Posted by Ryan Clark at 11:30AM

Texas Longhorns (1-1) vs. #25/NR Texas A&M Aggies (4-0)
Imperial Arena | Paradise Island, Bahamas
Tip: 6 P.M. CT | TV: AXS (find your channel)
Vegas: Texas A&M -3 | KenPom: Texas A&M, 74-72 (57%)

The break-up of the old Big 12 was a messy and very public affair, full of flirtation with other conferences, grandstanding, and even court orders. As often happens with bitter endings of long relationships, partners swore to never see each other again. Historic rivalries like Kansas-Mizzou, Nebraska-OU, and Texas-Texas A&M went by the wayside.

For the Longhorns and Aggies, that has meant that the teams haven’t met in basketball or football since the Texas hoops team won their final conference match-up in February of 2012. Despite friends — the media, legislators, even that random drunk at your favorite watering hole — imploring the two to get back together, the programs have held staunchly to their insistence that they just won’t do it.

With bowl games and the SEC-Big 12 Challenge not renewing the Lone Star rivalry over the last three years, it finally came down to an exempt November basketball tournament to break the ice. Sure, it’s on a channel nobody ever watches, and yes, it’s more than a thousand miles from either campus. In a sports remake of Forgetting Sarah Marshall that subs the Bahamas for Hawai’i, your personal allegiance probably dictates which school you think is Peter Bretter and which is Sarah, but the important thing is that Texas and A&M will finally be playing something again over Thanksgiving weekend.

If you hated that intro, I appreciate you sticking with me. There was another angle involving dysfunctional families coming together at Thanksgiving, but you’ll have to settle for Jason Segel. On to the hoops…

By the numbers

Billy Kennedy wants Utah to bring him two
(Photo credit: Patric Schneider/Associated Press)

Through their first four games, the Aggies have posted some eye-popping numbers. They haven’t played a team ranked higher than 242nd out of 351 Division I teams, according to Ken Pomeroy, so the Longhorns will provide the first real test for Texas A&M. Still, the Aggies managed to score in triple-digits in their first two ballgames, the first time the program had done that since the 90’s. Regardless of opponent, and even taking into account the offense-friendly rule changes, that’s still something worth noting.

In terms of raw offensive efficiency, the Aggies are currently ranked 11th in the nation, scoring 1.24 points per possession through their first four games. Their raw tempo clocks in just a hair under 75 possessions per game, while their effective field-goal percentage of 64.5% is third in the nation. That eFG is driven by a scorching three-point attack, with the Aggies draining more than 47% of their long-range attempts, and scoring nearly a third of their points from behind the arc.

To date, the only weaknesses of the Aggie offense have been ball control and free throws. Texas A&M has turned it over on 21% of their possessions, although they did manage to cough it up on just 13.4% of their possessions in their most recent game, against UNC-Asheville. From the charity stripe, the Aggies have made just 67% of their free throws, although that number is buoyed by an outlier performance against TAMU-Corpus Christi, in which the Ags made their first 22 freebies, and missed only a pair in the final minute.

Defensively, Texas A&M has been solid. It’s difficult to know how much stock to put into their defensive numbers, as they’ve played some teams that are clearly outclassed, but the eye test shows that they are well-coached. The Aggies have an adjusted defensive efficiency that is Top 25 in Division I, and they’ve forced opponents into a 23.3% turnover rate, also a number that ranks in the Top 25.

The only defensive number that has even been average through the first four games for A&M is a free-throw rate of 40.8%, meaning that the Aggies give opponents roughly two free throws for every five field goal attempts. The Longhorns are a much bigger group than any squad that Texas A&M has faced to date, so that trend is likely to continue tonight.

Meet the Aggies

Texas A&M has looked like a well-oiled machine in its first four games, thanks in large part to an August exhibition trip through Europe in which the team played four games. The Aggies have a solid mix of returning players and an excellent recruiting class, and the extra practices and competition gave the team a chance to work out the kinks.

