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NMSU men’s basketball: A collapse

An abnormally lackluster season by NMSU men’s basketball took a crippling turn over Super Bowl weekend. Friday, Feb. 10, Stadium analyst Jeff Goodman reported in a tweet that the men’s basketball program would be shut down for the remainder of the season based on hazing allegations and a filed police report. 

Over the next 24 hours, a series of public statements from university officials including Chancellor Dan Arvizu confirmed the situation. 

“This action is clearly needed,” Arvizu said in one of his statements. “It’s time for this program to reset.” 

The program’s reputation has taken a major hit, but the troubles date back further than these allegations. They stem from a season filled with mediocre play, underachievement and disappointing off-the-court instances.  

Just 11 months after making a splash in March Madness, the Aggie men’s basketball team has plunged into one of the worst program collapses in history. 

Greg Heiar draws up a play for for the team during a crucial timeout during an away game against Southern Utah on Jan. 19, 2023. (Photo courtesy of NMSU athletics)

Where it all Began

Almost immediately after Chris Jans and NMSU lost to Arkansas in the second round of last year’s March Madness tournament, Jans deservedly got scooped up by Mississippi State. The best move the NMSU athletics department could have made in order to maintain consistency in the program was to bring in someone who was not only very familiar with the program, but had the respect of everyone around it. The person I would have recommended is last year’s associate head coach, James Miller.  

Miller spent four years under Jans and was a key reason for NMSU being a premier mid-major basketball team. Miller’s knowledge of the game stood in the same realm as the respect he commanded in the locker room. More importantly, he wanted to be the Aggies’ head coach, and he rightfully deserved it. 

Not only would Miller have kept the program’s reputation steady, but he would have had a better chance at getting more people to return for the next season. 

Between the players and the coaching staff, only three people returned. Forwards Marchelus Avery and Mike Peake, and assistant coach turned associate head coach, Dominique Taylor. 

A major factor in the team’s mediocre play throughout the 2022-23 season was the scarcity of returners and, in turn, consistency in the culture that gave NMSU its supreme reputation. Moreover, the returning players didn’t play more than 14 minutes a game. As a new coach, you lean on returning players to be the foundation for building up everything else in the program. That proves to be very difficult when your two returning players don’t have vital roles on the floor or in the locker room.    

The Xs and Os 

I, along with other sources in the NMSU basketball community, quietly had my reservations about the team’s overall ability at the beginning of the season. Personnel was not the problem. Skill wise, NMSU had a very good group of talented guys.  

It was the team’s ineffectiveness on the offensive and defensive ends. Unsurprisingly, this translated into poor performances on the basketball court. Yes, the Aggies looked good prior to conference play, but they were beating up on lower-division programs.  

Their major problems were glaringly obvious when they played decent Division-I teams. 

One of the Aggies’ biggest problems was their inability to execute on set plays on offense. That led to many of their offensive possessions ending in an isolation late in the shot clock. Whether it was the players not being able to convert or the plays themselves, this problem on offense was amplified when they faced a merely competent defense.  

Another problem was their occasional disinterest on defense. In their only two conference wins, they were engaged and energized on defense. And when they played like that, they looked like a complete basketball team. 

One More Glaring Problem

Halfway through conference play, the Aggies were turning a corner and starting to look significantly better. But there was always one problem: The coaches’ inability to control the locker room. 

It’s the reason that Mike Peake felt so comfortable going out at 3 a.m. that morning in Albuquerque. It’s the reason that during their poor start to conference play, the coaches had “lost the locker room,” according to a reliable source close to the situation. And it’s the reason that everyone in the locker room stood around and watched one or more of their teammates repeatedly get hazed and assaulted on the ground by three others. 

As of Tuesday, Feb. 14, Greg Heiar’s contract with NMSU has been terminated and this is the first step in the right direction. In NMSU’s quest to rebuild the reputation of a once prominent basketball program, it is important that the right steps are taken in the process. Whether it be bringing in someone who is familiar with Aggie culture, or staying diligent in searching for a new head coach and a fresh start, the athletics department owes it to everyone involved to get this right.

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to New Mexico State University, the NMSU Department of Journalism and Media Studies, Kokopelli, or any other organization, committee, group or individual.

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