The Big Blue Nation welcomes the Texas A&M Aggies to historic Rupp Arena today for their first game as an SEC team. Texas A&M is coached by Billy Kennedy, former Murray St. Racers coach in his second year at TAMU
One other thing that TAMU and UK have in common is former coach Billy Gillispie, who was head coach at TAMU before being lured to UK. I'll just leave that right here.
Here's the team comparison via Statsheet.com
|Rank and Records||TAMU||UK|
|Strength of Schedule||#96||#55|
|RPI Top 50||2-1||0-4|
Texas A&M and Kentucky have met only rarely over the long and distinguished history of UK basketball. The last time the two teams met was in the UKIT back in 1978, and were again facing the Wildcats as a defending national champion. TAMU prevailed in that game, ranked #11 at the time and the Wildcats ranked 17th.
Overall, Kentucky is 2-1 against the Aggies.
MR= Major Reserve
Elston Turner is TAMU's best player and leading scorer. He averages over 15 points per game, and is a good 3-point shooter at 43%. If you think you have heard his name before, he used to play for the Washington Huskies before transferring to A&M after the 2010 season.
Ray Turner (no relation to Elston) is the leading rebounder for the Aggies at 6.7 per game.
The Wildcats are a better shooting and ballhandling team, but not by a lot. TAMU is a slightly better offensive rebounding team, which can be said about almost every team in America versus Kentucky.
Overall, neither team has a big advantage in the Four Factors.
On paper, Kentucky should be a significant favorite at home. Kentucky is not a great offensive team, particularly lately, but the Aggies are even less efficient than the Wildcats. The Aggies are a better 3-point shooting team, but Kentucky is significantly better close to the basket. In their last game, a victory against the Arkansas Razorbacks, TAMU only managed an offensive efficiency of 109, but they were very efficient defensively at 81.
Texas A&M has an advantage on the glass, particularly offensive rebounding, but Kentucky is the better defensive rebounding team. How the rebounding battle shakes out will have a lot to do with the overall outcome of the game. Neither team turns the ball over a lot, despite Kentucky's struggles versus Vanderbilt.
Defensively, Kentucky is vastlly superior. A&M is ranked only 128th in defensive efficiency, where Kentucky is ranked 4th in the nation. A&M shoots free throws better at 70%, so if this becomes a free throw shooting contest, the Aggies will have an advantage
Overall, Kentucky is and should be favored to win this game, but the Aggies are much better than Vanderbilt, and we saw what almost happened there. If Kentucky plays solid basketball like they did in the first half at Vandy, and takes better care of the ball, they should put themselves firmly in control of the ball game.
The real question is, can Kentucky avoid the problems that the zone has presented. Kennedy does not like to zone, and probably won't unless Kentucky gets a significant lead, but if he does try to use it due to UK's recent struggles scoring on a zone, we'll see if Calipari has finally figured out how to get this team to deal with it effectively.
In summary, I like Kentucky in this game, but Texas A&M is fully capable of defeating them in Rupp Arena, and although they are not as good as the Baylor Bears, they are big and athletic enough to play with Kentucky at every level. Kentucky really needs a good performance in this game for all kinds of reasons, and if they fail to deliver, this could be the beginning of a very long conference season.