Alabama will end the 2014-15 regular season in a scenario similar to where conference play began for the Tide, taking on the Texas A&M Aggies (20-9, 11-6 SEC). Many things have transpired since Alabama's blowout win in Tuscaloosa, and not in the way it seemed poised to after that 65-44 thumping of the Aggies. A&M eventually got Jalen Jones back from injury, and the team as a whole started playing at another level. Meanwhile, the road for Alabama was full of all kinds of twists and turns. Anthony Grant's squad has found many different excruciating ways to lose close ball games, and season-ending injuries to Ricky Tarrant and Shannon Hale certainly didn't help matters. Both of these teams are now on a different kind of bubble, as A&M looks to try and lock up a NCAA Tournament bid while Alabama is simply trying to grab a spot in the NIT. It's clear that the Bama Ballin Boom Train has seen a few of its wheels fall off, as it chugs along to its final stop of the regular season: College Station.
- PG Alex Caruso (9.7 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 5.7 APG, 1.9 SPG)
- 2G Jordan Green (5.3 PG, 1.7 RPG, 1.7 APG)
- 3G Danuel House (14.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.1 APG)
- SF Jalen Jones (13.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 0.9 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- C Kourtney Roberson (9.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.1 APG)
From last time:
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. Caruso 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 overly 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. 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. 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.
Alabama was very fortunate that Jones ended up getting the late scratch last game, as his ability to score has been a major factor in A&M's sudden turn-around this season. Jones and House transferring into the program this past year gave the Aggies two reliable, consistent scorers, as House has really turned up his play in recent weeks. House is now shooting 40.0% from the three point line, which has given the Aggies more space around the basket as teams have had to extend the defense out towards him. Caruso is arguably the best all-around point guard in the conference, as no other point player has given his respective team all the different attributes that Caruso possesses. He's the kind of guy that makes every player around him better, and this season he has finally had good players around him. Green and Roberson have continued to do much of the same things they've been doing all season, as their experience (both are seniors) has been critical to Billy Kennedy suddenly cooling his seat.
- G Alex Robinson (4.0 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 2.3 APG)
- G Peyton Allen (4.0 PPG, 0.7 RPG)
- F Tavario Miller (2.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG)
- F Davonte Fitzgerald (3.4 PPG, 1.7 RPG)
- F Antwan Space (4.3 PPG, 2.8 RPG)
- C Tonny Trocha-Morelos (1.6 PPG, 2.1 RPG)
From last time:
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%). 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. True freshman Trocha-Morelos is 6'10, which is the extent of his contributions to the team.
A&M has a pretty deep team, honestly. No one on their bench is going to dazzle anyone, though Robinson has a chance of developing into a very good point guard in the future, but there is a lot of length and experience. That is always a strong combination (see: Ole Miss). A&M will play 11 guys on Saturday; Alabama is currently down to an eight man rotation. That is not a good thing for the Crimson Tide.
Three Keys to Victory
Last game's keys:
- 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.
Nothing about how to match-up with Texas A&M has really changed in general, the Aggies have just done a much better job of executing since the last time Alabama played against them. When you purposefully play at such a slow pace, as Alabama and A&M both do, it comes down to execution. The Ags have been doing a good job of that, especially against inferior competition. Anthony Grant's team has not. The one area where A&M still cannot seem to improve in is their free throw shooting, where they are now at 304th in the country at 65.2%. Alabama needs to play tight on defense; there is really no excuse in allowing A&M the ability to get open looks. If an Ag is open, the Tide need to put the clamps down and close out fast and hard. Make them earn it.
This season diverted in two opposite directions for Alabama and Texas A&M after the Tide's 21 point shellacking of the Aggies in Tuscaloosa back in early January, but not in a good way for Anthony Grant and his guys. Texas A&M could all but lock up a NCAA Tournament bid with a win on their Senior Day, not to mention a double bye in next week's SEC Tournament. Alabama is just playing for pride at this point, though a sweep over A&M would look nice on the Tide's NIT resume.
The game will tip at 1:00 PM CST and will be televised on Fox Sports Net.