The Kentucky Wildcats should beat the Texas A&M Aggies on Tuesday. The Wildcats have more talent. They have just beaten LSU on the road and Florida at home. They lead the SEC by two games.
By Matt Zemek
They are headed for their typically high seed (though not No. 1 or No. 2 – probably a No. 3 seed) in the NCAA Tournament. The Texas A&M Aggies aren’t going to make the NCAA Tournament. They will probably land in the NIT. A few weeks ago, it seemed A&M wasn’t even going to play in the NIT, or in any postseason tournament.
However, while Kentucky should win on paper, games aren’t played on paper. In the past week and a half, Texas A&M has played – no kidding here – the best basketball in the SEC.
One SEC bubble team after another has run up against the Aggies. Each bubble team has been popped by Buzz Williams’ group, which is wrecking bubble resumes left and right.
A&M was under .500 a few weeks ago. After beating bubble teams Alabama and South Carolina, and also handling Georgia, the Aggies are now 14-12. They are improbably in the hunt for the No. 4 seed and a double bye at the SEC Tournament. They are one game behind fourth-place Florida. This was a team which looked absolutely atrocious in November and December. Buzz Williams has turned the ship around, offering SEC fans a glimpse of what he will be able to do when he gets all of his own players and builds a foundation in College Station.
Yes, on paper, Kentucky should win, but this A&M team isn’t the team we saw in the first two months of the season.
Let’s see what the Wildcats have to do:
1 – Protect the ball
This is how the game – and the ball – can slip away from the Wildcats. Texas A&M forced 16 Mississippi State turnovers in beating the Bulldogs this past Saturday. The Aggies have come up with steals and deflections to change the tenor of games in their favor. Their defense made defining plays in the win over Georgia a week and a half ago. That defense created takeaways to bother Mississippi State.
Ashton Hagans and the rest of the Kentucky backcourt don’t have to shoot an incredibly high percentage. They need to focus on not giving A&M steals and easy fast-break baskets before UK has a chance to set up its excellent halfcourt defense.
2 – Punch the Aggies in the mouth
A&M has gotten hot on offense in recent games. The Aggies scored 46 second-half points to win at Alabama a week ago. A&M has averaged just over 80 points in its last two wins. The Aggies have hit a combined 20 3-pointers in 41 attempts over those two games, just under 50 percent from long distance. Against Mississippi State, Texas A&M’s entire starting five scored in double figures, with four of those players scoring at least 15 points. Kentucky needs to make A&M realize, immediately, that baskets won’t come easily. Send that message, Cats. If you can, A&M is likely to struggle the whole game.
3 – Nick Richards
Buzz Williams-coached teams usually win with their performance in the backcourt and on the wings. Buzz’s teams at Marquette and Virginia Tech were known for their relentless defensive pressure and their ability to spread the floor on offense. Where Buzz’s teams run into problems is against a frontcourt beast, a low-post hammer who can bully Buzz’s bigs into submission. That’s Nick Richards in this game. This is a game meant and built for him to dominate. If he delivers a typically strong performance, it will be hard for A&M to handle it.