The Texas Longhorns (21-4, 8-2) will be going for their sixth straight win overall and their third straight in ‘Big Monday’ contests tonight as they host Texas A&M (20-5, 6-4). Before the Aggies played Oklahoma State on Saturday afternoon, this was shaping up to be a clash between not just traditional rivals but between the two hottest teams in the conference. All that changed in College Station as the Aggies struggled to score, especially from behind the three-point arc, and dropped what should have been an easy victory. Now, the Aggies head to Austin in search of a signature win that would boost a mediocre resume. Tip time is 8 p.m. and the game will be televised by ESPN.
Texas A&M easily dispatched of the Longhorns, 80-63, in College Station on January 30th. In that meeting, the Aggies jumped out to 29-7 lead behind the hot outside shooting of Josh Carter the punishing post play of Joe Jones, Brian Davis, and DeAndre Jordan. After the first eight or so minutes, the two teams played evenly, though. Rick Barnes commented after the game that he never thought you could win a game in the first five minutes but that his team proved that you could lose one in the first five minutes. With this one being played in Austin and with the Horns riding a giant wave of confidence, there is no way the Longhorns get blown out early.
Expect to see another physical, close, and well-played game, ala Kansas. The Aggies will try to exploit their advantage inside while knocking down just enough jumpers to keep the Texas defense honest. Meanwhile, Texas should try to push the tempo and get easy baskets in transition. The Longhorns also have an advantage at guard, in quickness and skill. Last, Texas has developed a post presence, in Gary Johnson, that they didn’t have in the first meeting. At best, Johnson should be able to get the Aggie bigs into foul trouble and at worst his inside touches should allow AJ Abrams enough space to get off some three-pointers.
Keys to the Game:
Against Oklahoma State on Saturday, A&M scored just 54 points in a slow pace game and hit only 4-of-14 from three. If the Horns are able to score 70+ points, A&M will have to get hot from three to keep up. The only player capable of knocking down the three-pointer consistently is Josh Carter. Texas will likely be forced to double team Jones and Jordan some in the post but that double team cannot come from the Horn assigned to Carter.
With the Horns’ personnel, Coach Barnes doesn’t have to make an absolute choice. He will be able to mix it up as the games goes. When Barnes elects to go big, AJ could see fewer minutes, James will play more at the small forward spot, and Dexter Pittman, Alexis Wangmene, and Gary Johnson will be asked to defend the post effectively. Texas could also play a 2-3 zone and pack the inside with the bigger lineup but our 2-3 usually leads to open three-pointers for our opponents. Not a good idea. When Coach Barnes elects to go small, he’ll go with 6-2 Justin Mason at the small forward spot, hopefully defend the post with Damion James and Connor Atchley, and push the ball at every opportunity. As I already mentioned, the Texas guards are significantly more skilled than their Aggie counterparts. AJ, DJ, and Justin should be able to create turnovers, score in transition, and make the game more full court than half court. The more Texas can force Jones, Jordan, and Davis to change ends quickly, the bigger the advantage is for the Longhorns. Texas was able to do this some in the second half in College Station but was already in too deep a hole. The one thing Texas cannot do is play small and play slowly. A half court game with Damion James defending Jones or Jordan or Davis in the low post is not to our advantage.
After the last three minutes in Waco, this one has to be a key. Neither Texas nor A&M send their opponents to the foul line often but when these two teams hookup, the game usually turns physical. Don’t be fooled by the Aggies L to OSU, they are still a very good team and a team that won’t be beaten easily if we leave points at the line.
A couple of other things I’d like to see: 1) Dexter Pittman get early minutes if Barnes elects to play big and slow. 2) Get AJ going early if Barnes elects to play small. 3) Get Connor involve in a lot of high pick and pops to force his defender away from the basket. Just like against Kansas, Connor should be able to hit some threes against Aggies bigs who are not comfortable defending 20+ feet from the basket.