Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 8 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN2
LRT Consecutive Game #202
The past two summers have been a blur of rumors and news reports surrounding the massive wave of realignment hitting conferences from coast to coast. Two years ago, the Big 12 was on the verge of collapse after Colorado and Nebraska departed and four other league members weighed an exodus to what was then the Pac-10. This summer and fall, the league saw more changes with the SEC’s addition of Texas A&M and Missouri and the Big 12′s own inclusion of West Virginia and TCU. Elsewhere, the Big East expanded from one ocean to the other, while losing two of its basketball powerhouses to the ACC.
The unfortunate byproduct of this Conferencegeddon is the loss of historic rivalries. It appears all but certain that the Border War between Kansas and Missouri is now confined to the history books, while the long-standing series between Texas A&M and Texas is dead for the foreseeable future. Tonight marks the last time that the state’s two flagship schools will meet on the hardwood of the Frank Erwin Center for quite some time.
Beyond the historical implications, this game is huge for both teams. When you look beyond the bragging rights, it becomes apparent that both squads have to face this game as a “must win.” The Aggies are struggling, dropping their first two conference games after being picked by coaches to win the league title in the preseason. The offense is scuttling and the season is in danger of spinning down the drain if the Aggies cannot right the ship tonight.
The Longhorns, meanwhile, follow tonight’s game with a brutal six-game stretch that includes road trips to Missouri, Kansas State, and Baylor and home games against Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa State. The Bears, Tigers, and Jayhawks are three of the league’s best teams, if not its three best. Iowa State, meanwhile, surprised Texas in Ames and shellacked the Aggies in College Station. Even with solid performances, there is a very real possibility that the Longhorns could could still just get one or two wins during that stretch. If they can’t secure a win against A&M tonight before heading into that buzzsaw, it could be a very long conference season.
By the numbers
Texas A&M is having a lot of difficulty putting the ball into the basket, especially now that conference play has begun. The Aggies are in the bottom 100 of Division I hoops when it comes to adjusted offensive efficiency, scoring just 0.955 points per possession. In their two conference losses to Baylor and Iowa State, the offense is even worse, putting in just 0.773 points each time down the court.
A big part of this problem is the team’s reliance on long-range jumpers, with many of them coming from the “danger zone” just inside the arc. Those shots from 17 to 20 feet are nearly as tough as three-pointers, yet offer just the same amount of points as a layup. In addition to being an inefficient strategic choice, the reliance on long jumpers also produces less trips to the line. As a result, Texas A&M has one of the twenty worst free-throw rates in the country, taking just over one free throw for every four field goal attempts.
What keeps A&M in games is their stifling defense. The team’s adjusted defensive efficiency numbers are 35th best in the country according to Ken Pomeroy, built upon the strength of great team defense and rebounding. The Aggies have the perimeter absolutely locked down, with opponents making just 26.4% of their attempts, the 8th-best defensive mark in Division I. When opponents miss, the Aggies limit them to reclaiming just 27.7% of their misses, making them one of the 30 best defensive rebounding teams in the land.
Meet the Aggies
Coach Billy Kennedy has seen his bench shrink over the last few weeks, as big man Kourtney Roberson (No. 32) has been sidelined by an ankle injury, and freshman guard Jamal Branch elected to transfer to St. John’s. That leaves the Aggies with a core rotation of eight players, although Kennedy will likely use senior transfer Zach Kinsley (No. 23) and freshman Daniel Alexander (No. 20) for at least a few minutes each.
The Aggies are led by senior Dash Harris (No. 5), a true point guard. Harris doesn’t have a good jump shot and doesn’t often attack the rim, but he brings lockdown defense to the perimeter and facilitates the offense in the half-court sets. When Dash does drive the lane, he prefers to dish it to open teammates as the defense collapses, as evidenced by his season averages of 4.2 assists and 5.4 points per game.
Joining him in the backcourt is Elston Turner (No. 31), a Houston native who transferred to A&M from Washington. Turner brings the team its only true long-range threat, and he leads the Aggies with a 39.7% mark from behind the arc. Elston can also create by putting the ball on the floor, and has been the team’s most consistent scorer in what has been an anemic offensive year. Turner averages 13.3 points per game and is one of the team’s only good free throw shooters, knocking down more than 80% of his attempts.
