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A huge road test for a hot Vol team as Tennessee and Texas A&M meet for the first time in SEC play.
This seems like a good place to start:
Cuonzo said Texas A&M game feels kinda like the Bracket Buster games his Missouri State team used to play late season. No familiarity.— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) February 21, 2013
RPI math suggests this is very much a Bracket Buster game with the Vols at 65 and the Aggies at 70. The biggest difference is remaining opportunities: Tennessee could use a win over A&M to make the final two home games against Florida and Missouri really matter. But the Aggies may be out of meaningful opportunities until the SEC Tournament; road dates at Ole Miss and Arkansas are left on the slate along with home games against LSU and South Carolina, but nothing to really get the selection committee's attention.
Tennessee can't get anyone's attention until next week, but if we're going to hold their attention then we have to win this game first. The Vols figured out how to win on the road two weeks ago, taking down South Carolina then playing the start of really good basketball at Vanderbilt. But A&M is a much bigger challenge; if we're in the conversation on Selection Sunday, this one would stand as our biggest road win of the year.
We covered what's going right with the Vols yesterday. What's going right with Texas A&M (16-10, 6-7)?
The Aggies opened SEC play hot with a beatdown of Arkansas and the stunning win at Rupp Arena. Then they lost four straight (Florida, at Alabama, at LSU, Georgia). Then they got into the close game business, beating Mississippi State in overtime, losing to Kentucky in overtime, and beating Missouri by two. Another loss to Georgia was followed by a two point win over Ole Miss, then a loss at Vanderbilt, then a win at Auburn. So they're kind of all over the page.
Who's not all over the page is Elston Turner, 6'5" senior guard who dropped 40 in Rupp and 37 on Marshall Henderson (note: I don't know if Henderson was guarding him, I just like to pretend that he was). Turner will likely be the responsibility of Josh Richardson; Richardson didn't guard Henderson exclusively in our two meetings with Ole Miss, so Turner could be the biggest individual challenge he's faced all year. Turner averages 16.5 per game, 17.5 in conference play, shooting 42.4% from the floor, 37.2% from three, and 81.2% at the line. Focus too much on Turner, and 5'11" guard Fabyon Harris will pick up the slack at 11.5 points, 45.6% from the floor, 43.4% from the arc, and 84.6% at the line. This team can shoot it in the backcourt, though they vastly prefer twos to threes, much like us.
Down low watch for 6'9" Ray Turner and 6'9" Kourtney Roberson, which means once again the Vols will have questions about the viability of their four guard lineup, especially if Richardson guards Turner. That means it'll be a night of great importance for Armani Moore on the defensive end if Kenny Hall doesn't play with Jarnell Stokes. This is also a deep team, nine guys playing 13+ minutes. They don't get to the line much, but when they do they cash in at 70.4% as a team, second best in the league. And they get their own rebound even better than we do, grabbing 36.3% of their misses, third best in the league.
Where can they be exploited? Glad you asked:
After a while, these charts all start to look the same: we're awesome at getting to the free throw line, and lately we're awesome at making them while we're there. This means Tennessee has to once again be the aggressor, something that's often easier said than done on the road. Offensively A&M's numbers are almost identical to us everywhere except the free throw line: they play about the same pace and score about as often (1.03 points per possession to 1.02, advantage Vols, woo). But it should be noted A&M is last in the league in shot blocking. This is especially good news for Trae Golden in continuing to penetrate and create, and for the rest of the team in getting to the free throw line.
We keep saying because it keeps being true: this is the most important game of the year. Very good things are on the other side of this weekend. Let's get it. 4:00 PM Saturday, SEC Network. Go Vols.