Thoughts on the Matchup
This game represents a bit of a gut check for the Aggie men. After reaching the Top 5 for the first time in school history, A&M has now lost 3 out of their last 4 and are starting to give football fans the cold sweats. Throughout the season, the Ags have won a number tough close games and bounced back well from losses (their most humbling defeat of the year against Arizona State was followed by a 10-game win streak). Now for the past two weeks, the team has looked disjointed and continuously comes out flat to start each game. Tonight, they'll face a Bama squad who ranks 52nd in the RPI and has done the opposite of A&M and won 3 of their last 4.
Both teams enter this matchup in the midst of season-defining stretches in their respective schedules. Bama follows this game with back to back road tests against Florida and LSU; a tough slate but a tremendous opportunity to build the NCAA tournament resume. After tonight, 2 of the Aggies's next 3 games will be against the 1st (LSU) and 2nd place (Kentucky) teams in the SEC and will most likely determine their chances at a SEC Regular Season title. It'll be interesting to watch how either team responds with the potential stakes on the line.
Last year, A&M averaged 52.5 points in their two matchups against the Tide. Needless to say, those two games didn't turn out so well. A big reason for the ineptitude on offense was the lack of scoring options. Their first game did not feature Jalen Jones and the second took place after Danuel House broke his foot. With the highly touted freshmen class, the Aggies now have the depth to pick up the slack if and when one of their primary scorers, Jones and House, has an off night.
The Ags are at their most dangerous when they create turnovers of the defensive end and turn them into transition points. Alex Caruso and company can turn up the intensity and once they start getting steals, they gain confidence and become more active on the offensive end. Despite their recent woes, A&M still has the fire power to go on a 10 or 12-0 and change the course of a game in less than a couple of minutes.
While they are aggressive and like to get steals on defense, the Ags struggle mightily at guarding the 3-point line. In the losses against Vanderbilt and South Carolina, the Ags gave up 25 3's at a near 50% clip. This isn't just hot shooting, but opponents are getting wide open looks and A&M's defense simply will not close out on them. It seems like their strategy is to dare teams to settle for 3's, and most of the season it's worked, but once a team starts making that shot consistently, it really throws the Ags out of sorts.
On the offensive end, since the surprising departure of Top-50 recruit Elijah Thomas, the A&M frontcourt starts hurting when they get into foul trouble. The duo of Jalen Jones and Tyler Davis is as good as it gets, but if one of the two gets early fouls and has to sit then things get dicey. Junior Forward, Tavario Miller, fights underneath the basket and gets tough rebounds but is a complete non-factor on offense. Tonny Trocha-Morelos started the year off white hot from 3, but now has become pretty inconsistent where you don't know whether he'll have 10 or 0 points every time he goes out.
Player to Watch
I'm going to go a little off the beaten path and say that point guard Anthony Collins will be an X-factor in tonight's game. The senior transfer never lights up the scoreboard, but plays with amazing poise and brings more fluidity on offense. During this slump though, Collins has made uncharacteristic turnovers and his assist numbers were down. Last Saturday against South Carolina, he was surprisingly aggressive on offense attempting 10 shots but only made 3 of them and the team only looked more out of sync.
Tonight, he doesn't have to have big number, but if Collins can get back to being the floor general he's been all season, it'll go a long way towards righting the ship for the Aggies.
This is a tough call. I think the Tide will be fired up for tonight because of the boost it could give them on their tournament resume. Also, I'm sure Aggie transfer Avery Johnson Jr. will be an assistant coach with his dad tonight and give some inside info. Plus, A&M does not do well on the road. I'm thinking the Aggies recognize their SEC title hopes slipping away and will play with a sense of urgency and ramp the defensive intensity. I'm going to say it'll be a tight matchup for most of the game, but I think the Ags pull away in the final two minutes.
Aggies win 75-68
Thanks again, JD. I think for Alabama, we must do a better job of taking care of the basketball, limit turnovers, and hope Art, Justin, Riley, and or Retin get hot from downtown. Defensively, force them to take jump shots, and limit them to one shot per possession as much as possible.