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A KenPom Preview: Texas A&M

Here we go again with the KenPom preview. This game is the biggest yet in the early-going of conference play, and the only matchup we have with the Mark Turgeon-led Aggies. Last time we lost in Allen Field House? The last time the Aggies paid a trip to AFH, sometime in March-ish 2006. No fun. Let's keep up the home-court winning streak and just come out on top, eh?

For reference, here is Texas A&M's KenPom page.

Opening Thoughts

This game is important. Incredibly important. It isn't a must-win; a loss to a solid team, like the Aggies, is certainly defensible, even if it is a home game. But, a victory would give us another quality victory to add to the good ol' resume, and would pretty much get the toughest hurdle out of the way to a 6-0 conference start. Which would be nice. But, seriously, we need to win. A loss here, and all of a sudden road games to Manhattan and Ames and Lincoln and Colubmia are more risky. No longer can we afford multiple losses, or even one possibly, out of that group, making those games quite, uh, dangerous. So, yeah, let's just win and keep everyone happy. Advance the homecourt winning streak, make all of those at Allen Field House happy, benefit our resume. All of that fun stuff.

More to come after the jump...

The Background

The Aggies, as we stand right now, are pretty much the definition of a bubble team. They're probably on the right side of the bubble as we speak, although in the latest Bracketology, they are on the 'First Four Out' category. In any case, they could certainly use a victory. Their 15-3 record looks really good, but the actual games aren't quite as attractive. They do have a nice win against Arizona on a last-second three, a decent win against Alabama, and impressive victories against LSU and Baylor. So, actually, not that bad. Their three losses aren't all that terrible; a neutral-court loss to Tulsa doesn't look good, but it doesn't look terrible either. And a road loss in Stillwater and a home loss to Oklahoma are both incredibly defensible. Six of their next eight are incredibly difficult (@ Kansas, @ Texas, vs. Oklahoma State, @ Oklahoma, @ Baylor, vs. Texas). Assuming victories in the other two games, and an upset victory, and that is a porous 4-7 start to conference play. They could fairly easily go undefeated after that, but even then, is that good enough to get in to the Big Dance? Who knows, but it doesn't look good. That is why this game is important to the Aggies; this is about as winnable as the six get. While the game is important to us, it is a huge, gigantic contest to the Ags. We're going to have to match their intensity, or we could be in for a devastating loss.

The Offense

The Aggies are an above-average offensive squad, but aren't that good of a shooting team. Their effective FG% (the most telling shooting-related stat) is quite low, around the 50th percentile, although they make up for that in a couple of ways. They don't turn the ball over all that much, and basically never get the ball stolen from them. Only four teams in the country get the ball stolen from them less. Plus, they get fouled a bunch. Of course, they aren't terribly effective once at the line, but they aren't terrible either. They aren't a bad offensive rebounding team, but aren't nearly as good as I would have guessed, given the stigma attatched to Texas A&M basketball. They lost most of their bigs from last year, I know, but still.

The Defense

Again, the stigma attatched to A&M basketball is of a rough-and-tough, defense-first team who gets their points inside the paint, usually through bruisers and offensive rebounding. But, while a good defensive team, they aren't that good. 76th overall, according to KenPom, which is pretty solid, but not the Top 25 team that you would've imagined when you think of Aggie basketball. At least good, post-Melvin Watkins Aggie basketball. Naturally, they are at better at some things than others. They are quite adept at not fouling and sending their opponents to the foul line, and are also really good at limiting two-point field goals from going in. That's their strength; limiting the inside game. They are also pretty good at limiting opposition offensive rebounds, but not terribly awesome at it, either. On the struggle side of the story, they rarely turn you over and are quite giving when it comes to three-pointers.

The Players

I'm still trying to figure out what is the best way to breakdown specific players. I'll keep on playing with different ways to do it, but here, I'll run down a list of, in my own estimation (generally backed by statistics, of course), the most dangerous players in certain specific categories, like three-point shooting, rebounding, etc.

All statistics are in Division 1 games only...

Three-Point Shooting -- If an Aggie rises up and fires off a trey, it will almost assuredly be one of two players; Josh Carter or B.J. Holmes. The duo has shot a combined 160 threes. The rest of the team has shot a combined 92 threes. 64% of the team's three-pointers have been fired up by Carter or Holmes, and for good reason. No one else on the team is all that good at the long shot, and while neither Carter or Holmes is a world-beater (particularly Carter, who is shooting 37%; Holmes is shooting 40%), both are good shooters, and both deserve attention out there.

