Following a disappointing Big East Tournament, the UConn Huskies hope the NCAA Tournament goes a bit better for the team.
UConn (23-9) earned a No. 5 seed in the West Region and will play No. 12 New Mexico State (26-6) in the first round on Thursday in Buffalo, New York.
The Huskies are making back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 2011-12. The Aggies earned the WAC's automatic bid by capturing the conference tournament with a 66-52 victory over Abilene Christian in Las Vegas last Saturday.
New Mexico State hasn't won an NCAA Tournament game since 1993, going one-and-done in its last 11 appearances. The Aggies did defeat fellow Big Dance participant Davidson (No. 10 seed in the West Region) in the Myrtle Beach Invitational back in November.
UConn has a rich history in the NCAA Tournament, including four national championships but the Huskies have made just two appearances since winning it all in 2014. Last year, UConn was seeded seventh and upset by 63-54 by No. 10 Maryland in the first round.
Thursday will be the first meeting between the two teams.
West Region: No. 12 New Mexico State Aggies (26-6) vs. No. 5 UConn Huskies (23-9)
Time: Thursday, March 17 at 6:50 p.m. ET
Where: KeyBank Center (Buffalo, N.Y.)
Spread: UConn -6.5
Keys for New Mexico State
New Mexico State is a team that depends on its close-range shooting. The Aggies are only averaging 33 percent from beyond the arc. Don't count on New Mexico State to knock down shots even against a UConn team that has been inconsistent when it comes to defending 3-pointers.
On the flip side, the Aggies are excellent on defense. Opponents are shooting 45.5 percent against New Mexico State, which is 20th in the nation.
UConn can struggle at times offensively, so this is an area that New Mexico State can take advantage of. If the Aggies hunker down defensively inside, this will force the Huskies to take long-range shots throughout the game.
Keys for UConn
Defense also is UConn's specialty as the team is fifth in opponents' shooting percentage on two-point field goals at 42.8 percent. The Huskies will need to use their size and strength to overcome a New Mexico State team that is just as physical as they are.
Whichever team controls the glass could determine the outcome. Both UConn and NMSU are in the top 15 nationally in rebounding margin with both averaging 38 or more per game.
The Huskies will place much of their focus on containing Aggies guard Teddy Allen, who is averaging 19.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
Both UConn and New Mexico State are athletic, aggressive and attacking teams. The most significant difference between them is how each team scores.
The Aggies' offense is built around a primary scorer, Teddy Allen. The Huskies have three guys who average double-digit points in R.J. Cole, Adama Sanogo and Tyrese Martin. UConn's depth will be the difference in a challenging game against teams that are mirror images of each other.
Prediction: UConn 67, New Mexico State 63
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.