Junior Khris Middleton (No. 22) is still working his way back from an early-season knee injury, so it’s been tough for him to match the numbers of his breakout sophomore season. Still, he’s managed to become the team’s second-leading scorer with 12.6 points per game. When Middleton slashes from the wings, he’s incredibly tough to defend. Unfortunately, his jumper is accurate from all over the floor, so teams can’t simply sag off to take away the drive. At 6’7″, he also provides solid rebounding from the wings, and is actually second on the team with five boards per game.
Inside, senior David Loubeau (No. 10) has a solid face-up game with a good jump shot that he can pop at a moment’s notice. The 6’8″ forward uses the threat of that jumper to stretch out the floor a bit, but still chips in nearly five rebounds a night. Alexis Wangmene has had issues defending face-up forwards, while Clint Chapman has been rather inconsistent against all types of opponents. This could turn out to be one of the key match-ups in the game.
Loubeau’s frontcourt sidekick is Ray Turner (No. 35) a 6’9″ junior from Houston. He’s really smooth with the ball for a big guy, so don’t be surprised when he shows off some nice, quick spin moves from the block. Turner also is the team’s best rebounder, ripping down 6.6 boards per contest, and is third on the team with 11.4 points per game. Just as with Loubeau, how the Horns handle Turner inside will have a big impact on this game.
Freshman Jordan Green (No. 13) is getting some extra playing time with Branch’s departure at midseason, and he’s now averaging more than 18 minutes per game. At 6’4″, Green is a freakish athlete with a great vertical, but it’s taken some time for him to adjust to playing at the college level. His shot was really ugly for the first few weeks of the season, while he’s had a consistent issue with hanging on tho the ball. His 27.3% turnover rate is by far the worst of the core rotation.
Junior wingman Naji Hibbert (No. 2) is having a tough time making shots this year, which is bad news for a guy who isn’t known as a penetrator. Hibbert has taken more than a third of his shots from behind the arc, but is shooting an abysmal 13.3% from long range. The Longhorns can definitely shade off of Hibbert when he’s on the court, perhaps making it a little easier to limit the Aggies inside.
The Aggies also have a solid center on the bench in Keith Davis (No. 4). He has yet to make a major offensive impact in his first year and a half at A&M, but has been a rebounding machine so far this season. Despite playing less than 16 minutes per game, Davis is averaging more than four boards per game, posting an incredible 20.1% mark on the defensive glass. If Davis had played just five more minutes so far this season, his defensive rebounding percentage would rank him among the top 150 players in the country.
Keys to the game
1) Crash the glass – The Aggie offense has been particularly bad in recent weeks, but the only thing keeping them from being downright abysmal has been an ability to earn second-chance points. Texas A&M reclaims nearly 35% of their missed shots, while the Longhorns have been near the bottom when it comes to defensive rebounding. When a team is struggling on offense, often a few easy buckets is all it takes to build some confidence. The Longhorns cannot afford to give A&M unchallenged putbacks, and they must limit second-chance points.
2) Attack with the dribble – If J’Covan Brown is back to full speed in this game, it will be even easier for the Longhorns to penetrate against the Aggies. If not, Myck Kabongo, Sterling Gibbs, and Sheldon McClellan will have to shoulder the load. Texas A&M has played sound defense all season, but they have shown lapses when faced with quick, driving guards. Iowa State’s Scott Christopherson repeatedly found his way to the rim on Saturday, so Texas fans will have to hope their guards can do the same tonight.
3) Avoid foul trouble – The Aggies have an advantage in the frontcourt tonight, one that will only be strengthened if the thin Longhorn roster is constrained by foul difficulties. Chapman, Wangmene, Jonathan Holmes, and Jaylen Bond are going to have their hands full on defense tonight, so they cannot afford to give up cheap fouls. Bond wasted a few of his personals on the offensive end in the loss to Iowa State, so he and the other Longhorn forwards must be more careful tonight.