Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
-- The Big 12 is again my focus for GameNight, as two teams I’ve recently previewed, #44 Texas A&M (15-3,1-2) and #29 Kansas (13-4, 2-0), meet in Lawrence.
Texas A&M had a strong mid-season run, winning 10 in a row, including beating Arizona and LSU, but since, it has lost two of three conference games. These games have come against fairly strong opposition, but the Aggies will have a tough time avoiding a 1-4 conference start; this trip is followed by a journey to Austin on the weekend. Kansas has been tough to pin down so far this season, getting good wins over Tennessee and Washington, but losing to Massachusetts and Arizona, among others. The Jayhawks have displayed very good form at Allen Fieldhouse, and are off to a great start in the Big 12, though this game will be their biggest league challenge to date.
Kansas’ offensive attack has been most successful down low, making over 50% of its attempts from inside the arc and putting up a strong showing on the offensive glass. Kansas also gets to the free throw line quite often, and makes a solid percentage once there. The Jayhawks have struggled with turnovers at times, but are fortunate that A&M has not been particularly strong at forcing them. The Aggie defense will go strength-to-strength with Kansas’ attack, as it is effective at stopping inside shots and grabbing rebounds. The real problem for the Aggies will be the outside shot, as Kansas is a reasonably good shooting team from distance, and A&M has one of the worst perimeter defenses in the Big 12.
A&M tends to work the ball down low quite often, but efficient scoring has been hard to come by, as the Aggies are the worst two-point shooters in the conference. A&M keeps its offense afloat with smart ball control and a good ability to get to the line, and while Kansas has not caused opponents much trouble in those areas, the Jayhawks have been a defensive force on the inside, allowing barely 40% of shots from two-point range. This doesn't bode well for A&M and it’s hard to see the Aggies having much offensive success in this one.
Guard Donald Sloan and forward Josh Carter are an effective duo for the Aggies, but neither is much of an offensive force. Sloan is a good ball distribution guard who averages 3.3 assists with a 2.1 A/TO ratio, but desperately needs to improve his shot selection, as he hits 37% from the field and well under 40% from two. Carter is 6-7, but takes the majority of his shots from behind the arc, and is an major force at the free throw line, where he shoots nearly 90%. The Aggies do have some big men who will mix it up inside, led by 6-10 junior Chinemelu Elonu, who leads the team in both rebounds and blocks, and is shooting 66% from the floor on the year. Elonu was critical to the Aggies’ win over Baylor, but was not much of a factor against Oklahoma, and he’ll need to be good to keep A&M around in this one. Junior Bryan Davis is a 55% shooter who averages over 6 rebounds a game, while freshman David Lobeau has been decent in limited minutes, but needs to find more consistency in scoring. Derrick Roland starts alongside Sloan in the backcourt, and has shown an improved shooting touch in the last couple of games, but still tends to waste a lot of possessions, under 45 eFG%. B.J. Holmes is a more efficient option off the bench, while freshman Dash Harris has show a good nose for assists, but not much of a shooting touch in relatively few minutes. Nathan Walkup is probably best known for his game-winning shot against Arizona, but the sophomore hasn’t made many of his attempts on the season, and doesn’t play a huge role.
Kansas is another very young team, with only a single upperclassmen playing significant minutes, junior Sherron Collins. Collins’ role has ballooned this season, and he’s managed to keep his percentages pretty much the same, while managing to get to the free throw line a lot more often. He leads the team in both assists and points, and has been key to Kansas’ offensive success. Cole Aldrich has also stepped his play, showing an excellent inside scoring touch and being one of the team’s best free throw shooters. Aldrich also leads the Big 12 in blocks and is second in rebounding, just short of 10 boards a game. Tyshawn Taylor and Brady Morningstar start alongside Collins in the backcourt; Morningstar is a very good three point shooter who commits few turnovers, while Taylor is an efficient scorer from inside the arc. Tyrell Reed is another good shooter who can come off the bench, while the main help for Aldrich inside comes from the Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus. Markieff has shot a better percentage from the field, but plays much less, partly because of his struggles with foul trouble. Marcus has been a solid rebounder, but still has some room for improvement on the offensive end. Both brothers are fairly poor free throw shooters, the two worst on the team. Mario Little has recently entered the starting lineup after an injury, he had an effective game against Kansas St. but hasn’t played many minutes so far, when he gets his game together he should be a another good shooting option.
Texas A&M has a nice record and some decent wins, but a statistical look at the Aggies finds them sitting well behind the conference’s best teams, and doesn’t suggest they’ll be too competitive, especially with a difficult South division schedule. This is a critical game for A&M to prove its mettle, but Kansas’ strong home form and good interior defense should prove to be too much for them.
Prediction: Kansas Margin: 3-7
-- Evan Dorey's rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.