As a result, the team already looks great on both sides of the ball. On offense, the Aggies immediately look up after closing out a defensive possession, hoping to find easy points in transition. If the defense can get back and stop Texas A&M from chalking up fast-break points, the Aggies move the ball quickly and try to catch their opponents scrambling on the secondary break. In possessions where the Aggies have to settle for half-court sets, they make smart passes to find their shooters open looks, or to set up their solid post players in good position.

That high-powered offense starts with senior transfer Anthony Collins (No. 11; 6’1″), who comes to College Station from USF. Although Collins is a quick point guard in a more traditional mold, he also can knock down the outside shot when defenders are napping on the perimeter. Collins is averaging one triple per game, and has made 66% of his limited long-range attempts this year.

With Collins at the point, that allows senior do-everything guard Alex Caruso (No. 21; 6’5″) to move to his more natural position off the ball. Caruso displayed fantastic court vision when he was the team’s point guard over the last few seasons, and he’s still making great feeds this year. Without the need to run the offense, he’s also shown an ability to get the corner and drive to the bucket, where he has a knack for finishing even the toughest of looks.

Defensively, Caruso is a pest. He consistently has his hands up to limit angles, and does a great job timing his breaks to zip into passing lanes and steal the ball. He tied for the SEC lead in steals-per-game last year, averaging an even two per contest, and his steal rate through four games is currently ranked 43rd in Division I.

Danuel House can score from anywhere on the floor
(Photo credit: Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle)

On the wing, senior Danuel House (No. 23; 6’7″) is a scoring machine. This season, he’s been more perimeter-oriented, with roughly 70% of his attempts coming from behind the arc. Although House has made more than 41% of his three-point attempts this year, his game is much more than that. House has no qualms about taking a 17-footer after getting a defender airborne on the perimeter, and has the midrange game to make them pay. His quickness and explosiveness also make him a constant threat to get to the rim when defenses pressure him at the arc.

Joining House on the wing is senior Jalen Jones (No. 12; 6’7″), who will be making his season debut tonight after sitting out four games for playing in two closed scrimmages at SMU before transferring in the fall of 2013. Texas A&M wisely scheduled four non-conference games prior to the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, allowing their slashing senior a chance to come back for the entire tournament, rather than missing a game or two of it.

Jones is expected to once again join the starting lineup, but it remains to be seen whether Coach Billy Kennedy elects to go with two traditional bigs to match the size of Texas, giving them length from positions two through five, or if Jones is slotted in as an undersized four.

If the Aggies go with a pair of 6’7″ wings, they’ll really be able to stretch the floor when Tonny Trocha-Morelos (No. 10; 6’10”) is on the court. The sophomore from Colombia was already known as a solid rebounder and a defensive presence, but he’s upped his game this year with great passing and a newfound outside threat. Trocha started all four games for the Aggies and drained 6-of-9 threes, all coming in the last three contests. On top of adding a three-point shot to his repertoire, Trocha has also posted an assist rate of nearly 25% this season with a barrage of slick high-low passes.

With Jalen Jones back from suspension, it may be freshman Tyler Davis (No. 34; 6’10”) that loses a spot in the starting lineup. Davis was part of Plano West’s state title team, and he clearly plays beyond his years. Davis has really nice footwork for a true freshman and has been able to finish through contact in his first four games. Davis definitely needs some work on his conditioning, and it still remains to be seen if he’ll be strong enough to finish against major-conference opponents, but his early performances have been impressive.

Another impressive freshman in A&M’s stellar 2015 class is DJ Hogg (No. 1; 6’8″), who was also a member of that Plano West title team with Davis. Hogg’s size and outside threat give the Aggies a ton of lineup versatility off the bench, and it makes him a tough cover. Hogg is second on the team in three-point attempts behind House, but his 47.6% success rate is tops on the squad. Even though he’s a great outside shooter, the freshman doesn’t just camp out on the perimeter, often making fantastic cuts to the rack. He’s also great at finding space on the break, and is a big reason why their transition game is so potent.

