Texas A&M’s football team snuck up on everyone this year, produced the Heisman Trophy winner and was probably the best team in the country by season’s end. Is Texas A&M basketball now in the midst of a similar surge? The Aggies knocked off Kentucky on Saturday and look set to contend in the SEC. That’s not as prestigious in hoops as it might be in football, but it’s more than might have been expected of Texas A&M. Let’s take a closer look at the Aggies, and then take a brief look at something else that will please A&M fans—the basketball struggles of former conference rival Texas.
Elston Turner is the big gun for Texas A&M. The 6’5” guard averages 17 ppg and he made his big statement on Saturday when he dropped 40 on Kentucky. Turner serves as more or less the swingman in an offense that has two smallish guards running the show in 6’1” J’Mychal Ross and 5’11” Fabyon Harris. Collectively, this is a group that’s solid shooting from the floor, with both Turner and Harris on the high side of 40 percent from three-point range.
It’s the interior that’s going to determine the Aggies’ fate, and the most reliable player is 6’9” senior forward Ray Turner, averaging 11 points/7 rebounds. The X-factor is freshman Kourtney Robinson. Also 6’9”, Robinson holds the key to deciding whether his team has solid balance down low, or if Turner is going to fight lonely wars all year long.
The non-conference part of the season had some disappointments. A loss to St. Louis wasn’t bad, but losing it 70-49 certainly sent an ominous sign. The Aggies allowed St. Louis to shoot 51 percent from the floor, were outrebounded and committed 19 turnovers. A mid-December game with Oklahoma didn’t go quite as well as the Cotton Bowl did for A&M when the same two schools met. Another 19-turnover display gave OU a ten-point win. And most disappointing was a 53-51 loss to Southern, where Ray Turner and Roberson combined for six points.
There were still enough wins to keep the overall record solid, and now Texas A&M has opened up SEC play with two wins. It started with a 69-51 win over Arkansas, before Saturday’s victory over Kentucky. What’s notable—besides the obvious of Elston Turner’s point explosion—is that Roberson has stepped. Up. His 13/12 game against Arkansas keyed a 47-25 Aggie edge on the glass, and he came up with nine rebounds against Kentucky.
Texas A&M does not have great depth, so their ability to compete the SEC championships is limited. But this is a starting five that matches up with anyone in the league for a one-game shot. Elston Turner gives them the go-to player they need, and Ray Turner and Roberson can hit the boards and provide some athletic ability on the baseline. The Aggie basketball program won’t scale the heights that football did this fall, but they look poised to give the fans a fun run these next couple months and fight for an NCAA Tournament spot.
THE EYES OF TEXAS ARE FILLED WITH TEARS
The prognosis is not so good at Texas, once the archrival of A&M when both were in the Big 12, and I feel safe in assuming there’s still plenty of bad blood. So Aggie fans have to be even happier watching the Longhorns flounder. Texas brought a lot back after making the NCAA Tournament as a young team a year ago, but this season has gone off the rails.
After a rough non-conference run, Texas has started Big 12 play 0-3, with a pair of overtime losses, followed by getting hammered by twenty up at Iowa State. The first loss was to Baylor, and in a road game, the Longhorns only shot 14 free throws to the Bears’ 45. Now I’m not a believer that the job of an official is to ensure every team shoots an equal number of foul shots, but I’m hard-pressed to think that Texas really committed that many more fouls than the home team. There was no excuse though, for an ugly loss to West Virginia, a weaker opponent than Baylor and one who played in Austin.
Texas does not have anyone who can hit the three-point shot. Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis are good sophomore guards who played a lot last year, but neither one hits from downtown. And right now, McClellan is nursing an ankle injury that caused him to miss the thumping the team took in Ames over the weekend.
Furthermore, there are no rebounders to help sophomore Jonathan Holmes. The 6’7” forward is averaging eight a game, but he’s the only one able or interested in hitting the glass. The most likely to candidate to step up and help is the 6’8” freshman from Greece, Ioannis Papapetrou,, who’s currently only getting four rebounds a night, but improvement here is the only immediate path I can see to Texas getting better, particularly if McClellan is slow to get back.
The good news for Texas is that they have a week off to sort things out and get McClellan’s ankle rested, and they’ll be at home on Saturday. The bad news—the opponent will be Kansas. It’s shaping up to be a long basketball season in Austin. At least this school usually has a great baseball team. Maybe that, and national signing day for football recruits, can provide a little respite come February.