A&M has had a similar season to Minnesota thus far, with three wins over cupcakes, an upset win over a higher ranked team (Clemson), and then a loss in the semi-final of this tournament, although A&M's loss to West Virginia is more understandable than the Gophers loss to a team they were much more talented than. The Aggies are a tough team to get a read on. They don't do anything particularly well, but they don't have any major weaknesses either (other than foul shooting). Perhaps the worst news of all - they don't shoot many three-pointers, the only thing the Gophers could defend against Portland.
They are, however, perimeter based, with a trio of guards who thrive both off the dribble and in the mid-range game, all of whom can, yes, step back and hit the three if left open.
The main ballhandler and leading scorer is Derrick Sloan, a 6-3 senior who is averaging over 17 points per game and shooting better than 50% this year. If I'm remembering the right guy, he's not super quick, so Al Nolen should be able to handle him or at the very least make life difficult.
Their second-leading scorer at 11.8 per game is Sloan's backcourt mate Derrick Roland, who has doubled his scoring average since last season. I'm not sure what to make of Roland's game, because he seemingly beat up on the cupcakes but has really struggled in the 76 classic so far, shooting just 30% in the two games with point totals of 4 and 8 after scoring 14+ and shooting better than 50% in all three cupcake games. This information, combined with his 39% shooting last season, leads me to believe that his offense so far has been a fluke, and he's not someone the Gophers need to concern themselves with on that end of the floor. Of course, he was on the All-Big 12 Defensive Team last season, so they will have to worry about him in that respect.
The third guard (and third leading scorer) is the perfectly named for a pornstar B.J. Holmes, a junior who is of the Vinnine Johnson instant offense off the bench mold, and he's not remotely afraid to shoot. He is sixth on the Aggies in minutes played, but is third in scoring and first in three point attempts, but has a 1/2 assist to turnover ratio. Unlike Roland, he struggled vs the cupcakes but has really turned it on in Anaheim, averaging 19 points per game in the tournament. He sounds an awful lot like that midget J.T. Campbell, right down to having initials for his first name. This guy makes me nervous.
The other guy who makes me nervous is Byran Davis, who, along with David Loubeau, make up the Aggies front court. Davis, now a senior, was a top 60 recruit when he signed on to play at College Station, and his career had followed a pretty good path - more minutes each year, better stats, and a better all-around game. He seemed prime for a nice breakout season - and it hasn't happened. His stats have actually taken a step back this year in almost every respect. Could be that the defection of last year's front court mate to the
I've written a lot here about the Aggies, but the real key is how the Gophers play. This will be the third game in a row (well, six really) where they are the more talented team, but as we saw last night that doesn't always equate to wins. It's simply a matter of hitting your shots, making the most out of your chances, playing smart, and playing with intensity on both ends. This "pass the ball around the perimeter for 35 seconds and then rush a shot offense" can't make a comeback, or you can engrave that NCAA First Round Loss trophy already. I really don't like what I saw last night, and I see no reason to expect anything better against another good team.
Texas A&M 71, Minnesota 64.
FUN FACT: Acie Law's #1 hangs in the rafters at Reed Arena - the only number retired by Texas A&M in any sport.