The Aggies also have a pair of reserves inside that will help them do battle with the size of the Longhorn frontcourt. Bahamian junior Tavario Miller (No. 42; 6’7″) will surely have a good crowd in attendance. Although the offense drops off considerably when he’s on the floor, Miller knows how to use his body in the post, and is a solid rebounder and defender. Freshman Elijah Thomas (No. 15; 6’9″) is still unpolished, but has shown the ability to score with both hands in the post, and will likely be a difference-maker in future seasons, once the frontcourt logjam has cleared out.

The final member of A&M’s core rotation is freshman combo guard Admon Gilder (No. 3; 6’3″). Although Gilder can run the point, with both Anthony Collins and Caruso in front of him on the depth chart, he’s mostly seen action off the ball. He’s made 47.1% of his threes this season — second-best on the team — and harasses opposing guards on the defensive end.

Keys to the Game

1. Limit transition damage – Tonight’s match-up is one between two teams that like to push the tempo, but Texas A&M has proven to be more consistent on the offensive end. Although the Aggies have yet to face tough competition, they have been much more disciplined than the Longhorns.

Let it be clear, simply stopping the transition attack won’t be enough against A&M. Their offense is well-coached and their players will find good looks in half-court sets or on the secondary break. However, if this games becomes a true track meet with transition points lighting up the scoreboard, it seems highly unlikely that Texas can keep up.

Shaka Smart saw growth in his team’s second game
(Photo credit: Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman)

2. Improve shot selection – Coach Shaka Smart told reporters on Monday that he has four categories for his team’s shots — great, good, decent, and bad. While shot selction has left quite a bit to be desired through the team’s first two games, Smart was pleased that the team took better shots in their second game.

As a result, three-point percentage went way up, and the team’s raw offensive efficiency increased by nearly 12%. The Longhorns took less shots off the dribble and found open teammates for good looks. Their assist ratio from the Washington game to the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi game jumped from roughly 25% to more than 56%. That wasn’t only a reflection on the level of opponent; team basketball and improved shot selection played a huge role.

Texas A&M plays sound defense that makes it difficult for opponents to penetrate, and they will spring traps when the ball is moved to bad positions on the floor. Couple their frustrating defense with the likelihood that this game is played at a very high tempo, and it would be very easy for the Longhorns to again fall into the trap of taking quick, poor shots. To keep up with an efficient Texas A&M team, the Longhorns must build upon their most recent performance, and avoid regressing to the type of isolation basketball they played in Shanghai.

3. Steal possessions – The trademark of Shaka Smart basketball is stingy defense that generates extra possessions and easy buckets for his offense. Through the first two games, the Longhorns haven’t relied on much high-pressure defense, but have still managed to post a respectable 20.2% turnover mark.

A few miles down the road, the Aggies coughed up quite a few possessions in their first three games, with many of the errors unforced. Although Texas A&M can make Texas pay if they over-extend on defense, the opportunity is certainly there for the Longhorns to eke out a few extra possessions by winning the turnover battle. If the Longhorns can apply pressure at the right times and force Texas A&M into making its usual type of mistakes, they should be able to stay in this game and be in a position to move into the winner’s bracket.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 12:16PM

Texas Longhorns 70, Texas A&M Aggies 68

The Longhorns finally got the monkey off their back, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Texas was 0-7 in games decided by two possessions or less this season, having left a handful of opportunities for quality wins sitting on the table. Monday night, the Longhorns learned from those past mistakes and came up with big plays in the clutch, hanging on for a narrow two-point win at Reed Arena.

As Texas heads down the homestretch of the season, the magnitude of each game grows. Unfortunately, simply winning games might not be enough to get the Longhorns into the NCAA Tournament for a 14th-consecutive year. They must win the right games, and avoiding losing to the wrong teams.

Myck Kabongo celebrated a key victory for Texas
(Photo credit: Pat Sullivan/Associated Press)

Even though last night’s victory came on the road against a talented A&M team, the unforgiving RPI numbers mean that Texas doesn’t get credit for a good win, only for avoiding a bad loss. The Aggies owned an RPI ranking of 145th coming into the game, and the Longhorns already have one loss against teams ranked below 100, having fallen in overtime to Oregon State early in the year. Another loss to the RPI 100+ group would have further weakened an already flimsy résumé.

