Comes now to Rupp Arena the Texas A&M Aggies, newcomers to the SEC. The Aggies have made quite an impact in football, but in basketball, their main impression in basketball was embarrassing Kentucky at home last season. I don't think that's likely to repeat itself this year, but you have to take every opponent as seriously as though they were the best team in the league. Otherwise, you suffer embarrassments, like the Villanova Wildcats' loss to Creighton. Creighton is a worthy team, but you have to defend your house.
Similarly, Kentucky must defend Rupp Arena, and even if Texas A&M is no Creighton, they are 3-1 in the SEC, just as good as Kentucky. As such, the Wildcats cannot afford to take them lightly.
About Texas A&M
- Location: College Station, Texas
- Conference: SEC
- Head Coach: Billy Kennedy (since 2011, formerly at Murray St.)
- NCAA Appearances: 12
- Most recent NCAA appearance: 2011
- Most recent NCAA win: 2010
- Founded: 1876
- Enrollment: 36,418
- Last season's record 18-14 overall, 7-10 conference
- Current RPI: 115
Source: Basketball State
Season so far:
- Season record: 12-5 (3-1 SEC)
Texas A&M had a very easy pre-conference season. Essentially, they beat up on teams they were supposed to beat, except for Missouri St., who beat them on a neutral court. There is no shame to the loss to SMU, or to Oklahoma, both solid top 50 teams, but the inexplicable loss by 20 points to North Texas on their home floor stands as a stark reminder that this team is not as good as their record.
|Rank and Records||TAMU||UK|
|Strength of Schedule||#166||#5|
|RPI Top 50||0-2||2-2|
Courtesy of Statsheet.com
The Aggies and the Wildcats have a brief, 5-game history before tonight's contest, but interestingly enough, the Aggies have a very good record against Kentucky for any SEC team, 2 wins against 3 losses. Last season, the Aggies upset Kentucky in Rupp Arena on the strength of a 40-point, lights-out shooting performance by Elston Turner, now playing in the Italian League for Victoria Libertas Pesaro, in the single greatest scoring performance by an opposing player in Rupp Arena history.
Kentucky won the return contest in College Station in overtime. Interestingly enough, Texas A&M beat Kentucky in the UKIT the year after UK won the NCAA Tournament in 1978.
Billy Gillispie coached at Texas A&M before being hired away by Kentucky. That didn't work out well for either team, in the end.
Texas A&M Roster
|5||Green, Jordan||S*||G||6-5||188||Jr.||Flower Mound, TX||17.0||7.5||2.5||1.5|
|12||Harris, Fabyon||S*||G||5-11||178||Sr.||Chicago, IL||16.0||6.8||2.1||2.2|
|14||Roberson, Kourtney||S**||F||6-9||244||Jr.||Arcadia, LA||17.0||9.9||7.3||0.7|
|21||Caruso, Alex||S**||G||6-5||183||So.||College Station, TX||17.0||9.1||3.5||5.2|
|23||Jones, Jamal||S+||G||6-8||197||Jr.||Searcy, AR||17.0||12.3||3.9||1.2|
|2||Smith, Shawn||MR||G||6-4||192||Fr.||Jacksonville, FL||16.0||5.2||3.2||1.1|
|15||Fitzgerald, Davonte||MR||F||6-7||201||Fr.||Tucker, GA||17.0||7.7||2.2||0.1|
|24||Space, Antwan||MR+||F||6-8||224||So.||Desoto, TX||17.0||6.7||4.6||0.5|
|4||Miller, Tavario||R||F||6-7||224||Fr.||Long Island||16.0||1.5||2.3||0.2|
|10||McDonald, Blake||R*||G||5-11||175||Sr.||Spring, TX||8.0||0.2||0.2||0.6|
|20||Thomas, Don||TR||G||6-0||185||Jr.||Spring, TX||4.0||0.0||0.0||0.0|
|25||Dobbins, Kyle||RS||G||6-0||172||Fr.||Houston, TX||4.0||1.5||0.2||0.0|
|11||Reese, J'Mychal||NWT||G||6-1||187||Bryan, TX||6.0||7.0||2.0||1.0|
|TR||Transfer-year in res.|
|NWT||No longer with team|
|+||Transfer-eligible this season|
Courtesy of Basketball State
Texas A&M has very balanced scoring. Junior guard Jamal Jones is the leading scorer, but just by a little, at 12 per game. Jones is a JUCO transfer from Lee College in Baytown, Texas. He is also a deadeye 3-point shooter at 39%, and has 37 made threes so far this season.
Junior forward Kourtney Robertson, a returning starter from last season, is the team's leading reboiunder at just over 7 per contest. He's one of the best offensive rebounders in the nation at #26.
Sophomore guard Alex Caruso is a surprisingly athletic player and a returning starter. He can be a handful slashing to the basket, and he is a solid, but reluctant, 3-point shooter. He's also an outstanding defender and leads the team in steals.
