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Behind Enemy Lines: Texas A&M @ Texas Basketball Preview

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Longtime contributor South '06 has graciously stepped up and offered to give us the Aggie perspective of this weekend's big tilt. You can also look forward to his forthcoming blog on all things Aggie, Spence Park Soap Box. It should be launched in the next week or two.

Be sure to check out Trips Right's usual excellent preview work as well.

- Sailor Ripley

__________________________________________

SR asked me to put together an objective take on Saturday’s game, knowing full well objectivity is not something we Aggies are known for. In the event my allegiances do show through, I welcome any variations of "occultist," "hillbilly," "collie-worshipper," or "inbred" in the Comments section. But really, stay away from "sheep-fucker." That’s just crass, people.

aggie sheep
If you close your eyes tight enough, she’s Cloris Leachman in "The Last Picture Show."

MATCHUPS

Backcourt
This year’s Texas team reminds me a lot of last year’s A&M team, in that both return most of the supporting cast, but are struggling to replace an elite point guard, both in production and in leadership.

Moving Mason back to shooting guard was a no-brainer. He never looked natural running the point and I’m honestly shocked it took Barnes this long to make the move. I have to assume it has mostly to do with the slow development of freshman guard and Sunday Morning comic strip star Dogus Balbay. Against Tech, Mason looked like the Mason I remember from last season, pushing the ball in transition and crashing the boards on the way to a double-double. Abrams looks comfortable in either spot, so I expect Texas to stick with that lineup against A&M.

The Aggies will almost certainly stick to a 3-guard lineup with Sloan running the point. He’s a capable player, with 60 assists on the season, but his assist-to-turnover ratio has fallen in league play and he has struggled with consistency throughout his career. Predictably, Josh Carter is the team’s scoring leader this season, but he too has struggled with consistency. He is averaging 13 ppg on the season, but has dropped to 10 ppg in league play. Derrick Roland doesn’t bring anything spectacular to the table offensively, but he’s probably the best defender on the team, and the Aggies will likely rely on him to put pressure on Damion James, who is coming off of an 18-point, 8 rebound performance against Tech. Both he and Dash Harris pride themselves on being D-first players, and both believe their defense produces offense.

Frontcourt
Apparently, Barnes was no longer content to have the dinosaur wranglers from Jurassic Park lead Dexter Pittman to a spot under the basket and leave him there for the entire game. Swapping him for Gary Johnson in the starting lineup certainly worked well against Tech, creating more cutting and improving the overall flow of the offense. The downside is that you now have a pissed off 300-pound man-child sulking on your bench. Still, I would be surprised if Pittman didn’t work his way back into steady rotation Saturday. A&M’s frontcourt has been its strength this season and Texas will need him to clog the lane and disrupt the Aggies under the basket.

Chinemelu Elonu has unexpectedly become the Aggies’ most consistent player this season. He averages a double-double in league play, with 13 points-per-game and 10 rebounds-per-game. Barnes had a full week to prepare for the Aggies and I would be willing to bet that much of his focus has been on scheming for Elonu. Bryan Davis hasn’t lived up to lofty expectations this season after a sort of coming-out party last season. His officially-measured 1.76" vertical has somewhat limited his offensive production and he practically hands the ball over every other possession. But, he is still a fiery competitor and plays extremely aggressive under the basket.

Bench
Barnes’ sudden offensive redirection has allowed for the emergence of several new contributors. Matt Hill had a solid game against Tech, showing good command of high-post screens and distributing the ball effectively. The aforementioned Balbay will inevitably start to see the court more often with the movement of Mason back to shooting guard. His development has been slower than expected, but he has huge upside.

B.J. Holmes has been the Aggies’ most reliable contributor off the bench, averaging just over 9 ppg and playing pretty respectably on the defensive side of the ball. Walkup holds the unique distinction of being the only white guy in maroon who has any chance of seeing the court Saturday. Freshman Dash Harris has made his way into the regular rotation as a defensive specialist, and I would expect Turgeon to insert him into the lineup regularly against Texas to try to neutralize the obvious talent disadvantage in the backcourt. Turgeon is pleased with his ability to get A&M into its offense, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him get the start.

Matchups
Texas presents the Aggies with a variety of matchup problems. I’m fairly certain Turgeon will adjust the rotation Saturday after an abysmal outing at Kansas. If I were creating the game-plan, it would look something like this:
Harris/Holmes on Abrams
Roland/Carter on James
Sloan/Harris on Mason
Davis on Johnson
Elonu on Atchley

Or some variation thereof. I’m not thrilled about the prospect of Carter getting matched up with Damion James, but I’m also not thrilled about taking his scoring ability out of the game for any significant period of time. Turgeon has been quoted as saying that he plans to put his five best defenders on the court against Texas. That strategy may be effective in setting the tempo, but eventually you have to get your scorers out on the floor, even if it comes at the expense of defensive stops.

Bottom Line
Slow starts and turnovers have plagued the Aggies all season. Against OU, they failed to get on the scoreboard until the 15:35 mark. A&M hasn’t won in Austin since 2002 and Texas is currently riding a 13-game home win streak. Neither of those trends is likely to change Saturday. 67-52 ‘Horns.

At the post-game press conference, Turgeon will inevitably channel Uncle Rico and wax nostalgic on his playing days at Kansas, where he was 1st team All-Effort or MVP of Hustle or some green-ribbon bullshit.