Before the season started, I wrote that a 10-3 mark in non-conference play would put Alabama in a good position to make the NCAA Tournament heading into SEC play. Well, with no bad losses and a couple of solid wins, the Crimson Tide find themselves in that exact position. Despite what many others in the media are claiming, the SEC actually had a decent showing in non-conference play. Thus, if Alabama can get to 11 or 12 wins in conference play, the Tide should be right there for NCAA Tournament consideration.
Texas A&M (9-3) has had a very similar season as Alabama at this juncture, with no bad losses and a couple of solid wins. Coach Billy Kennedy came into this season square on the hot seat, but he has responded with a solid season thus far, which has been coupled with a surprisingly great recruiting class (with a huge assist from former Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury) coming into College Station next season. In their only common opponent match-up, A&M beat Arizona State in similar fashion as Alabama did, needing a big second half comeback to pull out the victory.
- PG Alex Caruso (8.3 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 6.4 APG, 2.3 SPG)
- SG Jordan Green (7.1 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.6 APG)
3G Danuel House (12.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.1 APG)
- SF Jalen Jones (13.3 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 0.8 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- PF Kourtney Roberson (8.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 0.9 APG)
A&M has a very interesting size dynamic. Even though they run what could be considered a four guard lineup, they aren't small in size. Caruso and Green are both 6'5, House and Jones are both 6'7, and Roberson stands tall in the post at 6'9. They aren't a very good rebounding team though, as they rank 194th in the country in RPG. Everything this team does hinges on Caruso's play, as the third-year starter at PG has his hands all over the ball. He is a very good scorer (56.7% FG%, 36.4% 3P%), though he struggles a good bit from the line (62.5%). Caruso's Possession Index Rating (APG+SPG divided by TOPG) is a strong 3.48, and he is very active with his hands. He's also a very good defender, with a defensive rating of 88.4. Green is a solid off-guard, though he isn't someone who is going to overwhelm opponents. His main contribution is his scoring ability (56.1% FG%, 36.4% 3P%, 76.5% FT%).
House has been a high volume player for A&M, averaging the most MPG and the second most FGA per game for the Aggies. Though he is a very talented player, his numbers haven't been that impressive (41.7% FG%, 37.2% 3P%, 65.7% FT%). He is a key for A&M's offense, because he has the ability to go off. It's only a matter of whether or not he plays up to his potential. Jones has been the main force offensively for A&M, but he is also a strong defensive player (90.2 defensive rating) and the team's best rebounder. His scoring is his calling card though, as he shoots 49.1% from the field and 46.2% from the three point line. His FG% isn't as high as Caruso's or Green's, but because he is the go-to guy offensively, he has to shoulder the load of drawing the opposing defense's attention. Roberson is a strong presence in the post defensively, but he is a below-average rebounder. His scoring is quite puzzling actually, as he shoots 71.9% from the field, but he only averages about five shots a game.
- G Alex Robinson (4.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- G Peyton Allen (4.8 PPG, 0.8 RPG, 0.8 APG)
- F Davonte Fitzgerald (4.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG)
- F Antwan Space (5.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG)
- C Tonny Trocha-Morelos (1.3 PPG, 2.1 RPG)
- C Dylan Johns (1.7 PPG, 0.9 RPG)
Texas A&M has a good amount of depth, as there are a lot of guys who come off the bench and see significant minutes. The two freshmen guards, Robinson and Allen, have both been used quite a bit, ranking 5th and 7th respectively in MPG for the Aggies. Robinson is a true point guard who handles the ball well and plays pretty dang good defense for a 6'1 freshman (94.2 defensive rating). He isn't much of a shooter from the point though (36.5% FG%, 27.3% 3P%, 64.3% FT%). Allen is the younger version of Green, an off-guard who doesn't do a whole lot, but he does score at a good clip (43.8% FG%, 36.4% 3P%). Amazingly, Allen has only attempted four free throws all year, yet he has made every single one. Maybe he should be a bit more assertive when he's in the game, though that's not really Billy Kennedy's style.
In the frontcourt, Fitzgerald and Space are two solid, experienced players. They both play sound defense (94.6 and 96.0 DRtg respectively), score a few points here and there, and battle on the boards. They are exactly who guys like Kennedy and Anthony Grant love to have coming off of the bench. True freshmen Trocha-Morelos and Johns are both 6'10, which is the extent of their contributions to the team. Trocha-Morelos does play very good defense (92.0 DRtg).
What To Watch For
- Tough, Physical Defense. If you have watched these two teams play the last two seasons, you know exactly what's going to happen Tuesday night: first to 60 points wins. "Grantsketball" is very familiar to Alabama fans, but A&M fans have watched their Aggies play a similar brand of basketball under Kennedy, only with less success. A&M's ranked 71st in the country with a DRtg of 93.1.
- Home Success. Under Anthony Grant, the Crimson Tide have been nearly impossible to defeat at home. In a league where the officials always seem to enjoy some nice southern hospitality before games, Alabama has compiled a 30-4 record against SEC opponents at home since 2011.
- #SECBASKETBALLFEVER. It's finally here, hopefully all of you have taken the proper vaccinations because there is no telling what is going to happen. Heck, Alabama may end up losing this game on a misplaced tip-in after the teams both reach 100 points.
Three Keys to Victory
- Patience on Offense. As has already been established, A&M plays tough, physical defense and likes to force their opponents to make mistakes and take bad shots. Alabama has to be willing to work against the Aggies defense, as good looks will be tough to come by. Ball movement and good passing will be crucial to getting good looks at the basket.
- Patience on Defense. Here's the thing about A&M, they are super-slow moving on offense. The Aggies average barely 70 PPG, yet they are 84th in the country in offensive rating because of how efficient they are with the ball. It is easy for opposing defenses to get lulled to sleep while the Aggies look for an open shot. The Tide has to be focused throughout, as this game will be a grind on both sides of the court.
- Free Throws. Texas A&M is one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country. The Ags shoot a horrid 64.0% from the line, ranking 301st in the country. Alabama started off the season really hot from the free throw line, but the regression to the mean has been pretty disappointing in recent weeks. However, Alabama is still shooting a full 10% better than A&M from the line, and in a game that will be as physical and low scoring as this one will be, whoever can get the most from the charity stripe will have a great chance of winning.
With each member of the SEC diving head-first into conference play, every game is vital. Considering that there are a bevy of above-average to good teams in the SEC, being able to separate from the pack is extremely important if Alabama wants to make it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. This is a big game for that reason, as A&M is pretty much in the same boat as the Tide.
The game will tip-off at 8:00 PM CST and will be televised by the SEC Network.