|Texas A&M Aggies (15-4 overall, 1-3 Big 12) at #14/15 Texas Longhorns (13-4, 2-1)|
Tip: 7 PM CST | TV: ESPNU
The Longhorns return to action tonight when they host the hated Aggies in an early conference game that has significant implications for both teams. Texas A&M is finishing a tough five game stretch against the league’s top teams, and a loss would drop them a full four games behind conference leader Oklahoma. Meanwhile, Texas has played inconsistently as of late, alternating wins and losses in its last four games. If they hope to contend for a Big 12 title and a favorable NCAA draw, the Longhorns will need to start stringing together wins.
Conference play has been tough on the Aggies
(Photo credit: Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)
By the numbers
Coach Billy Gillispie led Texas A&M out of basketball irrelevance and into the national consciousness with a brand of hard-nosed, physical basketball. The Aggies were constantly ranked in the upper echelons of the NCAAs in defensive metrics, and they often won ugly games in the 50-point range. This Aggie team, under second-year Coach Mark Turgeon, is still playing a slower style of basketball. But the defense that often carried the Gillispie teams is no longer present.
The Aggies are averaging under 65 possessions a game, which puts them in the bottom third of the country in tempo. Texas is not much faster at 67.4 per contest, so neither team will be trying to force the other into a different brand of basketball. However, the Longhorns are a more efficient team than the Aggies on both sides of the ball. Unless Texas A&M is able to increase their number of possessions through offensive rebounding or forcing turnovers, Texas wins this game on paper.
If you were to look at raw rebounding numbers, it would seem that the Aggies are a strong rebounding team that dominates on the glass. After all, they have outrebounded opponents by over four boards per game. But against quality competition, Texas A&M is struggling to win the battle. They are being slightly outrebounded in conference play, and were even dominated 20-5 in the first half against a marginal Arizona team back in December. For a Longhorns squad that is winning the battle on the boards by more than five per game, this could be an area to exploit in tonight’s contest.
The starting five
The leading scorer for Texas A&M is swingman Josh Carter, who is an absolutely deadly long-range threat. While he has never matched his ridiculous sophomore season, when he tied for the national lead by hitting 50% from behind the arc, Carter still makes 38% of his attempts. But despite his solid stroke, the senior has been frustrated in conference play, averaging less than 10 points per contest, including a goose egg against Oklahoma State. He has lit the Longhorns up in the past, so Texas certainly cannot afford to sleep on Carter in this one. But if he fails to revert to his early-season form, it could be a long night for the Aggies.
At the point is heady junior Donald Sloan. While he spent much of last year being saddled with the unrealistic expectations Acie Law had left behind in College Station, Sloan still provided enough steady leadership to get Texas A&M within a shot of the Sweet Sixteen. Unfortunately for the floor general, there’s no true go-to guy in this offense and the Aggies can go very long stretches of time without a basket. Early in games against both Kansas and Oklahoma State, Texas A&M struggled to put any points on the board, and it is difficult for Sloan to carry the team on his own. When he does try to press and do things by himself, it often results in dumb turnovers. If Sloan can keep his head on straight and control the basketball, the Aggies will have a good shot in tonight’s game.
While Texas A&M lacks that one stand-out player, they are enjoying quality contributions from their post players. Bryan Davis is having a great year, averaging over ten points and six rebounds per game. He’s also added to his arsenal of post moves and can now score just about every way possible within a few feet of the bucket. Chinemelu Elonu has also made great strides this year, becoming a much more important part of the offense. He logged a career-high 20 points against Oklahoma State in the conference opener, and leads the team in double-doubles.
Derrick Roland is another long-range threat for Coach Turgeon, but his true specialty is lock-down defense. While Texas A&M’s main weakness this year has been giving up the three-pointer, the Longhorns have failed to find any true gunners beyond A.J. Abrams. If Roland is able to neutralize Texas’ main three-point weapon, this one glaring weakness in the A&M defense will likely go unexposed.
B.J. Holmes is making waves off the bench
(Photo credit: Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)
Off the bench
Sophomore guard B.J. Holmes is making huge contributions off the bench, and is easily my pick for Sixth Man of the Year in the Big 12 Conference. He’s a very quick guard who can attack the rim, but his 38% accuracy from behind the arc makes it dangerous for teams to sag off of him. When the Aggies are having trouble scoring with their experienced starting five, Holmes is usually the man providing the spark and pushing the issue. The Longhorns will certainly have their hands full trying to contain this kid.
If freshmen Dash Harris and David Loubeau are any indication of the talent that Turgeon is going to be bringing to College Station over the next few years, Aggie fans have a lot to look forward to. Like Holmes, Harris is a very quick guard who can turn on that burst of speed at a moment’s notice. He’s still having trouble with decision making, but as he gains experience in conference play, he will be a very valuable weapon off the bench.
Loubeau is a very lanky, highly-touted forward from Miami who won two national championships with his AAU team. He still needs to bulk up if he’s going to withstand the rigors of Big 12 play, but his hook shot and short- to mid-range game mean that he is going to be a tough match-up for many forwards who aren’t used to defending players like him.
The final word
By all indications, this is a home game that the Longhorns should win. They are statistically better in virtually every category, and home court advantage in college basketball is huge. The only danger is that Texas has had a tendency to play down to the level of their opponent this season, so they could easily let Texas A&M hang around for far too long. And against an Aggie team that beat Arizona in the final seconds and tied Alabama in the last second before winning in overtime, that’s a risk that Texas cannot afford to take.
The Longhorns must come out early and put points on the board to keep A&M and their struggling offense at a manageable distance. They will need to continue their solid rebounding, and should look to force mistakes by point guard Sloan in order to collect easy transition buckets.
There are still a few tickets left for this one, which are only available for purchase in person at the Erwin Center box office. If you can’t manage to make it to the Drum, however, be sure to tune into ESPNU for all the action.