In a short amount of time, we've established a nice little series with the newcomers from College Station. Two years ago the Vols and Aggies went four overtimes before Tennessee prevailed, its fifth straight win in another late season Cuonzo Martin flourish. Last year Texas A&M was the team breaking up Tennessee's runs, halting a four game UT streak with a 57-56 win in Knoxville, then the only loss in UT's final five regular season games with a 68-65 overtime job on February 22 we thought was going to end the season and Cuonzo himself. From that low point the Vols won five straight, lost to #1 Florida in the SEC Tournament semifinals, then won three NCAA Tournament games before bowing to two seed Michigan.
This time around NCAA Tournament conversations still seem a bit premature for the Vols and the Aggies, but it's no longer the craziest thing you've ever heard of. You know our story, 10-2 over our last dozen and currently alone for second place in the SEC at 4-1 in the league. A&M started league play at Alabama and got drilled 65-44, making it easy to forget about them immediately. But they followed up with a double overtime performance against Kentucky, then three straight wins. Beating Mississippi State and Missouri in College Station isn't cause for celebration, but the last time they went on the road they won at LSU 67-64. The result: the Aggies sit just outside the RPI Top 50, the Vols just clear of that bar at 44. The two are also in the same neighborhood in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, with the Aggies at 70th and the Vols at 77th.
Immediate good news for Tennessee: Texas A&M is not a fan of the three ball, 332nd in the nation and 13th in the SEC in attempts from the arc. They only knock down 33.9% when they do take them, so this isn't a natural fit of a team coming in and taking their best shot over Tennessee's zone. Then again, Antwan Space is still on the roster, so we'll see.
The offense runs through point guard Alex Caruso, now a veteran junior who averages 5.5 assists per game to just 2.6 turnovers. Tennessee may have a tougher time than usual creating turnovers and getting points on the other end. 6'7" guards Jalen Jones and Danuel House lead the way in scoring, both getting near 14 points per game. Add in Kourtney Roberson, another veteran going for eight and five every night, and you've got a ton of production from four guys.
A&M has really made more noise on the defensive end this year, but not as much as South Carolina had and the Vols just torched them last week, so I'm still not buying any automatic assumptions about our inability to score. Tennessee may not shoot as well from the arc as they did against the Gamecocks, but confidence is brewing in the entire roster and a home crowd ready to believe should only help things along. Tennessee needs every win it can get, and this is one they can get.
1:00 PM Saturday, Fox Sports Net.