What looked good

The Longhorns had one of their best offensive performances of the season against the Aggies, scoring 1.169 points per possession. It was the second-best output for an Aggie opponent this season, only ranking behind a 1.222 PPP performance by the Florida Gators in a 20-point blowout of A&M back in December.

Texas found success by being aggressive and moving the ball well. J’Covan Brown, Myck Kabongo, and Sheldon McClellan put the ball on the floor and attacked the paint, getting good midrange looks and setting up teammates under the hoop with timely assists.

McClellan had his best game of the year, scoring 15 points on 45% shooting. He was exceptionally hot in the first half and as a result, he took a few questionable shots. At that point, though, everything was going down for the freshman. With Kabongo having an unfortunate tendency to disappear at times or to get himself into foul trouble, Texas desperately needs a third offensive threat to step up and compliment Brown. If McClellan can continue to attack and play aggressively the rest of the year, the Longhorn offense will be much more effective.

Brown also had a fantastic game, leading all scorers with 20 points on 67% shooting. He was a perfect 4-for-4 from beyond the arc, taking his shots off of good feeds or after coming around screens on the perimeter. When Brown doesn’t try to create his own outside looks, he finds much more success from long range. With the Aggie defense having to work harder to limit his outside looks, Brown continued to slice up the D with penetration, adding seven assists as he drew the help inside.

Brown’s dribble penetration also gave Texas the game winning basket, as he came off a screen on the perimeter and drove the left side of the lane. Clint Chapman provided an excellent seal on the help trying to rotate across the paint, and Brown was able to easily lay it in for the deciding points.

Off the bench, freshman Jaylen Bond led everyone with eight boards. He was especially important on the offensive glass in the first half, as it seemed at times that he was the only Longhorn crashing the boards on missed shots. Considering that only Bond, McClellan, and Alexis Wangmene logged any offensive rebounds, that might not have been far from the truth. Bond’s hard work inside led to four key points on putbacks.

In addition to being one of only three Longhorns to earn a second chance for the team, Wangmene did well inside in the early minutes. The guards were finding him when the defense collapsed on their drives, and he was doing a much better job than usual at corralling the passes and finishing. Wangmene finished with 10 points on 80% shooting, and came up with a big-time stop on David Loubeau in the final minute that forced a turnover to help ice the game.

What needed work

Other than that last-minute stand, the Texas defense wasn’t that stout on the inside. Fortunately, the Aggies were hitting just about every mid-range and three-point shot they took, so they didn’t focus on their advantage inside.

When Loubeau would actually receive entry passes on the block, he was practically impossible to stop. What Texas did succeed in doing was forcing him away from the lane prior to receiving those feeds. That’s half the battle, so now the Longhorns — particularly Wangmene and Bond — just need to make their defense more consistent and effective in post-up situations.

Chapman and the Texas bigs were in constant foul trouble
(Photo credit: Pat Sullivan/Associated Press)

As a result of the problems in the paint, the Texas forwards were in constant foul trouble. Chapman saw only 12 minutes of action, having picked up two fouls before the first media timeout had even occurred. The good thing is that for the first time, the other Longhorn bigs stepped up without No. 53 on the court. Even though the whistles caused a revolving door of Texas forwards, Bond, Wangmene, and Jonathan Holmes all made key contributions to the win.

Although the Aggies shot 50% from the field — well above their season average — you can’t complain too much about the Texas defense outside of those low post problems. A&M’s players hit some tough shots with little separation from the defense, and it seemed like every shot they took found the bottom of the net. On some nights, that is just going to be the case, so it was fortuitous timing on the Longhorns’ part to have such an excellent offensive night themselves.

Texas also had some issues boxing out on the defensive end in the first half, giving up four points on a pair of putbacks, one of which turned into a three-point play. The Longhorns tightened up on the defensive glass, however, limiting the Aggies to just six total offensive boards and an offensive rebounding mark of just 30%.

