Team preview: New Mexico State

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

If New Mexico State can manage itself off the court, this team might be the best one on it -- in the WAC at least -- by season's end. Emphasis on the word 'might.'

As good as the Aggies could be, they are not as established as Nevada and are facing the daunting task of putting four returning starters on the floor with four Division I transfers, and the best junior-college recruit in the land.

Practice could be a daily war to see which five stays alive under the watchful eye of second-year head coach Reggie Theus. He spent part of August and September taking his team to Canada on a four-game exhibition trip in which the Aggies beat all four all-star teams they faced.

Each night a different player stepped into the limelight to key the Aggies' success as they try to find themselves in time for the season opener. Make no mistake, Theus has put together a formidable fivesome on paper. He can mix and match in any given situations, keeping a fresh five on the floor at all times.

"I am cautiously optimistic about what we are capable of doing this season," Theus said. "As long as I am afraid of this season and what we are doing, I don't think that any of my players will have any other feeling about the year.

"It is not a given. I have been around teams that, on paper, were supposed to be unbelievable, and for whatever reason, did not live up to their potential."

Even so, there's good reason for all the smiles in the basketball office, although a brief scare did put Theus on notice.

Junior power forward Tyrone Nelson (17.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg) was suspended for four days for an off-the-court incident in late August. Once the school examined all the information provided by police and other witnesses, he was reinstated in time to make the trip to Canada. It's the kind of distraction the Aggies don't need as they try to improve on last year's 16-win season that ended with an 11-point loss to eventual WAC champion Nevada.

It was a 10-game turnaround from the six-win season of 2004-05, the fourth-best in the NCAA last season. Theus sees plenty of potential as long as the Aggies keep enough air in the basketball to go around.

"Our themes for this year are going to be having a common goal, being a team, sharing the ball and play for each other," Theus said. "All of those things have to be the staple of this year's team. We have players who are proven, athletic and competent this year, and we have a chance to get pretty good."

It all starts with the 6-9 Nelson. More of a power guy, Nelson is one of several big men Theus can turn to in the post. He likes the idea of being potentially big and powerful.

"I am excited because I think we will have a strong team and we will be a lot bigger," Theus said. "I really thought the powers in the conference had size and I don't think there is going to be a bigger team in the league this season."

Nelson transferred from Prairie View A&M and sat out a year before being unleashed by Theus last season. He not only was on the All-WAC Newcomer Team, but was first-team all-league as well, finishing with 12 double-doubles. He led the Aggies in scoring and rebounding, and in steals with 48. His shooting percentage from the field (.551) was only outdone at the free-throw line (.755). All those numbers were significantly higher in league play.