Fresh off of their first undefeated week of the SEC schedule, the Alabama Crimson Tide will attempt to keep the momentum rolling as the fifteenth-ranked Texas A&M Aggies (18-5, 7-3 SEC) visit Tuscaloosa. The Aggies, lead by coach Billy Kennedy, are finally looking like the NCAA Tournament team that fans in College Station envisioned when they hired Kennedy back in 2011. Things were looking pretty solid for them a year ago before the Crimson Tide finished off a sweep of the Ags on the last day of the season. That loss, along with a nasty loss to Auburn in the SEC Tournament, knocked A&M out of the projected field. Kennedy's group will be ready for some revenge.
The Aggies were the front-runners in the SEC for most of January, but a couple of tough losses in a row have knocked them back into a three-way tie for 2nd place in the conference. Still, this roster has arguably the best talent-experience combination in the SEC, and they have a number of real play-makers on the team. Can Alabama extend the Aggies' conference losing streak to three games, while also boosting their own winning streak to that number? Or will A&M bounce back from their worst week of the season with a win in Coleman Coliseum?
- PG 6'1 Anthony Collins (4.9 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 4.5 APG, 0.9 SPG)
- OG 6'5 Alex Caruso (8.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 5.2 APG, 2.3 SPG)
- 3G 6'7 Danuel House (15.6 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.6 APG, 0.7 SPG)
- WF 6'8 Jalen Jones (16.0 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.7 SPG)
- C 6'10 Tyler Davis (11.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.8 SPG, 1.0 BPG)
- G 6'3 Admon Gilder (6.7 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- F 6'7 D.J. Hogg (6.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.0 APG)
- F 6'7 Tavario Miller (2.3 PPG, 3.8 RPG)
- C 6'10 Tonny Trocha-Morelos (7.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.8 BPG)
Moving forward, I am going to use this space to discuss Alabama's current status in regards to their post-season aspirations.
With almost exactly one month left until Selection Sunday, Alabama finds themselves in a bit of a weird spot. The Crimson Tide have a pretty decent resume, as their 23rd-ranked SOS has powered them to a spot just outside of the RPI Top 50 at 53. Regardless of the obvious flaws of the RPI, the NCAA (and NIT) Selection Committee has shown time and time again that they highly value this metric. The Crimson Tide aren't a supremely talented or even efficient basketball team, but with wins over three top-50 RPI opponents (Wichita State, Notre Dame, and South Carolina) and only one bad loss (at Auburn), Alabama boasts a solid chance at making something happen this season.
Most bracketologists around the web either have Alabama listed among the first 10 or so out of the NCAA Tournament, or not mentioned at all. Here at RBR, our official seed lines have the Tide currently slotted as a 3-seed in the NIT. Thus, while the NIT is almost certainly where Avery Johnson's group will end up, there is a possibility of making a late season run to the big dance. There may not be a better opportunity than Wednesday night with #15 Texas A&M coming to Coleman Coliseum.
Three Keys to Victory
- Frustrate House. Danuel House has been the key to many of Texas A&M's games this season. If he is on, good luck defeating the Aggies. But if he's cold, A&M becomes a very beatable team. Not only do the Ags not have a ton of other scoring options, but House likes to take a high volume of his team's shots regardless of how things are going. Avery has done a fantastic job of drawing up schemes to take certain players out of the game (the most recent example being Mississippi State's Malik Newman). If Alabama can swarm House and force him into bad shots all night, the Tide will have a solid chance.
- FREE THROWS. The Tide have been (somehow) getting away with poor free throw shooting all season. That isn't going to hold up. If Alabama wants to spring the upset over A&M, they need to win the free throw shooting contest by a solid margin. The Aggies are one of the few teams in the country that are about on-par with Bama in this area (65.6%, 300th in the country), and with the game being in Tuscaloosa, expect those infamous SEC refs to give Alabama the opportunities they need to build a sizable advantage in free shots
- Take Care of the Basketball. Alabama has recently gotten into a bad habit of turning the ball over through unforced errors. That will not fly with A&M on Wednesday night, as they are already one of the best teams in the country at turning the opposing offense over. Simply put, with Caruso and company already forcing the Tide into some mistakes, Alabama can't afford to throw the ball away if they want to win this game.