Transfer Antwan Space made a long 3-pointer to beat Tennessee earlier this month. He likes to play closer to the basket normally, and has the third-highest Points Above Median calculation on the team. He is a valuable role player. Think Alex Poythress for Kentucky.
- None known for either side, although when Texas A&M dismissed J'Mychal Reese, they lost their starting point guard. But he's been gone a while, and the Aggies have had some big wins.
- Fabyon Harris vs. Andrew Harrison — Harris is only 5' 11", and Andrew has had trouble guarding small point guards off the bounce. It also matters that Harris has been in the program for 2 years prior to this and can shoot the ball if left open. Andrew has a major size advantage, though, so if he gets past Harris, getting to the rim should be a no-brainer. Still, I hesitate to give Harrison the edge because of his prior troubles guarding quicker players.
- Alex Caruso vs. Aaron Harrison — I'm not positive Aaron will be on Caruso, he could be on Green, but Green is the more accomplished scorer and James Young is a better defender. The size matchup here is nice, although Aaron would seem to have the edge offensive, but not by much. Defensively, Caruso is outstanding, but Harrison presents him with a different kind of challenge than he's faced in a while.
- Jordan Green vs. James Young — Jordan Green has nice size, but he's more of a slasher than a 3-point shooter. Young his longer, more skilled and a good defensive player. Overall, he has the advantage in this matchup, particularly if he's hitting his outside shot.
- Jamal Jones vs. Julius Randle — Jones may wind up being guarded by Cauley-Stein or Young rather than Randle because of his perimeter orientation. Jones shoots as many shots from 3 as he does from 2, and he will drag Randle away from the basket where Randle is a relatively poor defender. On the offensive side, Randle has a huge advantage in man because of his greater size and strength.
- Kourtney Roberson vs. Willie Cauley-Stein — Cauley-Stein has the height on Roberson, but they are both roughly the same weight, so this looks like a pretty even matchup. Roberson is more experienced and is a better overall rebounder, but he may struggle to handle Cauley-Stein's length and athleticism. Cauley-Stein has been struggling of late, so this one is tough to call.
Kentucky has a deeper and more talented bench, as they do against most teams. Antwan Space is a nice player off the bench for Texas A&M and he matches up favorably with Alex Poythress. Shawn Smith has good size, and is a nice matchup with Dominque Hawkins. Nobody matches up with Dakari Johnson, though, and he could again be a critical piece in this game.
Texas A&M has surprised some people, and the zone that Billy Kennedy has mixed in this season to take advantage of the team's length and athleticism will probably be front and center to prevent Kentucky from getting shots at the rim off drives, as they've been wont to do for the last few games. Kennedy's job is on the line this season, as he's already been put on notice that it's post-season or bust. That's a lot of pressure for a coach to be under, and his 3-1 start in SEC play suggests that he, and his team, get that.
TAMU, on paper, just doesn't have the mix of size and talent to beat Kentucky in Lexington, although you would have had to say that about Tennessee in Knoxville, too, and the Aggies got that job done in the last seconds of the game. They also beat the Arkansas Razorbacks convincingly in College Station by making threes, getting offensive rebounds and taking care of the ball. Arkansas was a heavy favorite in that game, so I wouldn't write this off as an easy game by any means.
Texas A&M's defense has been significantly better than Kentucky's in conference play this season, which is why they've been able to pull some impressive upsets. Offensive rebounding, though, has been a big problem for them, as they are currently last in the league in that statistic. They are also an awful free-throw shooting team — so bad that Kentucky looks good by comparison.
The real trick to this game for Kentucky is, can they continue to take advantage of their trips to the line. I don't think anyone expects them to shoot 90%+ like they did against the volunteers, but if they make slightly above their average of 70%, it's going to take a lot of easy shots for A&M to beat them, and A&M is anything but an offensive juggernaut.
Where A&M can take advantage is if Kentucky turns over the ball. The Wildcats have been okay handling the rock in the SEC on average, but they can be forced to cough it up as the Arkansas game proved. Another thing the Aggies have going for them is an SEC-leading 3-point shooting percentage of 44.1%. Obviously, that's not gong to help them if Kentucky makes their shots, and Kentucky also leads the league in 3-point defense, so it's a strength-against-strength thing.
In the end, A&M is likely to succumb to Kentucky's relentless size and rebounding advantages. But unless they buck the trend shooting free throws, they're likely to get behind fairly early and struggle to catch up, absent help from the Wildcats in the form of turnovers or poor shooting from the charity stripe.
Ken Pomeroy has Kentucky winning this game by 14, and although I'm not sanguine about the margin, Pomeroy's 92% chance that Kentucky wins this contest seems about right to me. It would take the Aggies' best game of the season to pull the upset.