The Longhorns make their annual trip to College Station Wednesday night to take on Texas A&M and first year coach Mark Turgeon. The game features two teams with contrasting styles in that Texas for much of the season has played with a small, perimeter oriented group, while the aggies rely on traditional inside and outside balance of Bryan Davis, Joe Jones and Deandre Jordan on the interior, and talented perimeter players like Josh Carter, Dominique Kirk, and Donald Sloan.
It is also a matchup of teams going in different directions since conference play began with the Aggies losing 3 out of 4, and narrowly avoiding a 4 game skid with a nailbiter win in Stillwater. The Longhorns, on the other hand, have won 3 straight since dropping their Big 12 opener against a hot shooting Missou squad on the road in Columbia.
Still this aggie team is a talented one that will be sky high for their hated rival, and have the offensive personnel matchups to exploit Texas smallish frontcourt. To the players...
The Aggie Front Court
DeAndre Jordan. 6'11" C. Averages 9.3 ppg 6.8 rebounds in 23 minutes per game. He's been a different player since injuring his ankle and has averaged just a few minutes and 4 points a game in the last 4 games. Still, he's the type of big athletic post man that can give the Horns fits if the Aggies can get him touches in his comfort zone.
Bryan Davis. 6'9" F. Averages 8.5 ppg 4.7 rebounds in 21 minutes of action. He's really been a god-send for Ags in the last few, keeping them in the overtime loss vs. Baylor when he dropped 30 on the Bears with 9-16 shooting. He's a physical player that can get to the line when he attacks the rim either from the post or on offensive rebounding opportunities. He's especially clever from the weakside when the focus is on Jones or Jordan, where he takes advantage of helping big men to get easy put backs.
Joe Jones. 6'9" F. Averages 11.4 ppg 5.5 rebounds in 25 minutes per game. Jones is the heart and soul of this Aggie team, although knee problems have limited his explosiveness. Still, he's a competent back to the basket scorer and with the added ability to face up, he can get mediocre defensive bigs in foul trouble.
Dominique Kirk. 6'3" combo guard. He averages 8 points and 3.8 assists against 1.4 turnovers in 30 minutes of action. He's not nearly as dynamic at creating shots for himself as Acie Law was, but when allowed to spot up he can flat out shoot the basketball, hitting a torrid 22 of 46 from beyond the arc.
Donald Sloan. 6'2" lead guard that shares the ballhandling responsibilities with Kirk. He's averaging 9.3 ppg and 3 assists but is susceptible to turning the ball over evidenced by his 2 per night. He's a below average shooter hitting just 31% from 3-land, 42% overall, and below 60% from the foul line.
Josh Carter. 6'7" Wing who serves as the Aggies number 1 scoring option with 13.5 ppg and 4.5 rebounds. Shoots the 3 at a respectable 37.5% clip and is an outstanding foul shooter. Good athlete that can put the ball on the floor and finish. It'll be interesting to see if he's recovered from a tweaked ankle suffered against Okie State.
Texas. What to watch for on Defense.
The Aggies will have a sizeable mismatch in the frontcourt with the ability to bring in 3 bonafide post men that love to bang and board, and Texas will need to limit the damage Jones, Jordan, and Davis can do on the offensive end in terms of points, rebounds, and fouls drawn. Surprisingly, I think Texas can play predominantly man to man to accomplish this because guys off the bench like Johnson and Pittman have some decent matchups. Here's how I would scheme.
When I'm playing 3 guard I'll play man with some junk principles. I'd have DJ on Sloan and coach him to entice perimeter shots and midrange jumpers. Job 1 is keeping him from getting to the paint and creating offense. Go under all perimeter screens and look to muck up crossing/cutting big men when the opportunity presents itself. Overall, make Donald Sloan prove he can knock down perimeter looks and keep him out of the lane.
AJ Abrams needs to be coached to close out aggressively on Kirk, as he's proved to be the Aggies' best shooter. But at the same time, you can't let him blow by you and create because with our size disadvantage, our bigs can't lend a whole lot of help. AJ has the toughest task in my opinion, and we need him to hold his own.
Mason on Carter should be a great matchup. I would caution Mason from buying into Carter's shooting hype. Make him make a couple before you close out, especially if he's healthy and able to get to the rim. If he's dinged up, take advantage by getting all over his shooting hand and pressuring his dribble.
Atchley and James should switch all interior screens that would otherwise take Damion to the strongside. He's much more valuable as a weakside help defender and rebounder than Connor is. Plus, we can't afford James to get into foul trouble.
To get the bench players in, I think Texas can match Johnson with Carter if he's dinged, or get Pittman/Chapman/Wangmene in the game to play soft on Davis or bang with Jordan. Or ofcourse, Texas can always zone.
I would also add in some 3 quarter court pressure to prevent the Aggies from having a lot of shot clock to work with on any given possession. A shorter shot clock means the Horns can help and rotate more aggressively. I might even run some old Dean Smith run and jump like the Horns did against Tech, to try to exploit Sloan's turnover woes or at the very least force the aggies into a couple back court passes to advance the ball.
Texas. What to watch for on offense. Texas' best bet is to run sets or motion that pull the TAMU frontcourt away from the baseline. Tennessee, with similar personnel to that of Texas, does a great job of deploying its frontcourt players in a manner that spreads the floor aiding dribble penetration and cuts to the goal. With James and Atchley on the floor, the Horns should be able to keep Jones, Davis, and Jordan out of their comfort zone in the paint. Instead, they'll be forced to help high ball screens and perimeter shooters which is advantage Texas.
This game is one where a true interior back to the basket game could actually hurt Texas. Having anyone on the block for more than just a few possessions allows the aggies to do what they do best which is block shots and rebound. I'd rather see Jones, Davis, and Jordan move their feet on the perimeter and contest shots.
Unlike most folks, I think Texas matches up extremely well with Texas A&M. Usually teams with big frontcourts should give Texas fits on defense, but I don't think this Aggie group is as adept at scoring with their back to the basket as most people think. Jones has to hit his 15 footers consistently to be considered a dynamic scorer, while Davis and Jordan are neutralized offensively if you can block out and keep them off the glass. The true X factor for Texas will be keeping perimeter players out of the lane where they can create easy opportunites like layups and put backs coming at the expense of helping frontcourt players.
On offense, I think Texas can have its way with TAMU's man to man defense. I fully expect the aggies to play a whole lot of zone after they realize their frontcourt will be exposed on the perimeter. I hope Texas worked a bunch on its zone offense this week. Ofcourse that means Texas will have to shoot the ball well to win, so that's your X factor on offense.
And with both teams being relatively thin, foul trouble could certainly be a factor. I see Texas getting easier looks possession for possession this game so I have them winning a close one in front of a raucous TAMU crowd. 78-75 Texas.