PENN STATE BASKETBALL IS SET TO TAKE ON TEXAS A&M IN THE PROGRAM’S FIRST NCAA TOURNAMENT GAME SINCE 2011
Here is everything you need to know about Texas A&M ahead of their matchup with Penn State Basketball in game 1 of the NCAA tournament on Thursday.
The Aggies ending up a 7 seed surprised a lot of people in the college basketball world including myself, so let’s look at that resume and see why they are where they are. With an overall record of 25-9 it appears on the surface that they had a spectacular season. Their conference play also reflects this. They went 15-3 in conference play including a run to the SEC championship game where they fell short in a loss to Alabama, a 1 seed in the tournament. Their 3 regular season conference games came to other tournament teams in Kentucky, Arkansas, and Mississippi State, all on the road. That is the conference resume of a top 3 seed so why did A&M end up as a 7 seed?
The likely answer is in their non-conference play. They took a brutal blowout loss to mediocre Colorado at home, later lost to other NCAA tournament team Memphis on the road, and the final blows came in the buy games. They got outplayed by a Murray State team that was bad in the Missouri Valley conference, and then they blew a first half lead, to fall to a bad Wofford at home. These brutal non-conference losses are the most likely reason the Aggies ended up where they did, but they are not really indicative of how the team is playing right now.
Texas A&M plays a hard-nosed style of basketball, and they love attacking the rim and the glass. They are one of the top rebounding teams in the country, especially on the offensive glass where they rank 18th in college basketball, and they get to the free throw line a ton. In fact they lead the country in free throws attempted and when they get there, they convert, also leading the country in free throws made shooting 76% from the line. They are not a very efficient team, shooting just 44% from the field and 33% from three while turning it over a good amount, but they are able to make the games ugly with their tenacious defense, holding opponents to just 41% from the field and 32% from three while forcing a good amount of turnovers.
The Aggies are led by sophomore guard Wade Tyler and senior guard Tyrece Redford. Tyler leads the team in scoring with about 17 points per game on good three-point shooting and elite free throw shooting while also dishing out 4 assists a game. He is only 6 feet tall, but he is a pesky defender, averaging 1.8 steals a game. Redford adds 13 points per game by attacking the rim relentlessly, but he really shines in other areas. He is a great defender for A&M and despite only being 6’2 he is a monster on the boards, grabbing about 5 rebounds a game and 2 offensive rebounds a game. Their forwards Henry Coleman and Dexter Dennis lead them in their rebounding efforts with about 6 a game each.
So how does Penn State take down the Aggies and earn their first round upset? I believe the biggest thing is rebounding. As discussed above Texas A&M is a very unique rebounding team. There isn’t one big man just grabbing all the boards like Edey on Purdue. Their rebounding comes mostly from their forwards and guards and really comes from how aggressively the team crashes the offensive boards. As tempting as it is to try and trust Kebba down low and leak out for some easy fast break points when they crash, I do not believe this will be a successful strategy even with the great improvements Kebba has made this year. The Aggies are just too aggressive on the boards and it is going to take a full team effort to limit those second chance opportunities for them. Kebba and Pickett are going to have to turn up the aggressiveness on the boards and I believe this game would be a great game for Evan Mahaffey to get extended run for what he does on the boards.
On defense the Nittany Lions should be aggressive inside and swarm to the ball when it hits the paint. This will lead to more three-point shots for the Aggies, but they are an overall poor shooting team and if they are going to beat you, make them beat you by doing something uncomfortable for them, not by letting them get to where they want to on offense which is the rim and the free throw line.
On offense the Nittany Lions should continue to do what has made them dangerous all year and that’s launch the ball from deep. A&M’s three-point defense is not the best and with their lack of shooting on the other end a three-point barrage from the Nittany Lions would be very hard to keep pace with. On a personal matchup level Pickett should take full advantage of their guards. While they are both good defenders, they are too small to really handle Pickett in the post which should lead to some great looks for him and his teammates off of double and help.
Texas A&M is uniquely talented and successful for a 7th seed, and they play a style that should be pretty constant even under the bright lights of the NCAA tournament, but there is a clear path for success for the Nittany Lions on Thursday. The first round matchup in the MidWest. Region of the bracket will take place in Des Moines Iowa and tip off at 9:55 PM EST. The game will be televised on TBS.