On Wednesday, Texas A&M traveled to Auburn and knocked off the #8 team in the country on their home floor. This win pushes their record to 5-3 since their loss to UK in early January. On the flip side, Kentucky is coming off back to back losses and a 4-4 record since beating Texas A&M just over a month ago.
The Wildcats have admittedly been playing the worst basketball of their season, while the Aggies are playing their best since the first month of the year. Not coincidentally for Texas A&M, but this is the complete roster they’ve had since near the beginning of the year as well.
Kentucky needs this win in the worst of ways. In the short term, a loss would be the first ever three game losing streak in the Coach Cal era. In the long term, a loss continues the downward spiral and puts the team in a bad place as far as tournament résumé goes with multiple tough games still to play down the stretch.
Let’s take a look at the projected starting lineup for the Aggies tonight in College Station.
#34 Tyler Davis, Junior Center, 6’10”
Tyler Davis has been starting at Texas A&M since he stepped foot on campus, returning this season for his third year at the starting center position. Not only has Davis been starting, he’s be collecting accolades since day one a well. The Plano, Texas native has been named to the 2015-16 SEC All-Freshman Team, the 2016-17 Second Team All-SEC, a 2017-18 Honorable Mention Preseason All-American, 2017-18 Preseason Second Team All-SEC, and 2017-18 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award watch list.
The junior is a monster in the paint, and his stats back that up. He has the team lead in points at 14.4 per game, second on the team with 8.9 rebounds per game, and second with 1.3 blocks per game. He’s developed the ability to knock down a jump shot away from the basket, but he’s still a post player at heart. In the first match up this year, Davis led all scorers with 21 points on 8 of 10 shooting, to go along with 5 rebounds.
Davis is one of two starters at 6’10”, and he takes the cake of being the largest starter at 266 pounds. The Cats struggled defending both Tyler Davis and Robert Williams in the first match up, eventually learning to sag off of Williams on the outside a little to help defend a possible high-low pass to Davis in the paint. Will be interesting to see how Cal utilizes another forward in Jarred Vanderbilt in this game.
#44 Robert Williams, Sophomore Forward, 6’10”
Robert Williams is most notably known for turning down the chance to be a lottery pick in last year’s NBA Draft to return for his sophomore season at Texas A&M. Last year’s SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Williams was heralded coming into this season, and rightfully so. Prior to this year, he was named Third Team Preseason All-American by NBA Sports, Preseason Co-SEC Player of the Year, Preseason First Team All-SEC, and Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year Award watch list.
Against Kentucky last season, Williams was just coming off of a bout with the flu, but he still managed to score 12 points and pull down 8 rebounds. He’s leading the team in both rebounds and blocks, with 9.5 boards and 2.5 blocks which is good for second in the SEC. He’s also scoring 10.7 points and getting nearly 1 steal per contest. He’s still struggling from the free throw line, hitting just 46.5% of them on the year/
As was mentioned above for Tyler Davis, Robert Williams is the second 6’10” starter for the Aggies. At 241 pounds, Williams is a load of his own in the paint. Whichever of the two Kentucky big men that defends Davis, will leave the other guarding a potential lottery pick. Almost a lose-lose situation for the young big men of Kentucky, who were bullied by these two a bit in the last match up. Nick Richards and PJ Washington are going to need to put on their grown man pants today.
#1 DJ Hogg, Junior Forward, 6’9″
DJ Hogg returns as the starting small forward, a position that he held for most of the season last year before an injury caused him to miss time. This year, he was named to the Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year Award watch list. He is one of four probable starters that are from the state of Texas.
Despite being a team that is dominated by the two big men in the middle, the Aggies have DJ Hogg as one of two big outside threats. Hogg is currently giving Texas A&M 11.6 points per game, to go along with 4.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.1 blocks. He’s shooting 40.3% from three, which is a top 15 shooter in the SEC.
Texas A&M starts a pretty large lineup, with 6’9″ Hogg being the third tallest player in the first five. He plays the three position and will match up with Kevin Knox for Kentucky. Knox had a big game scoring, finishing with 15 points last game, while holding Hogg to just 1 of 7 shooting from three. The Cats need another offensive and defensive performance like that from Knox to be successful tonight.
#3 Admon Gilder, Junior Guard, 6’4″
Admon Gilder was one of Texas A&M’s best players last season. He started all but one game, leading the team in assists and steals on the year. He was the team leader in scoring in SEC play last season. Since returning to the lineup after missing some time, Gilder has fit right back in as a high quality contributor for Billy Kennedy.
The junior is second on the team in scoring with 11.6 points per game, he’s pulling down 4.4 rebounds, and dishing out 2.9 assists per game. He’s leading the team at 1.2 steals per game. He’s a threat to score from the outside, hitting 37.3% of his 3s this season. Against Kentucky back in January, Gilder finished with 14 points on 4 of 12 shooting.
The guard positions are a bit of an enigma for Kentucky. The team clearly goes as Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander go, but the Cats return Quade Green for this game, as he missed the previous match up due to injury. Bring into that conversation that Hamidou Diallo has been an absolute nightmare of late for Coach Cal. Diallo’s inability to provide anything on offense, defense, or anywhere in between has been a big reason that the Cats have been struggling. Shai probably starts with defending of Gilder, but it could be by committee tonight.
#2 TJ Starks, Freshman Guard. 6’2″
TJ Starks is the lone freshman in the starting lineup for the Aggies lately. Starks was a consensus 4-star prospect coming out of Lancaster High School in Dallas, Texas. He chose to stay home in Texas over an offer to go to Oklahoma and sit behind Trae Young.
In the first match up against Kentucky this season, Starks scored 10 points and pulled down 2 rebounds. He’s currently averaging 7.5 points, 2 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per contest. He’s knocking down 34.5% of his threes and 65.6% of his free throws on the season.
At 6’2″ and 196 pounds, Starks is the smallest of all the starters and technically plays the point guard position, despite Admon Gilder being a ball-dominant guard. Starks isn’t the offensive threat that Gilder is, which is why I could see Diallo being the original defender on him. Diallo had a big game in the last match up, scoring 18 points. However, when it comes down the stretch, if Diallo isn’t playing well, Quade Green will defend Starks.
Go Cats. Beat Aggies.