Since most of the media didn't think either of these teams would be around on Sunday they are busy deleting their Siena-Utah State stories and looking for Purdue-Texas A&M info. To be honest though, I didn't do as much research myself. I wanted to worry about getting past Siena first, so I was rather ambivalent when it came to which Aggies we would face. Even then, Texas A&M was a team that was about as disrespected going into round one as a top five seed as we were.
As expected, this won't be easy. Nothing ever is this time of year though. All these teams have done is prove they are among the best 32 in the country. It is more than "elite" teams like Texas can say (and I am sure the visiting Aggie fans love that dig), but we both want more. The Aggies are a teamt hat may have played a tougher overall schedule than us with 16 games against NCAA Tournament teams before yesterday. Finally, this matchup almost happened last year, but UConn beat Texas A&M in round two before facing us in Glendale.
2009-10 record: 24-9, 11-5 Big 12
2008-09 record: 24-10, 9-7 Big 12 (lost to Connecticut 92-66 in NCAA Second Round)
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 2-1
Last Purdue win: 86-68 on 3/19/82 in West Lafayette (postseason NIT quarterfinals)
Last Texas A&M win: 71-64 on 12/21/01 in Las Vegas (Las Vegas Classic)
As you can see, there is not a rich history between these two teams. Texas A&M did not have much basketball history before a few years ago, but that did not stop them from beating us during my Senior year. Willie Deane had 26 in that game, but it was really the beginning of the end of the 2002 team. Five of Texas A&M's 11 total NCAA Tournament appearances have come in the last five years. Before that, they had not danced since 1987. They have only been to the Sweet 16 in 1980 and 2007. Like us, however, they are on a nice little run in the first round. They, along with Xavier, have won a first round game in each of the last five years. That means this is a tested team.
If you look at their schedule they don't have a bad loss. We have a pair of common opponents. The Aggies lost to West Virginia 73-66, but beat Minnesota 66-65. In terms of recent opponents (teams we have played the last three seasons) they beat Clemson 69-60 and Missouri 77-74, but lost to Washington 73-64.
Texas A&M is not a deep team, but they have responded very well to the gruesome injury suffered by senior guard Derrick Roland. He was averaging 10.5 points per game before snapping his leg against Washington in ugly fashion. That injury can probably be blamed for the Washington loss, as it was so ugly that the Aggies were visibly shaken the rest of the way. He is still listed as Texas A&M's second leading scorer, but he obviously won't be playing.
The Aggies only have one scorer that averages in double figures with 6'3" senior guard Donald Sloan. He averages 18.2 points per game and can score from all over the floor. His assists this season are down while his turnovers are up, but part of that could be because he has received so much backcourt attention with Roland out. As a 77% free throw shooter they will want to get the ball in his hands if they have a lead late.
Forwards Khris Middleton (7 ppg) and David Lobeau (9 ppg) both had good games against Utah State. They, along with Bryan Davis (9.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg) give the Aggies a formidable starting frontcourt that has me very concerned. All three players stand taller than 6'7", while JaJuan Johnson and Patrick Bade are the only two players in our rotations about 6'5". We absolutely need Kelsey Barlow to play bigger in this one and rebound when we give him minutes. I know he has it in him. Honestly though, I don't know how we are going to handle their size advantage. They can triple team JJ and we absolutely must get better position on the defensive glass. Middleton had a great game against Utah State with a career high 19 points on five 3-pointers. he may be playing the best he has played all year.
Texas A&M did not go deep into its bench, as they have a pretty solid seven man rotation. That may be our best bet in this one. We should attack and try to get them into foul trouble. B.J. Holmes (9.3 ppg) is a solid guard that plays plenty of minutes. He is a 3-point threat, hitting 37% from long range this year. He also had 11 against Utah State and hit three from long range. Dash Harris is a 6'1" point guard that primarily runs the show, but he is not the distributor that Donald Moore was. We did a great job of keeping Moore from getting the ball where it needed to be, and Harris averages only 3.3 assists to Moore's 7.8. Harris can shoot the three if necessary, but he only scores about five per game.
Ray Turner and Nathan Walkup are the last players we might see in regular minutes, but they combined for just six points against Utah State. Walkup is another 6'7" forward that can give them 15 minutes and five points off the bench. Turner is a 6'8" forward that provides depth in the frontcourt. Turner is a freshman that saw his minutes increase as the season went on. Finally, Naji Hibbert is a 6'6" freshman that has played in every game without really doing anything. He is their Patrick Bade, only less effective.
To be totally truthful, I am scared. We have struggled against teams with size since Robbie went down and this is a similar matchup to Minnesota and Michigan State. We were lucky to escape the Twin Cities with a win, but in the two games since then we have looked rather ugly. Rebounding, especially positioning, will be critical if we're going to advance. This also feels like a game where we are going to have to either run or hit a lot of jumpshots. With five guys down low we're not going to get much inside, but they like to spread the floor with Middleton and Holmes.
Unfortunately, this is a team that is perfectly comfortable playing the slow, grind it out style. Here are their nine losses: West Virginia, New Mexico, Washington, Kansas State, Texas, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Baylor, and Kansas again. All of those are NCAA Tournament teams and six of the eight are teams that have already won a game in this year's tournament. They don't have a ton of great wins, but they don't beat themselves, either. They are 7-9 overall against NCAA teams this year (not counting the Utah State win).
Coach Painter is going to have some fun with this one. It is games like this that makes me glad he is the coach, because I really don't know how we're going to pull this off. Our defensive numbers are better than theirs by about three and a half points per game. The offensive numbers are almost dead even, but part of that is still The Robbie Factor. one key is 50% shooting. Texas A&M is 30-0 under Mark Turgeon when the Aggies shoot better than 50% from the field. Our defense must prevent this.
There are some positives to look at. Aside from Davis, they are pretty much a rebound by committee team like Northwestern. This is also a team that does not shoot the basketball well. They are 44% from the field, 66% from the line and 33% from three. If there is going to be a game where we get hot from the perimeter this is it. Only Sloan and Holmes have more than 100 shots from long range. Middleton has a bricklayer's mentality by going 27 of 93 from deep, but those are his season numbers. He hit five of six from long range yesterday.
Our best is to take what we did in the first ten minutes of the second half against Siena and expand it to at least 25 if not 30 minutes. We need Bade to give us quality minutes when he is in to spell JJ and we have to continually attack the basket and get to the line. This is going to be a game that we win as a team. Individual performances will be great, but we must come together as a unit that is great than its parts. As a huge basketball fan and student of hte game I admit I am stumped. After watching this team play 33 games this season I honestly don't know how we're going to get this done, but I have enough faith to know that we can get it done.
Keys to the Game for Purdue:
- Avoid foul trouble
- Keep attacking the basket
- Hit from the perimeter
- Hit free throws
- Exceed their toughness on defense
- Force them into bad shots
Prediction: (going with the heart here, not the head) Purdue 58, Texas A&M 56