The big picture

As we’ve already mentioned, this win isn’t one that’s going to move the needle for Texas. The Longhorns are at a point where now they must simply stockpile wins against the easier back half of their league schedule, while hopefully grabbing one or two against the remaining top-notch opponents.

The victory gives the Horns their first two-game winning streak since the first week of conference play. Fans have to hope that this gives the team some momentum heading into an incredibly important game against Kansas State on Saturday. While the Wildcats have been slipping lately, they still provide one of just five remaining opportunities for the Longhorns to earn another Top 100 RPI win during the regular season.

Next up: vs. Kansas State (16-6 overall, 5-5 Big 12); Saturday, 1 P.M. CT

Posted by Ryan Clark at 1:17PM

Texas Longhorns (14-9 overall, 4-6 Big 12) at Texas A&M Aggies (12-10, 3-7)
Reed Arena | College Station, TX | Tip: 8 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN
LRT Consecutive Game #210

With just 34 days to Selection Sunday, the margin for error is razor thin for the Texas Longhorns. Five of the team’s remaining eight games come against squads that are even with or below them in the standings, although four of those come on the road. Had Texas actually come up with a victory in one of the many close contests they had with the league’s top teams, it could afford a stumble down the stretch. Instead, the Longhorns will have to turn into road warriors over these last four weeks of the regular season.

The first of those road tests comes tonight, in the form of the Texas A&M Aggies. Reed Arena has been a tough place for the Longhorns to win, with last year’s victory being the first in College Station in the team’s last seven trips. While Texas A&M has struggled with injuries and transfers this season, the Aggies have been a resilient bunch, and you can be sure that the fans will be loud for what will be the last regular-season meeting between these two rivals for quite some time.

Meet the Aggies
For an in-depth look at Texas A&M’s players, stats, and styles, check out the LRT game preview from the first meeting between these two teams.

J’Covan Brown was slowed by an ankle injury against A&M
(Photo credit: Michael Thomas/Associated Press)

The first game

Foul trouble for Myck Kabongo and a gimpy ankle for J’Covan Brown only made the stifling A&M defense even tougher when these teams met at the Erwin Center on January 11th. The Longhorns managed just two field goals in the first ten minutes of the game, yet still held a lead for much of the first half. Julien Lewis ended up leading Texas in scoring, having his best game of the season with 16 points on a 6-of-10 line, including a perfect 3-for-3 mark behind the arc.

A&M’s Ray Turner battled foul trouble for much of the game, earning the DQ in only 10 minutes on the floor. That left David Loubeau and Keith Davis as the only frontcourt threats for the Aggies, and Texas took advantage. Loubeau was held to just 10 points, while Davis was skunked, and Texas’ pairing of Clint Chapman and Alexis Wangmene combined for 16 points, nine rebounds, and two blocks.

The first meeting between these two teams was painfully slow. With just 61 possessions, it was the second-slowest contest for Texas all season, with only the UCLA game having a more lethargic tempo. The Aggies average just 63.4 possessions per game, one of the 50 slowest rates in the nation. The Longhorns aren’t much quicker, checking in at 65.7 per game. Big 10 fans will be thrilled with tonight’s contest, which will likely be another brutal, slow-down affair.

Since then…

If Texas A&M’s season weren’t already rough enough, the Aggies have had to deal with even more injuries in Big 12 play. Khris Middleton has missed the last four games as his knee injury has flared up, and he will be inactive again tonight. Senior point guard Dash Harris hurt his ankle just before half of the game against Kansas, and has missed the three games since then. He will also miss tonight’s game, according to coach Billy Kennedy.

Despite the injuries, the Aggies have been very competitive over the last two weeks. Without Middleton and with Harris hobbled for half the game, A&M fought the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse until the final minutes. The Aggies also had a home win over Baylor within their grasp last Wednesday, but lost the lead and the game in the final seconds.

Although Texas A&M has posted a 3-4 record since playing Texas in Austin, the Aggies have actually looked better over the last two weeks. With just seven players left in the core rotation, it seems like this bunch has rallied together to play its best basketball with its back against the wall.

