Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
-- Two in-state rivals that have each had a tough time in the month of February will face off tonight, when #38 Texas (17-7. 6-4) travels to College Station to face #95 Texas A&M (17-8, 3-7).
Texas looked to have an excellent profile for a high NCAA seed only a couple of weeks ago, with some good wins over UCLA, Villanova and Wisconsin, and four acceptable losses, the worst at Arkansas. However, the start of February saw the Longhorns hit a rough patch, losing twice at home, to Kansas St. and Missouri, and dropping a tight game at Nebraska. They’ve since recovered, but were forced to overtime by the Big 12’s worst team, Colorado, on Saturday. Texas A&M had a great 2008, finishing 12-1, beating LSU and Arizona, but has struggled in conference, and enter tonight’s encounter on a three game losing streak after falling at Baylor over the weekend. The Aggies do have a fairly weak finish to the season, and a win here would give them a chance at finishing above .500 in the conference.
Texas’ offense is excellent at maximizing the number of shots it gets per possession, as it sits near the top of the conference rankings in both offensive rebounding and turnover rate. Despite this, the Longhorns aren’t particularly efficient, as their shooting is simply not that good. Texas tends to focus on inside scoring, where it is reasonably effective, but struggles both from behind the arc and at the free throw line. This will probably be to the Aggies’ benefit: A&M defends the inside well, but is weak against the three-point shot. Texas A&M will compete well with Texas on the glass, but won’t force many turnovers, meaning the Longhorns will have plenty of chances to get the ball inside.
Offensively, A&M also focuses on its interior attack, though not with the same frequency, or to the same effect, as the Texas offense. A&M shoots well under 50% from two-point range, and depends heavily on the same areas Texas excels in, turnovers and rebounds, though it is not as strong in either area as the Longhorns. The Aggies get a lot of their points at the free throw line – they aren’t great percentage shooters, but are 12th in the nation in FTA/FGA. Over the season, Texas has had one of the nation’s better defenses, but conference play has seen some less than stellar defensive performances from the Longhorns. Texas has been susceptible to three-point shot, but defends the interior strongly, a good matchup against the Aggies. It doesn’t force a lot of turnovers, nor is it strong on the boards, so stopping shots is really the Longhorns’ only way to keep their opponents in check.
Guard Donald Sloan and forward Josh Carter are an effective duo for the Aggies, though neither player is a pure scorer. Sloan is a good ball distribution guard who averages 3.1 assists with a 1.9 A/TO ratio, but desperately needs to improve his shot selection, as he hits just 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, where he’s just barely good enough to remain efficient. Carter does his best work 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 64% from the floor on the year, along with junior Bryan Davis, a 53% shooter who averages over six rebounds a game. Both Elonu and Davis get to the free throw line often, though their percentages aren’t great once there. Derrick Roland starts alongside Sloan in the backcourt, he’s shown a better shooting touch in recent games, but is still inconsistent. B.J. Holmes is a good three-point shooter off the bench, but his two-point percentage is frighteningly low. Freshman David Lobeau has been solid in the frontcourt, despite limited minutes, but needs to find more consistency in scoring. Fellow freshman Dash Harris has chipped in some assists, but has shot very poorly in relatively few minutes.
Senior A.J. Abrams is Texas’ clear leader, having played at least 35 minutes in all but four of the Longhorns’ games, and playing every minute of 10 games this year. Abrams isn’t a great offensive player, but he’s does enough to stay pretty effective; a good three-point shooter who commits few turnovers, and leads the team in steals. Abrams is the Longhorns’ only serious three-point threat, and has taken more than half of the team’s attempts from behind the arc. Justin Mason starts alongside Abrams, and is a good ball-control guard, averaging nearly 5 assists a game with a 2.3 A/TO ratio. His shooting has been abysmal, however, under 25% from three. Turkish sophomore Dogus Balbay has recently drawn into the starting line-up; he’s another guard who can distribute well, but isn’t much of a shooter. Balbay’s 36% on free throws is especially worrying. Damion James is Texas’ most important inside player, second on the team in scoring and leading it in rebounds with nearly nine a game. James is also a good shot-blocker and is a decent inside shooter. Gary Johnson is another good inside player, a solid rebounder who isn’t quite as effective as James. Dexter Pittman and Connor Atchley both started at one point in the frontcourt, but have not in recent games. Pittman is a 60% shooter from the field, but hasn’t been that consistent in his fluctuating levels of playing time. Atchley was a player I had high hopes for this season, but his shooting percentages have gone south, barely reaching 40% from the floor. Varez Ward is a freshman guard who has a lot of problems in his game to work out; he’s struggled with turnovers and with his shot.
These two teams have surprisingly similar statistical profiles, with the main difference being that Texas is more effective across the board than A&M. While this should be a close game, the Longhorns look to be too strong for the Aggies to match.
Winner: Texas Margin: 4-8
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & 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.
Editor's Early Preview
*Made on 02/06. Full preview by the GameNight staff coming soon!
The Aggies are a fringe Tourney team, who could still use a couple marquee wins to impress the voters. On Big Monday, A&M gets the big win.
Early Prediction: Texas A&M