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Bama Basketball Breakdown: #15 Texas A&M

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The Crimson Tide try to upset the Aggies in Tuscaloosa

Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

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?

The Roster

Starting Line-Up

  • 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)
Any discussion about the 2016 Aggies has to begin with their senior trio of Caruso, House, and Jones. These three guys have been the focal point for Kennedy's program the last two seasons. Caruso, who plays both on-and-off the ball, has the ability to score (51.9% FG%, 38.5% 3P%, 76.1% FT%), defend (91.2 DRtg), rebound (6.9%), and handle the ball (5.2 APG to only 2.2 TOPG). In what seems like his seventh season in College Station, the guy has done it all. He's been a major asset for this program, and it's nice to see that he will most likely get to play on the big stage in March.

The other two parts of the triumvirate, House and Jones, have been the high-volume scorers for the Ags, as they both average exactly 12.5 FGA per game. House is shooting a solid 40.2%, but his 32.9% 3P% and 67.3% FT% have hurt his efficiency. Jones, a stretch four who likes to play out on the perimeter, is shooting 43.3% from the field. His three point (35.2%) and free throw (74.5%) percentages have actually been better than House's. Jones has also been a strong defender this season (92.3 DRtg), and his size makes him a tough match-up for most opponents. Luckily for Alabama, the Tide have a similar player in Shannon Hale who should be able to defend him.

At the point, graduate transfer Collins has been a nice addition for a team that unexpectedly lost their point guard of the future, Alex Robinson, early in the year. Collins isn't a flashy player, but he leads the offense well when he is in the game and is also a fantastic spot-up shooter (47.4% 3P%, 93.3% FT%). His size limits him on the glass and on the defensive end, but he's not a guy Alabama wants to send to the line or leave open. Finally, Davis, one of four separate four-star true freshmen on the team, rounds out the line-up in the post. Not only is Davis the best of A&M's highly-touted class from last off-season, he's also been the most important. With guys like Kourtney Roberson and Antwan Space graduating, A&M was in need of some big men. Davis has been very strong in the post all season, whether it's been on the boards (14.0% RB%), defensively (92.4 DRtg), or around the rim on offense (65.9% FG%).

The Bench
  • 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)
The Aggies have two true freshmen who have played a large role off of the bench this season. Gilder and Hogg both average just shy of twenty minutes per game. They have both been pretty solid in most areas of the game, but they are both struggling from the line (Gilder: 66.7%, Hogg: 59.1%) and are some of the weaker defenders on the team. Regardless, they can both play, and both of those areas of their game will come around as they continue to develop. Miller is a long-time reserve player who provides depth. Trocha-Morelos is an interesting piece to this A&M roster. He's 6'10, but his rebounding (12.9%) and ability to protect the rim (94.0 DRtg, 5.0% Block Rating) aren't eye-popping. Also, while he really struggles from the free throw line (38.7% FT%), he has the ability to knock down shots from the perimeter (46.3% 3P%). He is a bit of an enigma, really.

Bracketology Update

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. 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.
Texas A&M comes into Tuscaloosa in the middle of a three game conference losing streak. This could be the best time to catch a really good team that's having a tough time fighting through the dog days of February. Make no mistake about it, losing streak or not, a win over Texas A&M would do wonders for Alabama. One could argue the surprising sweep over the Aggies is what got Alabama into the NIT last season, and another victory over Billy Kennedy's club could be the difference on a major cut line again this season.

The game tips-off at 6:00 PM CST and will be televised by the SEC Network.