Daniel Alexander has stepped up for the Aggies
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

A big part of the team’s ability to compete without its two leaders is the emergence of freshman Daniel Alexander (No. 20), who has stepped up over the last two weeks. After averaging just 5.4 minutes in the team’s first 18 games, the freshman has seen his average increase to 26 minutes in the last four contests. At 6’9″, Alexander boasts a three-point threat that helps to spread the floor for Texas A&M. In the team’s two impressive performances against Kansas and Baylor, Alexander made a big impact with 6-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc.

Keys to the game

1) Attack the paint – The Longhorns won the battle for points in the paint the first time these teams met, outscoring the Aggies 20-12 in the lane. Although the Aggie defense did a good job pressuring beyond the perimeter, the Longhorns were still able to get a piece of the paint on the bounce and find teammates down low for good looks. With the Aggie roster even more thin this time around, that aggressiveness is not only important to earn easy points, but also to put the small A&M rotation in foul trouble.

With Brown back to full health, we’ll likely see much more dribble penetration this time around. If Kabongo can also avoid the frustration fouls that put him on the bench in the first game, the Texas guards could be the key to earning a road win tonight.

2) Crash the glass – Texas A&M did an excellent job on the boards in the first game, limiting a Texas team that has been quite good at reclaiming its missed shots. The Longhorns typically grab 39.7% of their missed shots, but were able to get to just 23.1% of their offensive board opportunities against the Aggies. In a game that will likely have very few possessions, Texas has to maximize the value of every single one. Extending possessions with offensive boards and earning easy points on putbacks will be key to grinding out a victory over A&M.

3) Own the perimeter – While rebounds will be incredibly important in a low-possession game, three-pointers will also be huge. It’s likely that this game finishes in the 50’s or low 60’s, so the boost of a three-point bucket in this game will be even more valuable. Alexander adds an extra three-point threat that the Aggies didn’t have when the teams met in Austin, while Elston Turner is always dangerous from long range. He went just 2-for-7 in the first meeting, which would be an acceptable line for the Longhorns to allow tonight. If he, Alexander, or Naji Hibbert suddenly get the hot hand, Texas could be in serious trouble. The Longhorns don’t necessarily need to chase shooters off the perimeter, but they do need to be in position to at least challenge all of those outside looks.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 7:23AM

Texas Longhorns 61, Texas A&M Aggies 51

For two unranked teams with just one combined win in four conference games, there was a lot on the line for Texas and A&M on Wednesday night at the Erwin Center. The Longhorns desperately needed a win before starting a brutal six-game stretch, while the Aggies were reeling and needed a victory to simply stop the bleeding. Add in the approaching end to the 95-year basketball rivalry between the two schools, and you end up with a number of interesting subplots adding a great deal of gravity to the game.

Myck Kabongo picked up too many frustration fouls
(Photo credit: Michael Thomas/Associated Press)

With all that to play for, the game still turned out to be very ugly. The Longhorns made just two field goals in the first ten minutes of the game, yet managed to hold a lead for much of the first half. Although it wasn’t pretty, a true team effort for the young Horns added up to a key victory over A&M on Wednesday night. Not only did it provide Texas with a crucial league win in a season where the team will be sweating the bubble, but it also ensured that the Longhorns would hold on to their nine-game home winning streak over their in-state rivals as the series goes dormant next year.

The first twenty minutes of basketball were downright difficult to watch. The Aggies successfully slowed the pace of the game, which ended with just 61 possessions. With fewer scoring opportunities, the missed shots were even more noticeable. J’Covan Brown was still gimpy as he recovered from an ankle injury suffered a week earlier, while Myck Kabongo spent more than half the game on the bench with foul trouble. His two early fouls were especially infuriating for Longhorn fans, as they both came right after he had turned the ball over. With a thin bench, the freshman will have to learn not to compound his mistakes by committing frustration fouls.

