While bowl games will garner most of the attention on Monday college basketball won't be taking the day off with leagues transitioning into conference play. One such matchup is the first game of Big 12 play as Texas A&M (9-3) visits Waco to take on #6 Baylor (13-0), and Billy Kennedy's Aggies can definitely use a win for resume reasons.
According to realtimerpi.com Texas A&M has an RPI of 242 and a strength of schedule of 341, and while those numbers will jump considerably in Big 12 play their non-conference resume lacks quality wins. That puts even more pressure on the Aggies to finish high in the Big 12, and they'll need to steal a few on the road in order to do so. But this isn't a very good matchup for Texas A&M, even with Baylor's question marks on the perimeter.
Scott Drew's Bears have been more effective on the perimeter than many expected when the season began, and that will need to continue if Baylor is to make noise in March. Junior Pierre Jackson (12.2 ppg, 4.4 apg) has improved by the game coming off the bench but the turnovers are still an issue, with Jackson averaging 3.4 per game.
The same goes for starter A.J. Walton, who is second on the team with 3.9 assists per game. While Walton has the better assist-to-turnover ratio (1.8) of the two he's also got the highest turnover percentage (32.9%). Cal transfer Gary Franklin will also see time and in Boston College transfer Brady Heslip (10.8 ppg, 49.4% 3PT) have one of the best shooters in the Big 12.
Texas A&M also has concerns in the backcourt, and the decision of Jamal Branch to transfer didn't help matters despite his playing just 18.6 minutes per game. Washington transfer Elston Turner (12.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg) has been the Aggies' most effect guard from a scoring standpoint, but A&M will need other guards to step up.
Senior point guard Dash Harris (5.0 ppg, 4.4 apg) has more value as a distributor but he's attempted the second-most three-pointers despite making just 34.8% of those shots. Many thought that Branch could at one point take over the starting point guard job but that's out of the window now, meaning that Harris and others need to step up their play.
Baylor's frontcourt ranks among the best in the country when considering both talent and depth, and while Texas A&M has done a good job of rebounding (margin of plus-8.2) the Bears are an entirely different challenge. Perry Jones III (13.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg) is considered to be Baylor's best NBA prospect, and when he can play with a level of aggression equal to his skill set consistently look out.
Freshman Quincy Miller (10.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg) may be Baylor's most versatile frontcourt player as he's also third on the team in assists (2.1 per game), and seniors Quincy Acy (12.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and Anthony Jones (6.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg) are also tough customers. Baylor's wingspan is what makes their matchup zone so tough to deal with, and with A&M shooting 31.9% from three on the season look for the Aggies to face that zone for much of the night.
Beating Baylor's zone will depend largely on how effective the Aggies are at finding the gaps, and in wing Khris Middleton (13.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.4 apg) Texas A&M has one of the best players in the Big 12. Middleton missed time earlier in the season with a knee injury but he's reached double figures in each of the four games played since his return. He's Texas A&M's most versatile player, and he'll likely have to be the best player on the floor if the Aggies are to win.
David Lobeau (11.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Ray Turner (12.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg) are also important factors for A&M on both ends of the floor, especially when considering the lack of scoring from the guards outside of Turner. There isn't a big difference between the teams from a tempo standpoint, which makes the disparity in offensive efficiency (Baylor 112.2, A&M 99.6) all the more glaring. A&M will need some unheralded guys to put forth excellent performances in order to leave Waco 1-0 in league play, and that may not be a realistic expectation right now.
Also of note on Monday is Virginia's trip to Baton Rouge, and with Trent Johnson's team having won seven straight games (including a win over Marquette) this is a treacherous trip for the Cavaliers. Mike Scott and Joe Harris will have to lead the way while Jontel Evans and Sammy Zeglinski play with poise on the perimeter for the Cavaliers to leave town with a win.
And Vanderbilt hosts Miami (Ohio), who has one of the best frontcourt players in the MAC in Julian Mavunga. Taking on Charlie Coles' team is a tough task so don't be surprised if the Commodores have some issues early in that one. Another non-conference battle involving the MAC is Ohio hosting Robert Morris, with point guard D.J. Cooper being the catalyst for a team that's won nine straight.
In conference games there's VCU's trip north to take on Hofstra in a CAA battle of teams that have been playing good ball of late. Shaka Smart's young team seems to be figuring things out as they've won seven straight, and Mo Cassara's Pride have won three in a row.
Bradford Burgess (VCU) and Mike Moore (Hofstra) are two of the better players in the CAA, but with the Rams forcing turnovers on 28.2% of their opponents' possessions Hofstra has to be sound with the basketball in order to win. ODU visiting James Madison is another game in the CAA to keep an eye on, and the same goes for the Big West battle between UCSB and surprising Cal Poly.
Top 25 Games
7:00 PM Texas A&M at (7) Baylor (ESPNU)
7:00 PM (24) Virginia at LSU (ESPN3)
NCAA Division I Games
12:00 PM William & Mary at George Mason
1:00 PM Rhode Island at Boston College (ESPN3)
1:00 PM American at Brown
2:00 PM Delaware at UNC Wilmington
3:00 PM Old Dominion at James Madison (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Northeastern at Towson
7:00 PM Wofford at Wake Forest (ESPN3)
7:00 PM UMBC at New Hampshire
7:00 PM Fairleigh Dickinson at Columbia
7:00 PM Robert Morris at Ohio
7:00 PM Stetson at Kennesaw State
7:00 PM Hartford at Albany
7:00 PM Maine at Binghamton
7:00 PM Drexel at Georgia State
7:00 PM Charleston Southern at High Point
7:00 PM VCU at Hofstra (FiOS 1)
7:00 PM Shawnee State at Kent State
7:00 PM Presbyterian at Liberty
7:00 PM Rider at Manhattan
7:00 PM Saint Peter's at Marist
7:00 PM UNC Asheville at Radford
7:00 PM Vermont at Stony Brook
7:00 PM Chattanooga at Tennessee (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Gardner-Webb at Virginia Military
7:00 PM Lafayette at NJIT
7:05 PM Virginia-Wise at Citadel
7:15 PM Lipscomb at Jacksonville
7:30 PM Brewton Parker at Georgia Southern
7:30 PM Niagara at Loyola (MD)
7:30 PM FGCU at Mercer
7:45 PM Coastal Carolina at Campbell
7:45 PM Belmont at North Florida
8:00 PM Bethune-Cookman at Auburn
8:00 PM Miami (OH) at Vanderbilt
8:00 PM Roosevelt at Northern Illinois
8:00 PM Jarvis Christian at Sam Houston State
8:30 PM Jacksonville State at Southeast Missouri State
9:00 PM UNC Greensboro at Miami (FL) (ESPN3)
9:05 PM Idaho State at Northern Colorado
10:00 PM UC Santa Barbara at Cal Poly
10:00 PM Cal State Northridge at UC Riverside
10:00 PM Boise State at Fresno State
10:00 PM Long Beach State at UC Irvine
10:00 PM New Mexico State at Cal State Bakersfield
10:05 PM Pacific at Cal State Fullerton