Texas and Texas A&M tip on Monday night at 8:00 p.m. CT on ESPN.
Less than two weeks after throttling the Aggies 81-60 in Austin, the No. 3 Texas Longhorns men's basketball team (18-3, 6-0) visits College Station on Monday night for the rematch with No. 14 Texas A&M Aggies (17-3, 4-2). Though Rick Barnes owns an impressive 19-7 ledger against Texas A&M, the Aggies have won the last six in College Station, including a 74-58 win over the Longhorns last year. This season marks the first time that the Longhorns have started Big 12 conference play with a 6-0 record.
Texas A&M enters tonight's contest on the heels of a disappointing 57-48 loss to Nebraska in Lincoln on Saturday, a game in which they held a 7 point halftime lead but managed just 17 points in the entire second half. The Aggies will be glad to return to Reed Arena where they are 13-0 on the season, with wins over Washington, Missouri, and Kansas State. But it won't be easy, as Texas has won all five of its road contests since losing at Southern Cal in December, picking up wins at North Carolina, Michigan State, Texas Tech, Kansas, and Oklahoma State.
The Aggies had a terrible time in Austin in large part because starting guards BJ Holmes and Dash Harris were so badly outmatched. They're the weakest starting pair of guards in the entire conference: Holmes is an undersized one-trick pony, and Dash Harris is a good athlete with barely any basketball skills. Watching the Aggies rally from behind to gut out a win at Reed over Kansas State, I'm as mystified as is Trips Right that the Aggies aren't giving more time to the smooth-shooting 6-6 guard Naji Hibbert, whose three treys (including an incredibly high-difficulty shot from the corner in which he should have had the chance to shoot a FT for the four-point play) were instrumental in the Aggies comeback. With A&M reeling a bit after Lincoln, maybe Turgeon will try to mix it up some, because the Holmes-Dash combo is utterly dreadful.
The Aggies rely heavily on 6-7 sophomore swingman Khris Middleton for their scoring, and though he is very much an impressive young player, the problem is that he seems to me a year away from being the kind of player who you can ride night in and night out against tough defensive teams. He's still putting it all together, and once he does he's going to be a contender for conference player of the year, but right now he's "merely" very good. With that said, he's been at his best at home, and A&M needs him tonight to deliver a star performance.
Beyond that, the Aggies get solid production out of big men Nathan Walkup and David Loubeau. Walkup is a nifty, versatile player who can pop it from outside and score in a variety of ways around the bucket, but he's not a bad match up for Gary Johnson, possessing neither a big size nor quickness advantage. As for Loubeau, he's not the world's most polished big man, but he's strong enough to bang with Thompson, and in Austin he demonstrated a nice ability to shoot over his shoulder. I'm not sure he has a secondary move, though; if Thompson watched the film and can take that away, Loubeau will be out of his comfort zone.
All told, it's hard to see how the Aggies are going to score a lot of points unless Middleton has a star performance, they have a particularly torrid shooting night from beyond the arc, get some production from a bench guy like Hibbert or Darko, or shoot 40 free throws. Which means the Aggies will need to keep the Texas offense in check themselves. I'm sure we'll see typical Tourgeon ball in that regard, and our players better be ready for gobs of gropes, checks, and holds from Aggie defenders, who will hope to benefit from home floor officiating.
Essentially, the Aggies will be looking for Middleton and Hamilton to flip flop performances on the Aggies home floor. In Austin, Hamilton went off for 27 while Middleton faded down the stretch, finishing with 16, the only Aggie in double figures. And if they can shoot twice as many free throws against Texas like they did when Missouri visited Reed Arena, Texas will face an uphill battle to win.
Beyond what I've already discussed, be sure to check out the excellent keys to the game over at Barking Carnival.
Prediction: Texas 61 A&M 57