Before Texas A&M made the switch to the SEC, the Cats and the Aggies had only faced each other three times in history, and only once since 1946. Now that the UK takes on A&M at least once every year, the match ups have been fantastic. Since the Aggies joined the SEC in the 2012-13 season, there have been three overtime games and one double-overtime game out of six total games.
Head Coach Billy Kennedy is in his sixth season coaching Texas A&M, and is coming off winning last season’s SEC Coach of the Year award in one of the best seasons in Aggie history. He won a school record 28 games last season, reached a top-5 ranking in the AP polls for the first time in school history, and received a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament, tied for the best in school history.
This season, Coach Kennedy takes an 8-4 record into Rupp Arena, including a win over #21 Virginia Tech. Their four losses are to Southern Cal, UCLA, Arizona, and Tennessee. Let’s take a look at the projected starting lineup for the Aggies in tonight’s game:
#34 Tyler Davis, Sophomore Center, 6’10”
Tyler Davis was one of the best freshmen in the SEC last season and has now developed into one of the more talented big-men in the country in his sophomore year. I remember watching him against put up a total of 23 points and 21 rebounds through two games against UK last season and thinking how much of a problem he was going to be in the future. Well, his future is here and Davis is really solid for A&M.
This season, Davis is leading the team in scoring and rebounding, putting up 14.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. The rebounding may not seem like a huge issue at less than 8 per game, but he is the 14th best offensive rebounder in the country, accounting for more than half of his rebounds per game.
Davis will be the biggest body that UK has faced this season, measuring at 6’10” and 270 pounds. He’ll be the first guy that gives me legit worries about how Bam Adebayo will handle him in the post. Davis has taken over 30 more free throws than any player on the team, so keeping Bam out of foul trouble will be key for the Cats.
#1 DJ Hogg, Sophomore Forward, 6’9″
The second starter for Billy Kennedy that was named to the SEC All-Freshman team last season, DJ Hogg was the sixth man for the Aggies last year. Hogg was a highly touted recruit out of high school, where he played alongside Tyler Davis. The pair were the top two ranked players out of the state of Texas in their class.
This season, Hogg is averaging 13.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. He shoots the deep ball well for his size, hitting 39.2% of his threes on the season. Despite being 6’9″, Hogg plays the small forward position for the Aggies, something that could cause defensive issues for any opponent.
It is well known that the Cats start 3 uber-talented guards, but lineups like Texas A&M’s are where a size issue rears its ugly head. Malik Monk plays the closest thing to a 3-spot for the Cats on a regular basis, but Monk will be at a 6-inch and 20 pound disadvantage when guarding Hogg tonight. I could see Coach Cal using Briscoe to try to body up Hogg like he’s done with bigger scorers such as Miles Bridges of Michigan State and Justin Jackson of North Carolina.
#3 Admon Gilder, Sophomore Guard, 6’4″
The third of three sophomores to start for the Aggies this season, Admon Gilder played over 20 minutes per game last season. In the two games against UK last year, Gilder was not much of a factor against Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray, putting up a total of 2 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist in 45 minutes.
A large increase in minutes as a starter has shown productive for Gilder, as his output as increased. He’s averaging 12.5 points, and 4.3 assists. He’s leading the team with 4.5 assists and 2 steals per game. Gilder has taken the second-most 3’s on the team, shooting at a 34% clip.
Gilder does a really good job of getting his teammates in position to score on the offensive end and then locking down the opponents best guard on defense. For various reasons, I could see Billy Kennedy trying to use him to defend any of UK’s three guards. De’Aaron Fox because he’ll have the ball in his hands a ton, Isaiah Briscoe because he’s such a playmaker, and Malik Monk because of his elite scoring ability.
#10 Tonny Trocha-Morelos, Junior Forward, 6’10”
The Cats start three players at 6’3″. Meanwhile, Tonny Trocha-Morelos is the third starter for the Aggies at 6’9″ or taller. Trocha-Morelos put up 7 points and 6 boards in each of the games against Kentucky last season.
The junior splits time with freshman forward Robert Williams, similarly to the way that Wenyen Gabriel and Derek Willis split time for the Cats. Trocha-Morelos averages 8.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, while Williams puts up 10.5 points and 5.3 rebounds to go along with a team-leading 2.4 blocks per game. The two have contrasting styles. Trocha-Morelos can step away from the basket and shoot a little bit, and he’s taken 29 3’s on the season. He also shoots free-throws extremely well for a forward at almost 83%. Williams is more of a power post player, shooting a team-high 62.7% from the field.
Guarding Trocha-Morelos with Willis and Gabriel is a good matchup for the Cats, who have struggled at the four-spot this season on the defensive side of the ball. When Williams comes into the game for the Aggies, his post game could cause a few issues. Tonight could be the time we see Coach Cal bring out the big lineup with Bam at the four and any one of Tai Wynyard, Isaac Humphries, or Sacha Killeya-Jones at the five.
#5 JC Hampton, Graduate Transfer Guard, 6’1″
JC Hampton is one of only two seniors on this Texas A&M team. He utilized the graduate transfer rule after playing his first three years at Lipscomb and earning a Bachelor’s degree. Hampton was the leading-scorer for the Bison of Lipscomb last season, putting up 15.9 points per game. He was Second-Team All Atlantic-Sun conference last season.
Hampton doesn’t bring huge stats for the Aggies, but his experience on the floor provides a leader’s mentality. The graduate transfer is averaging 6.3 points, 2.2 assists, and 2.2 rebounds per game. Despite not scoring a bunch, Hampton’s shooting percentages speak for themselves. He shot 35.3% from 3 and 83.1% from the charity stripe for Lipscomb last year. He now is shooting 40.5% from deep and 82.6% from the line this season for the Aggies.
While his overall athleticism won’t blow away any of the three UK guards, he takes care of the ball extremely well, only turning it over once per game. With how often a guard has the ball in his hands, limiting turnovers can be difficult just by the nature of the position. I think a big thing for the Kentucky guards will be not leaving Hampton for a driving player or for Tyler Davis in the post. Leaving him open for a corner three will open the door to a big night for a role player.
Outside of the six players listed above, the Aggies aren’t getting any other big contributions statistically or even just in pure playing time. The team really wants to get Tyler Davis and DJ Hogg involved in the scoring early and set a precedent for later in the game. If Davis starts drawing fouls on the UK bigs, it could shape up to be a huge game for the sophomore. He doesn’t hit free throws particularly well, but his post moves against the bench-bigs for UK could lead to easy buckets. One thing to look for on Kentucky’s end will be the play of Isaac Humphries. The Aussie had the best game of his career last season at Texas A&M, finishing with 6 points and 12 rebounds in a game that was decided by the infamous technical he received for “slamming the ball”. Humphries is a big body that proved effective in spurts versus the rebounding of Tyler Davis in the post.
Go Cats. Beat Aggies.