Matchup breakdown: New Mexico State

Indiana’s first round matchup with New Mexico State is less than 24 hours away, and it promises to be a heck of a battle on the offensive and defensive glass. But where does IU have a distinct advantage? Disadvantage? Here’s a  breakdown of the head-to-head matchups:

POINT GUARD

Jordan Hulls, Indiana: 11.5 ppg, .506 FG%, 2.4 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.0 apg, 2.1 tpg
Hernst Laroche, NMSU: 12.0 ppg, .452 FG%, 2.9 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.8 spg, 2.3 tpg

Laroche has been the better scorer over the course of the season, averaging slightly more than Hulls and turning the ball over slightly more as well. But Hulls has been much hotter as of late, with double-digit scoring in his last five games, while Laroche has scored in double figures just twice in that span. Laroche is the Aggies’ best 3-point shooter (which isn’t saying much), but he doesn’t match the 3-point prowess that Hulls brings to the table. Defense, as always, will be Hulls’ kryptonite though, and it could leave Laroche to score in bunches.

SHOOTING GUARD

Victor Oladipo, Indiana: 10.9 ppg, .457 FG%, 5.5 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.4 spg, 2.1 tpg
Daniel Mullings, NMSU: 9.3 ppg, .486 FG%, 4.1 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.7 spg, 2.1 tpg

Statistically, both Oladipo and Mullings are fairly similar players as far as their offensive roles go. They’re even both below average 3-point shooters. But Oladipo’s defense will make him the more effective of the two guards at this spot, and if he can sustain the aggressive play that he showed during the past few weeks of the season, he’s capable of scoring more than 11 points in this game. Getting rebounds will be a tall order, as Oladipo will be up against much larger competition on the boards, but it’s often unwise to discount his will around the bucket. Mullings got more playing time as the season went on, as Christian Kabongo, who was the team’s second-leading scorer, transferred. But the freshman is capable of driving and being aggressive as well, and it’ll be interesting to see who matches up with him.

SMALL FORWARD

Will Sheehey, Indiana: 8.4 ppg, .486 FG%, 3.4 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.3 tpg
Wendell McKines, NMSU: 18.8 ppg, .459 FG%, 10.8 rpg, 1.6 apg, 2.1 tpg

There’s no guarantee that Sheehey will primarily match up with McKines (I’d expect Oladipo to take that on, for the most part), but McKines is the Aggies’ most important player by a wide margin. In four of his last five games, McKines has had more than 13 rebounds, and in all five of those games, he’s scored 15 or more points. He has 20 double-doubles on the season and is far and away one of the best players in the WAC. The comparisons to Michigan State’s Draymond Green are founded (if you discount his passing), and shutting him down may be near impossible. But if Indiana can limit his effect on the boards, then the Hoosiers will be in good shape.

POWER FORWARD

Christian Watford, Indiana: 12.0 ppg, .406 FG%, 5.9 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.8 tpg
Tyrone Watson, NMSU: 7.0 ppg, .497 FG% 4.1 rpg, 3.2 apg, 2.0 tpg

Watson is New Mexico State’s least-used player offensively, but he shoots a better percentage than anyone outside of center Hamidu Rahman on the team. He is relatively aggressive on the boards though and could affect the game defensively. Watford will be one of the focal points of Indiana’s offense, and with his increased efficiency on the offensive end as of late, the Hoosiers have been a much more dangerous team all-around. He’ll need to be especially aggressive in this one if he plans on pulling down any rebounds, considering how effective the Aggies are on the glass.

CENTER

Cody Zeller, Indiana: 15.5 ppg, .626 FG%, 6.4 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.3 spg, 1.2 bpg, 1.5 tpg
Hamidu Rahman, NMSU: 10.0 ppg, .603 FG%, 5.9 rpg, 1.1 bpg, 1.6 tpg

Clearly, Zeller is the better player in this matchup, and more than just guarding Rahman, he’ll play an important role in Indiana’s help defense in the post. That kind of position could make him a target for early foul trouble, and considering New Mexico State is the only team to have shot over 1,000 free throws in Division-1 basketball, that concern is definitely palpable. He’ll have to be solid fundamentally to ensure that he doesn’t miss long stretches of the game. If he can do that, Zeller should be able to dominate this matchup. Rahman is an effective center, and he shoots a high percentage around the hoop, but Zeller is just too good of a player. You better believe they’ll be targeting Zeller early and often.