Official photograph of the Texas A&M Aggies.
Last night’s game in Nashville against the Vanderbilt Commodores was certainly one to try and block from memory. From the turnovers on offense, lack of defensive rebounding, and overall lack of effectiveness on offense late in the second half, this was certainly a dreadful game against a lackluster opponent in which many would like to forget. Fortunately for John Calipari, his team, and fans everywhere, Saturday’s home contest against Texas A&M will allow an opportunity to do just that. On the surface, this looks to be a much more difficult task than taking down a struggling Commodore team. Billy Kennedy’s Aggies enter Saturday’s match-up with a respectable 11-3 record and are coming off a 69-51 dismantling of Arkansas. However, Texas A&M’s record is likely due to their strength of schedule which is ranked 304th nationally according to Kenpom.com. But as Kentucky’s young squad learned last night, never underestimate a team, even if their record (or schedule) is less than stellar.
When it comes to offense, not many will accuse Billy Kennedy’s squad of being exciting. Reason being, the Aggies average 61.5 adjusted possessions per game, ranking them 336th nationally (31 spots behind Wisconsin), so don’t look for too many fast-breaks in this match-up. While A&M doesn’t fit the profile for entertainment, they’re capable of efficient scoring from multiple players. The two main threats being Elston and Ray Turner. While the two are unrelated, their skill on the floor is certainly comparable. On the season, Elston, a 6’5” guard, pours in 15.5 points, pulls down 3.6 rebounds, and dishes out 2.8 assists per game. While Elston is the leading scorer, Ray, a 6’9” forward, is averaging 6.7 rebounds while scoring 11.8 points per contest. In fact, Ray’s rebounding is one of the key reasons for the Aggies’ offensive successes this season. A&M ranks 47th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, due in large part to Ray’s effort on the glass, but Kourtney Roberson and Andrew Young both deserve credit for their rebounding prowess as well (6.2 and 3.7 rebounds per game respectively). Obtaining offensive boards also allows their excellent three point shooters second chances to sink perimeter jumpers. The Aggies, as a team, hit 38.1% of perimeter jumpers. They also have two shooters in previously mentioned Elston Turner and Fabyon Harris who both connect on 42% of three point attempts.
The Aggie defense isn’t elite in terms of efficiency by any stretch of the imagination, but like their offense, they have pieces capable of frustrating a young Wildcat team. The biggest detriment to Kentucky’s offensive effort tomorrow will be Alex Caruso, Texas A&M’s most notorious ball hawk. On the season he’s averaging 1.9 steals per game which places him in a tie for 90th nationally in that respective category, but that statistic doesn’t tell the complete story. In terms of steal rate (a stat that measures steals obtained, minutes played, and possessions used by a team), Caruso is 12th nationally, taking the ball on 5.6% of possessions. In addition to his excellent steal rate, he blocks 0.6 shots per game. Again this is skewed due to his limited playing time, when accounting for time played and possessions used, he swats 3.4% of opponent twos (403rd nationally). In addition to Caruso’s defensive prowess, the Aggies get help from 6’9” sophomore, Kourtney Roberson. He may only average 0.7 blocks per game, but like Caruso’s skewed raw stats, he’s a deceptive shot blocker, swatting 4% of opponent twos (317th nationally).
When it comes to predictions, tomorrow’s contest is forecasted to be somewhat similar to what the Vanderbilt game “should have” been. That is, a victory for Kentucky by a comfortable margin. But, Vanderbilt’s zone late in the second half threw those predictions out the window. Luckily for Calipari and his Cats, Billy Kennedy’s defensive philosophy of man-to-man matches up well with what we try and accomplish offensively. According to Ken Pomeroy and his magical rating system, the Wildcats are 16-point favorites and have a 94% chance of winning tomorrows match-up. While Kentucky is clearly the better team of the two and the predicted margin of victory is large, we found out last night that we don’t have the luxury of winning games based upon the name on the front of our jersey. Luckily, last night’s game with Vanderbilt may have awakened a majority of our players to the fact.