Without the two facilitators kick-starting the offense, Texas really struggled. A&M hedged hard on ball screens, forcing the limping Brown to try to start sets 30 feet from the rim. While the Texas defense kept things close throughout the first half, a true team effort on offense put the Horns in a position to win. Sheldon McClellan would attack the rim or make a big play, then Julien Lewis would step up a few possessions later. Jonathan Holmes even ripped down a few big rebounds despite only seeing the court for 14 minutes.

Clint Chapman and Alexis Wangmene stepped up
(Photo credit: Jay Janner/American-Statesman)

The Longhorns also got some big minutes in the second half from their pair of much-maligned big men. Both Alexis Wangmene and Clint Chapman logged clutch blocks as the Longhorns went on a second-half run, with each swat coming in help situations on the other forward’s man.

Wangmene only played 19 minutes, but had an old-fashioned three-point play that swung the momentum in the second half. Chapman, meanwhile, finished with 11 points, seven boards, and picked up two charges. He knocked down a midrange jumper and had another one pop out after going halfway down. While these two guys are never going to be on the level of the bigs from Kansas or Baylor, Chapman’s strong recent efforts and Wangmene’s flashes of solid play are something to be optimistic about early in the conference slate.

Despite his injury, J’Covan Brown also had an excellent game. He couldn’t blow past defenders thanks to the sore ankle, but he simply played smart basketball. He had his first three shots blocked, but then adjusted his approach and managed to finish with 16 points. Brown used the hesitation dribble to perfection in the second half, probing the defense, waiting for their reaction, and then reading it before attacking again or finding a teammate. On a night where he shot just 16.7% from the field, J’Covan earned ten trips to the line and made every single free throw.

With Brown unable to create good looks for himself, he put his teammates in a position to score. The junior finished with six assists, but easily could have cracked double digits if it weren’t for bobbled passes and the constant fouls down low when he would find someone open. Two of Brown’s most impressive plays came on passes well away from the basket. On the first, he found McClellan for an alley-oop when he was standing closer to half court than the perimeter. The second came as Texas was putting on a second-half surge, when Brown shot a laser pass from the backcourt to find an open Chapman for a dunk in transition.

Julien Lewis finally broke out of his slump
(Photo credit: Michael Thomas/Associated Press)

The Longhorns also finally had another great game from freshman Julien Lewis, who has had a very streaky season. He led the team with 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including a perfect 3-for-3 mark behind the arc. In his five games prior to the A&M one, Lewis was just 22% from the field and 16.7% from the field. To add insult to injury, he also crunched his hand in a car door in the middle of his slump, forcing him to miss the New Year’s Eve game against Rice. If Lewis can stay hot, the Longhorns might surprise someone and pull off an upset during this tough three-week stretch.

The one consistent storyline this season has been the team’s pursuit of a 14th-consecutive NCAA bid. Rick Barnes and the Longhorns have been a March Madness staple, one of only six teams who have made the field in each of the last 13 seasons, but that streak is in jeopardy this year. Texas failed to build a solid résumé in non-conference play, blowing games against Oregon State and N.C. State in New Jersey. A win over UCLA in Los Angeles has lost its luster thanks to the disappointing season for the Bruins, but Texas’ home win over Temple at least gives them one quality victory.

That weak non-conference profile means that Texas will have to make a case by winning games in a tough Big 12. If you consider 20 wins the magic number for NCAA inclusion — and even that is no guarantee — the Longhorns must win 10 games in a Big 12 where every team is competitive, even a rebuilding Texas Tech program. Wednesday night’s win over A&M isn’t going to steal any headlines or punch a ticket to the Big Dance, but in a season where the Longhorns will be counting every single W, it was one they simply had to have.

Up next: at #9/9 Missouri (15-1 overall, 2-1 Big 12); 12 P.M. CT, Saturday

Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:13AM

Texas A&M Aggies (9-5 overall, 0-2 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (11-4, 1-1)
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.

Coach Kennedy is frustrated by A&M’s offense
(Photo credit: Pat Sullivan/Associated Press)

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.

Ray Turner is an agile, high-scoring forward
(Photo credit: Pat Sullivan/Associated Press)

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.

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