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Bama Basketball Breakdown: Texas A&M

With Alabama’s NCAA Tournament dreams all but crushed, the Tide heads west to take on the Aggies

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Well, what more can be said about Alabama’s performance on Thursday night? Nearly every bad trait of the 2017 Crimson Tide reared its ugly head against Georgia: awful shot selection, little-to-no rhythm on offense, poor shooting, and an unrelenting amount of unforced turnovers. At least the Tide converted on 9/12 free throw attempts. Regardless, Alabama’s slim NCAA Tournament hopes were pretty much eradicated the other night. It’s disappointing because the Tide was dealt a favorable conference slate and a weaker-than-usual tournament bubble, but this year’s group simply isn’t an NCAA Tournament-caliber team.

With that said, ‘Bama still gets to play some ball the rest of the season. Next up is the Texas A&M Aggies (14-13, 6-9 SEC), who have had quite the disappointing year following their Sweet 16 appearance a season ago. Billy Kennedy has seemingly placed himself right back on the hot-seat, only a year after getting himself off of it.

The Tide will face a quick turnaround this week, as they will be playing exactly 49 hours after tipping off with Georgia. How will they respond?

The Roster

Starting Line-Up

  • PG 6’0 J.C. Hampton (6.7 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 2.0 APG)
  • OG 6’3 Admon Gilder (13.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 4.0 APG, 2.0 SPG)
  • PF 6’9 Robert Williams (11.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.7 SPG, 2.6 BPG)
  • C 6’10 Tonny Trocha-Morelos (8.3 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.7 BPG)
  • C 6’10 Tyler Davis (14.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.5 SPG, 1.0 BPG)

Texas A&M has one of the most unique rosters in college basketball. After the loss of wing forward D.J. Hogg (12.0 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.4 APG), who hurt his foot and was ruled out for the season, they decided to roll with three post players in their regular line-up. Not that it was a huge change in their rotation, as Williams, Trocha-Morelos, and Davis were already three of the most heavily used players on the roster. They lost so much production from the back-court after last season that they had to turn to a graduate transfer from Lipscomb, Hampton, to run the point. Not really the ideal way to run an offense.

Hampton, to his credit, has been solid in the role. He’s a good shooter (40.6% FG%, 43.3% 3P%, 77.3% FT%), but he’s not much of a threat to drive, and his 13.7% A% is pretty weak for a point guard. Also, his size limits a lot of what he can do on both ends. Gilder has been an unsung hero for the Aggies. He shoots the ball as well as Hampton does (41.4% 3P%, 74.2% FT%), but his ability to drive the lane and penetrate seperates him, as it allows him to get to the basket or draw-and-dump (45.1% FG%, 21.8% A%). His 3.5% S% is also best on the team, and one of the best in the conference.

Now to the beastly front-court, which honestly may be the best in the SEC. Williams has been a sensation as a true freshman. He has the best DRtg on the team (96.2) and an outrageous ability to swat shots (11.5%). Read that again. 11.5%. He plays 25.0 MPG, and every time he is out on the court he blocks over 1/10th of all two-point shots taken by the opponent. Combine that with a great ability to rebound (17.5% RB%) and a 56.1% FG%, and you can see why he’s considered a lock to be a lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft. His ceiling is very high.

Williams has been so good, that he’s almost overshadowed the big, talented post presence that is Davis. A 63.3% scorer, he’s much more polished on the offensive end than Williams, and for that matter, most college level centers. Davis has struggled a bit on the defensive end this year (103.2 DRtg, 4.2% B%), but he’s still more than capable of protecting the rim himself. He also collects 15.2% of all available rebounds. Trocha-Morelos is an interesting prospect himself. He’s huge, but can actually shoot the ball decently well (25.7% 3P%, 41.9% FG%), yet doesn’t have great post moves. However, his 11.0% RB% and 3.1% B% only add to the strength that is the Texas A&M front-court.

The Bench

  • G 6’2 Chris Collins (1.5 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 1.6 APG)
  • G 6’5 Kobie Eubanks (1.3 PPG, 1.1 RPG)
  • F 6’7 Tavario Miller (3.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG)
  • F 6’11 Eric Vila (2.2 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 0.9 APG)

The biggest issue A&M has had since Hogg went down is that their already thin bench got a lot thinner. On top of the lack of depth, there just isn’t much here. Miller is a senior with a lot of experience and a few strong numbers (48.5% FG%, 15.0% RB%), and Collins has split time with Hampton at the point due to his 17.0% A%, but that’s about it. Their defensive numbers are all mediocre at best. Eubanks, a former Tide commit who couldn’t make the grades, has seen the biggest spike in playing time since Hogg went down, and he has some potential.

Three Keys to Victory

  1. Overcome Adversity. Alabama’s players will have to take on a challenging opponent on the road less than 48 hours after their NCAA Tournament hopes all but disappeared after a heartbreaking loss to Georgia. The only way the Crimson Tide can win this game is if the players can somehow fight through that adversity and find the motivation to come out firing for this game. It’s basically like asking a team to play in a consolation game after being ousted from the NCAA Tournament while the teams who won all play in the 2nd Round. Except the opponent isn’t another ousted team, just one who has been playing for pride alone for over a month now. Alabama has no shot of beating a solid A&M team in College Station if they allow Georgia to get the assist.
  2. Jump Shots. Making shots is obviously always important, as Tide fans have learned the hard way over the last decade or so. However, being able to knock down jumpers is even more important against A&M, who is 15th in the country in blocked shots, thanks again to that staunch front-line. ‘Bama can’t afford to shoot as poorly as they did Thursday night, because if they do, it won’t matter how focused they are.
  3. Bench Play. Alabama’s not much deeper than the Aggies are, but they definitely have less of a drop-off when they go to the bench. There is a large dip in MPG when A&M goes to their bench (Collins: 15.0 MPG, Vila: 11.4 MPG, Miller 10.4 MPG, Eubanks: 8.7 MPG) for a reason. If this game gets physical, which is almost assured considering the two team’s strengths on the glass and defending the rim, Alabama is best suited to get quality minutes out of it’s bench. Ar’Mond Davis has played well recently, including Thursday night when he dropped 17 points. Corban Collins has the ability to get hot, Jimmie Taylor has a wealth of experience in the post, and Avery Johnson Jr. would likely be the Aggies’ starting point guard this season had he not transferred.

This game may no longer have NCAA Tournament implications, but it will make a major impact on both the conference standings and possible NIT seeding. A&M needs to string together a few wins to avoid playing on the first day of the SEC Tournament and also make the NIT. Alabama is a lock for the NIT at this point, but they are very much still alive for the double-bye in Nashville. South Carolina and Arkansas are only a game up on the Tide, and if Alabama can correct some issues on offense and win out, they’ve got a shot to beat out the Gamecocks and Razorbacks.

The game will tip-off at 7:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPN2.