College Hoops Monday: Your Commentary

January 31st, 2011
The big game on Monday night is a rematch between Texas (18-3, 6-0) and Texas A&M (17-3, 4-2), with the latter needing a win in order to remain a serious factor in the Big 12 race. Texas controlled the first meeting back on January 19th, winning by the final score of 81-60 behind 27 points and eight rebounds from Jordan Hamilton. The presence of Hamilton underlined the issue for Texas A&M but on the other side of the floor: who's their perimeter bell cow to put points on the board in key situations? Khris Middleton scored 16 in the loss but he isn't the kind of player that you isolate on the wing and let go to work despite his skill. The Aggies really don't have that type of player and in most games that's actually fine due to what the likes of Middleton, David Lobeau (10.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and Nathan Walkup (10.1, 5.7 rpg) bring to the table. The Aggies get a solid portion of their production on the offensive boards, where they grab 41% of their misses on the average. But in Texas they face a team that can more than match their size inside, and in the first meeting the Longhorns were the ones who got after the offensive boards at a higher rate (41% to 33% for A&M). And with their size Texas can bludgeon the opposition on the glass in a slower game despite the fact that they average 70 possessions per game (A&M has an average of 65 possessions per game). If A&M can break even on the glass while grabbing their share of offensive boards they'll have a chance in front of their raucous home crowd.

Rick Barnes' team put together one of the most impressive 7-day stretches of the season last week, winning at Kansas and Oklahoma State before taking care of Missouri on Saturday. Hamilton gets a good deal of attention for his offensive exploits but there are more weapons than just the sophomore from Los Angeles. Forwards Gary Johnson (11.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and Tristan Thompson (12.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg) get the job done on both ends of the floor, possessing both the physicality needed to bang inside and the athleticism to get out and run when the opportunity presents itself. Guards Cory Joseph (11.2 ppg, 2.9 apg) and J'Covan Brown (9.4 ppg) can both score from the perimeter as well, with Brown going off for 17 points in the second half of the win at Kansas, and Dogus Balbay is one of the nation's premier defenders while also boasting an assist to turnover ratio of nearly 2.6:1. Coach Barnes' guys average around 77 points per game while shooting 46% from the field and 38% from three, but they also get it done on the defensive end. Opponents shoot just 36.8% from the field on the season, and while they don't hound teams into a number of turnovers the Longhorns can clamp down in the half court. Texas A&M will need to find quality looks inside and not settle for perimeter shots late in the shot clock as neither B.J. Holmes (37.9% FG) nor Dash Harris (28.1% FG) is that kind of player. Naji Hibbert averages around seven points per game off the bench, and he may need to be that perimeter scorer tonight if the Aggies are to take care of business.

What will Texas A&M need to do in order to win? One task will be to force turnovers, as A&M opponents have a turnover percentage of 21.5% this season. But Texas only turned the basketball over eight times in that first meeting and for much of the season the Longhorns have been sound in taking care of the basketball. They'll need to hound Hamilton into adverse positions with the hope that last year's Hamilton, who took shots with the reckless abandon worthy of rec center pickup games, rises to the surface. The Aggies will also need to hit the glass on both ends, especially offensively as it's an integral part of their offense. Mark Turgeon's team has an offensive efficiency of 110.1, which is actually a couple tenths higher than that of Texas, because of their ability to hit the offensive glass. They're not going to light teams up from deep and if they get into a shooting contest the partisans are Reed Arena won't be going home in the best of moods. And speaking of the crowd, one of the best home court advantages in America will be on display in College Station. Do they have enough energy to give the home team a couple points in the form of momentum? If so Texas A&M could find themselves right back in the Big 12 race, but don't expect Texas to be afraid of the challenge either.

In other action tonight Louisville visits Georgetown with both teams looking to build on the momentum gained in good road victories on Saturday. Austin Freeman went off for the Hoyas in their win at Villanova, scoring 30 points as the Wildcats failed to find an answer for him defensively. Is Chris Wright the barometer for John Thompson III's team? That was the argument for much of the season, especially when the Hoyas began Big East play 1-4, but he didn't score on Saturday while handing out six assists. If Georgetown, like Louisville, can get consistent production from their big men they're a much tougher team to beat. Louisville is also guard-heavy in terms of production, with Peyton Siva accounting for 19 points and seven assists in their win at Connecticut, and Preston Knowles went through a hot stretch where he seemed to do no wrong with the ball in his hands. Add in the likes of Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith (just to name two) on the perimeter and Rick Pitino has a fast group that can pressure all 94 feet of the floor. And in the MAAC Fairfield looks to gain some much needed separation atop the standings as they take on Canisius at home. A wild weekend in the MAAC saw Iona, Rider and Saint Peter's all lose at least once, giving Ed Cooley's Stags a two-game lead in the loss column going into tonight's game. But the Golden Griffins have some talent, most notably wing Julius Coles and forward Greg Logins, meaning that Derek Needham and company need to be ready from the opening tip.

Top 25
9:00 PM (8) Texas at (11) Texas A&M (ESPN)
7:00 PM (19) Louisville at (20) Georgetown (ESPN)

NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM Davidson at Georgia Southern
7:00 PM Maryland-Eastern Shore at Hampton (ESPNU)
7:00 PM UMBC at Stony Brook
7:15 PM Mercer at East Tennessee State
7:30 PM New Hampshire at Vermont (ESPN3)
7:30 PM Campbell at Jacksonville
7:30 PM Canisius at Fairfield (ESPN3)
7:30 PM Kennesaw State at USC Upstate
8:00 PM Norfolk State at Coppin State
8:00 PM North Carolina A&T at Morgan State
8:00 PM Bethune-Cookman at North Carolina Central
8:00 PM Florida A&M at South Carolina State
8:30 PM Delaware State at Howard
8:35 PM Northern Colorado at Northern Arizona
9:00 PM Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Jackson State
9:00 PM Alabama A&M at Prairie View A&M
9:00 PM Alabama State at Texas Southern (ESPN3)
9:00 PM Mississippi Valley State at Grambling State
10:00 PM Seattle at Loyola Marymount