Photo by Baylee Banks/Kokopelli)

Harris, who was the 2018-19 Preseason First-Team All-WAC selection, said that he aims to be more of an impressionable player this year and hopes that his team will take the game more seriously because of the tough competition early in the season.

“We are really ready to take on teams like Kansas. It’s a good experience for us, and all-in-all, we just want to get out there and play basketball,” Harris said.

Shunn Buchanan said that he is excited about the upcoming season and hopes that the Aggies will be repeating WAC champions.

“My goal is to be more consistent this year, try to play as best as I can and just play the way Coach Jans needs us to play,” Buchanan said.

Fans seem to be optimistic about the upcoming men’s basketball season as well. Avid fan Zachary Johnson-Carlson says although NMSU lost a few of its best players from last season, he still has faith in Coach Jans as a head coach. “The coaching staff brought on a few of the top junior college players in the nation on the team as well as a transfer guard from the University of Utah who is supposed to be really good at scoring the ball. As long as the Aggies can play as a team and have no locker room drama, I am highly confident the team will be able to win the WAC regular season and go to the WAC tournament and place a bid for the NCAA,” Johnson-Carlson said. 

The Aggies open the season at home Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, at 7:30 p.m. at the Pan American Center.

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