The Kentucky Wildcats will look to strengthen their tournament resume and hold on the SEC when they take on Texas A&M Saturday in arguably the biggest basketball game of the weekend.
College Gameday will be at A&M as the Aggies are in the midst of a resurgent season and are poised for their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2011. A win over 14th-ranked Kentucky would not only assure them of a tourney berth, but also put them back in the running for the SEC regular-season crown.
For much of conference play, A&M was the team to beat in the SEC and stood atop the standings while being ranked as high as No. 5 nationally after their 17-2 start.
That is, until they went on a bad slump in which they lost five of six games, including last week's defeats to Alabama and LSU. The Aggies got back to their winning ways with a 71-56 win over Ole Miss this past Tuesday. Senior guard Anthony Collins recorded 10 points, eight assists and a season-high six rebounds.
Fellow senior guard Alex Caruso became the 35th member of Texas A&M's 1,000-Point Club, hitting the mark on a dunk put-back with 4:39 remaining in the first period. Caruso is A&M's leader in assists at 4.9 dimes per game to go with 8.1 ppg and 3.3 boards per contest.
Senior guard Danuel House also hit a milestone, eclipsing 1,500 career points as he notched 13 points on the night, leaving him with 1,511 for his career. House is tied with senior forward Jalen Jones as the Aggies leading scorers this season at 15.6 ppg.
House, Collins, Caruso and Jones are part of a six-man senior class that lead the Aggies and are searching for their first NCAA berths in their final collegiate seasons. They'd also love nothing more than a win over Kentucky to cap off their careers, but the Cats are surging and need this win to keep their hopes of 3 or even 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament alive.
Here is everything you'll need for the Cats taking on the Aggies.
Kentucky Wildcats (20-6, 10-3 in SEC) at Texas A&M Aggies (19-7, 8-5 in SEC)
When: Feb. 20, 2016
Location: Reed Arena
Game Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
Announcers: Dan Shulman, Jay Bilas and sideline reporter Shannon Spake.
Online Stream: Watch ESPN
Radio: UK Radio Network with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt (info and affiliates)
Odds: A&M opened as a 1-point favorite, per Vegas Insider.
Projected A&M Starters
#11 G - Anthony Collins, 6-1, 175 lbs, Sr.
#21 G - Alex Caruso, 6-5, 186 lbs, Sr.
#23 G - Danuel House, 6-7, 212 lbs, Sr.
#12 F - Jalen Jones, 6-7, 220 lbs. Sr.
#34 F - Tyler Davis, 6-10, 265 lbs, Fr.
Projected UK Starters
#3 G - Tyler Ulis, 5-9, 160 lbs, So.
#13 G - Isaiah Briscoe, 6-3, 202 lbs, Fr.
#23 G - Jamal Murray, 6-4, 207 lbs, Fr.
#35 F - Derek Willis, 6-9, 220 lbs, Jr.
#00 F - Marcus Lee, 6-9, 224, Jr.
My Prediction: This has turned into one of the most difficult games of the season for Kentucky. Not only are the Aggies a very formidable opponent who will be in the NCAA tourney, but injuries to several key Wildcats is putting them at a serious disadvantage in the paint.
Alex Poythress is out while Marcus Lee is dealing with a bad back and is iffy to play. Derek Willis is also banged up, but should be able to play. Combined with UK having been prone to foul trouble this entire season, this is shaping up to be a game where UK may not have enough bodies to keep pace with the Aggies for 40 minutes.
Kentucky is the better team, but the Aggies need this game more and have the national spotlight on them with College Gameday at Reed Arena. This will be a fun, back-and-forth affair that comes right down to the wire, but in the end, I see the Cats running out of gas and the Aggies escaping with a last-minute win.
Final Score: Texas A&M 75, Kentucky 73