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College Basketball Preview: Texas Longhorns @ Texas A&M Aggies

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The Texas Longhorns roll into College Station tonight winners of two straight and facing an Aggie team desperate to get a W. The Aggies have dropped three straight heartbreaking losses to OU, Kansas State and Baylor. In each of the 3 contests the Aggies were in the ballgame until the very end, and even had a chance to knock off the number 2 ranked team in the land, Oklahoma, having the Sooners on the ropes before collapsing with two minutes to go. If the Aggies have any hope whatsover of getting a bid to the big dance, they'll have to knock off a resurgent Longhorn squad. Currently the Ags sit at 3-7 in conference play, and need to somehow get to .500 to even sniff the tournament. Lose tonight, and A&M would have to win out.

The Longhorns, on the other hand, seemed to have found something by turning over the reins to the only bona fide point guard on the roster Dogus Balbay. Balbay's increased minutes have been the catalyst in the Longhorns playing an unselfish brand of basketball for the most part, as the Horns have averaged 17 team assists over that last two games. Although Balbay's presence has given the Horns more ability to create offensively, it isn't without its downside. Predictibly, teams are starting to change the way they defend the Horns, electing to go with more zone defense or junk defense inviting Balbay and the other guards not named AJ Abrams to shoot the basketball, while packing the paint with a zone or a diamond and 1. Colorado was being gashed by Texas until they went to a matchup box and 1 that denied AJ Abrams the basketball with a chaser, allowing freedom for the other defenders to mix and match with Texas' remaining personnel with a Tarkanian amoeba-like zone. The result allowed the Buff's to force overtime, narrowly missing the upset. Texas, and specifically Balbay, must do a much better job attacking zones and junks if they want to continue their winning ways. On to the game...

The Aggie Personnel

Backcourt
These two teams know each other well, so it's doubtful there will be any matchup surpises in this ballgame. Carter is the scoring stud for the Ags. He can hurt you inside and out, but the senior wing prefers to float on the perimeter and look for long distance offense. Texas has to contest aggressively when he catches, but Josh must be guarded on the catch because his size and athleticism allows him to raise up over defenders shooting the basketball if he's given the slightes bit of daylight. In the first meeting, AJ Abrams' quickness was effective in chasing Carter off of the jumper, yet Carter inexplicably refused to punish the smallish Abrams in the paint. I doubt the Ags make the same mistake tonight. Look for AJ to play Carter for short stints, but I would be surprised if Mason, Ward, or James didn't get the vast majority of that defensive assignment knowing Turgeon will probably have an adjustment in waiting.

Sloan and Roland are the ballhandling pair guards. Donald Sloan is the more accomplished offensive player and he makes it go for the Aggies. I'm excited about seeing Doge get in his jock the entire night making life hell for the Aggie lead guard. If Sloan's ability to create is taken away, the ags become overly reliant on their back to the basket game. Roland is a terrific defender and, at best, a streaky offensive player. He should be AJ's guard tonight. BJ Holmes provides the Ags with deep heat off the bench. Holmes needs to be challenged when he crosses halfcourt.

The Frontcourt
Elonu and Davis are a poor man's Colon and Kent. Elonu is athletic enough to find offense inside against bigger players, and he's an absolute bitch on the offensive glass. Davis is not as gifted athletically, but he's relentless. Texas must do a good job of keeping a body on him on every possession because he'll worm his way near the bucket and keep possessions alive if he's not blocked out. I'm especially worried about Davis when the Horns go small with a frontcourt of Johnson, James, and Ward/Mason in the frontcourt. James must find a way to keep the senior off the glass.

TAMU is not deep inside, Labou being the only other big player that sees signficant minutes. He gives the Ags 5 big fouls and that's it.

Keys to the Game

Making Turgeon Flaccid

Turgeon is going to run his disciplined man to man until it is absolutely beaten out of him. Consider him Bobby Knight-lite in this respect. This is actually good news for the Horns, and plays right into the strengths of Texas' new lineup. If the Ags go M2M it's going to be tough to chase Abrams all over the floor with Roland, keep Balbay out of the lane with Sloan, guard Damion James inside and out with Elonu, and chase Gary Johnson into the high post with Davis. Carter will be key in providing help to the other assignments, but Mason can certainly do damage off the bounce and on the glass if he shows up and Carter isn't paying attention.

The key for Texas is to run offense and exploit these mismatches forcing Turgeon to go to a sagging M2M or some kind of zone or junk defense. The former is palatable for Turgeon, the latter has a solid chance of making Mark's head explode, but it might be his best bet.

This Can be Dexter Pittman's Game
Barnes doesn't need to use artificial means like zoning and controlling tempo to keep Dexter on the floor for his offense in this ballgame. As long as Davis is on the floor, Pittman has a decent matchup defensively which means Texas wouldn't need to worry about zoning to hide Dex.

In terms of tempo, Texas guards don't need to artificially slow the game down to keep Pittman in the flow, because the Ags are looking to grind it out anyway. No need to surround Dex with four ball handlers to guarantee tempo, Texas can play close to base personnel and keep Dexter involved. There should be 20 solid minutes out there for Dex this contest, if not more. That's good news for Texas. Dex also has a solid chance to exact foul trouble on an Aggie frontcourt with a propensity to foul. If he doesn't have a double double tonight, I think Texas loses.

The Rim is Your Friend
There are 3 reasons Texas must endeavor to get to rim in this ballgame, the first of which is obvious. Texas is a horrible jumpshooting basketball team. Duh. Why Texas settles for early deep looks in any game is beyond me, but if we settle for jumpers tonight we'll get run. Secondly, the Aggies are paper thin in the frontcourt. Elonu has been in foul trouble in 6 out of 10 conference games. Bryan Davis has been called for 3 or more personals in all 10 conference tilts. Texas needs to get to the rack against the Aggie frontcourt and get one of these two on the bench for signficant minutes. Third, Texas needs to punish the aggies' aggressive M2M pressure by back cutting and dribble penetration. If Texas is forced to toss the ball around the arc looking for easy jumpshooting offense, they're playing into TAMU's strengths. Texas should have the quickness advantage at 4 out of the 5 positions on the floor for the majority of the ballgame. The Horns would be bailing the ags out if they didn't attack the rim.

Overall, the Horns will have to play better than they have in about a month to win this important conference matchup. Texas A&M will be out for blood against their hated rival so Texas better match the intensity level or they risk being run out of the gym. I'm interested to see if Dogus Balbay is ready for primetime. He'll need to play aggressively, but within himself for the Horns to have a chance. Doge will need 8 dimes and no more than 3 turnovers for Texas to win. He'll have to get other players involved, but he'll also need to punish TAMU for overplaying AJ and James. He's officially the guy. The sophomore point guard has been handed the rock, what's he gonna do with it?

Post-Mortem from last game here.

Also, check Spence Park Soapbox for the Aggie view awiggo @ BON for more on the game.