Rebounding -- There are two key rebounders on the Aggies, one of which is familiar to Big 12 fans and one isn't quite as noticeable. Bryan Davis received plenty of playing time last season, and had one of his better games against us at the end of the regular season. He is a solid rebounder, especially on the defensive end, but nothing to write home about. However, Chinemelu Olonu is a completely different story. Dude can board it, simple as that. And if we are going to limit second-chance points, it starts and ends with sticking a body on Olonu every single time a shot is fired up. Every. Single. Time. I would imagine Cole getting the Olonu assignment, as he is less-skilled offensively than Davis, but whoever it is, has to stick a butt on him.

Defensive Stoppers -- Honestly, I haven't seen enough to really get a feel for who they put on the opposition's best players. However, I'd imagine it would be Donald Sloan who would draw the Sherron Collins assginment. Dude just never, ever fouls, like at all. He is averaging a hair more than a foul every 40 minutes. Yes, you read that right. He doesn't steal the ball a whole lot, but he isn't terrible at it. Holmes is the other possibility, and he has the size (6'0") to do it. Holmes is more of a stealer than Sloan is, but also fouls more (although still not all that much). Elonu will likely be matched up on Cole, leaving Davis on the 4 and 6'7" Josh Carter on Brady.

Free Throws -- The team gets fouled a shitload, but, like I said, doesn't make an incredibly high percentage. Still, they make enough to make the opposition pay. Josh Carter (88%) is the best of the bunch by a large margin, but B.J. Holmes (83%) and Donald Sloan (78%) can both knock them down as well. The two main bigs, Elonu and Davis, aren't terrible, but neither are all that dangerous at the free throw line, either.

The Leftovers -- Here is where we'll talk about the non-starters, or the bench players, on the opposing teams. As far as the Aggies go, they are mediocrely deep. They have some players off the bench, but nobody terribly effective, and nobody that plays all that much. Derrick Roland gets the most playing time of the benchwarmers, a sort of do-everything junior. He's not really too hot at anything, and turns the ball over a bunch, but is another solid free throw shooter. Sophomores David Loubeau and Nathan Walkup are the reserves for the bigs, and neither are that dangerous offensively. Loubeau is a really good rebounder, actually a superior offensive one to Davis and Elonu according to statistics, while Walkup is a subpar defender who likes spending his time on the perimter. Walkup hit one of the biggest shots of the Aggies' season, the game-winner against Arizona, but hasn't had too much of an impact otherwise. And, lastly, we have Dash Harris, the freshman backup point guard. Dash, as should be expected, doesn't take terribly good control of the ball. He's 0-fer from three, and only shooting 50% from the free throw line. Simply put, he isn't on the same level as our backup guards, and should be the guy we attack whenever he's out on the floor.

The Keys

  1. Match Their Intensity -- This is the major key, and one we'll talk about more once we get to the Open Game Thread. The Aggies, simply put, are more desperate today, and they should come out with more fire, more intensity. With the backing of Allen Field House, I don't think we should have too much trouble getting up for the game, but you never know with a young team. If they are the team that visibly cares more, we could be in for a rather disappointing night. If not, we should be in OK shape.
  2. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers -- As we talked about, A&M never turns the ball over. Ever. But, they also don't force all that many turnovers. So, if either of those things changes, that would be a gigantic momentum shift. If we turn the ball over a bunch, that is a big advantage the ampersands are given they aren't accustomed to. If, though, on the other hand, we can force A&M into some turnovers, they are a little behind the eight-ball. So, yeah, this is something that'll likely simply stay the same. However, if it tilts heavily either way, it'll change the game significantly.
  3. Second-Chance Points -- I'll keep saying this until I'm blue in the face; we have to start boxing out. It's a must. It isn't like the Aggies are world-beaters on the offensive glass, but we give up far too many offensive rebounds and, subsequently, second-chance points. It can't happen against really good teams, and the Aggies, while not in that category, certainly fall into the 'good' category. So, yeah, let's box out and win.

Final thoughts, predictions, and all of that stuff to come in the OGT.