For Texas A&M, they have 3 tough upcoming games at home against Oklahoma, then at Kansas and at Texas, which means they have a very realistic chance of starting conference at 0-5. That's a far cry for a school that a year ago was said to have "The best basketball program in Texas" by one over-exuberant A&M fan site.
For Baylor, every Big 12 game is equally important if they hope to move to that elite level they yearn for, and the Bears know they will need to do well on the road no matter who the opponent.
Like most teams at this stage in the season, including Baylor, A&M's 14-2 record is made up mostly of wins over cupcake opponents. However, there are some nice wins sprinkled in those 14 which make any opponent realize that the Aggies are a legit threat in most games - those include wins over Arizona and Alabama, and a double digit win over LSU. The Arizona and Alabama wins were both close - one by a point and the other in overtime - but that shows A&M already knows how to close out narrow games.
The Aggies and Bears have one common opponent - Jackson State - the Aggies beating them by 18, but the Bears blowing them out by 35. Not too much you can take away from that small sample size at this point.
In the Big 12, the Bears started off with a win over the struggling Texas Tech Red Raiders. The Aggies meanwhile struggled on the road losing to Oklahoma State by 11.
There's no question the Aggies are a different team on their homecourt though, undefeated so far this year at Reed Arena. But will that hold true into conference play? They were 4-4 at home last year - with big wins over Texas and Oklahoma. But they slipped up to teams like Oklahoma State and Nebraska.
Likewise, Baylor was 4-4 on the road in Big 12 conference play last year, with the most notable win coming in the 5 overtime classic at A&M.
Texas A&M is led in scoring by senior guard and 3 point specialist Josh Carter, who's averaging 13.1 points per game. Despite Carter's tough outing against Oklahoma State (0 for 7 for 0 points), look for him to hit from deep at home. The Bears will need to work on closing out quickly on Carter and not giving him space to get comfortable to launch from 3 point land.
The Aggies have three other guys scoring double figures, including Donald Sloan, Bryan Davis, and Chinemelu Elonu. Elonu and Davis have been pacing the Aggies on the interior - picking up more slack since the departure of Joseph Jones and DeAndre Jordan. The Bears have obviously had their problem with big men inside the last few years, so this will be a great test to see how they stack up. Davis has not performed recently at the level that the fans and his coaches would like to see, but that could turn around easily if the Bears are not prepared to pressure him. Sloan meanwhile torched Baylor last year in Waco scoring 17 points and grabbing 8 rebounds in what was a crucial win for the Aggies. Jerrells or whomever is guarding him will need to be ready to stop any penetration to the hole and force him to hit pull up jumpers.
One other guy to watch for will be sophomore guard B.J. Holmes. Holmes has emerged as a legitimate threat coming off the Aggie bench, scoring 19 and 14 in their last two games. Some Aggies are calling for Holmes to start, and even Coach Turgeon has made some hints this week that a change could be in order in the starting lineup, although no specifics have been offered.
Baylor now has 4 guys averaging over 30 minutes a game (Curtis Jerrells, Henry Dugat, Kevin Rogers, and Tweety Carter) with Lacedarius Dunn also getting 26 a game. The rest of the minutes have been split by combinations of Quincy Acy, Josh Lomers, Mamadou Diene, Anthony Jones, and in the Texas Tech game, Delbert Simpson. Acy typically would get the most minutes out of the bunch if he can stay out of foul trouble - which is a tall task. Lomers has seen his minutes increase dramatically in the last few weeks - and look for that to continue as he plays against the school that once recruited him very hard. Although not laterally quick, Lomers has enough bulk to cause some problems inside for A&M.
On the other side, the Aggies have a little bit more balance, only having 2 guys average over 30 minutes (Sloan and Carter), and 9 guys getting 10 plus minutes a game
Some key statistical categories that stand out to me when analyzing the Big 12 rankings are scoring offense (Baylor 3, A&M 9), scoring defense (A&M 4, Baylor 9), scoring margin (Baylor beating opponents on average almost 10 points per game more), field goal percentage (Baylor 1, A&M 11), and 3 point field goal percentage (Baylor 2, A&M 11). One note on the scoring - the Bears are scoring 12 more points per game than A&M, while only giving up 4 more points per game. And when you look a little deeper, such as field-goal percentage defense which Baylor Coach Scott Drew harps on frequently in post-game press conferences, the Bears are actually 1 spot better than the Aggies. What this means is that their defenses so far are not too far off, Baylor's opponents just score a few more points a game as Baylor typically plays at a faster pace in higher scoring games.
One stat that does not bode well for A&M is 3 pt FG % defense, where they are 12th in the league giving up 35% a game. Everyone in the Big 12 knows how much the Bears love that 3 point line, so look for A&M to come out focused trying to cover up this weakness.
One area where the Aggies could definitely hurt Baylor is in rebounding, where A&M is 1st in the conference in defensive rebounds. Look for rebounding to be a point of emphasis by the Bears as they were outrebounded badly by Texas Tech. The Bears will have to focus on finding their man and getting a body on him rather than simply looking skyward towards the rim when a shot goes up. When they are playing several guards, this concentration on rebounding technique will be even more important.
The team stats bear out when looking at individual numbers in the league. The Bears have 3 of the conferences top 20 scorers, including 2 in the top 10 (Lace and Jerrells), whereas A&M only has 1 player in the top 20 at #20 (Carter). But when you look at rebounding you have Kevin Rogers from Baylor at #6, then Elonu from A&M at #7 and Davis from A&M at #12. Rogers needs Quincy Acy to stay out of foul trouble and start helping him clear up the boards. One other note on Rogers - he is currently leading the league in offensive rebounding average.
Last Time Out
When these two teams met last year, both groups looked a little different. When simply comparing the players lost - you would have to give the return edge to Baylor. Baylor lost Aaron Bruce and Mark Shepherd, while A&M lost Joseph Jones, DeAndre Jordan and Dominique Kirk. Actually, in the second game last year the Aggies also got help from a little used Beau Muhlbach, who gave them 12 points in 16 minutes.
The Bears split the series last year - and most Baylor and A&M fans remember both games vividly. They both ended in their own unique way.
The first of course was the epic 5 overtime game that saw the Bears win in College Station. That game is almost pointless to analyze because it became more of who could survive rather than matchups of various players. One note though is that both Tweety Carter (2 for 10) and Lacedarius Dunn (2 for 14) had terrible shooting nights, so Baylor fans will hope they can get that fixed this time around. As for the Waco game which saw the Aggies win this time, it was more of a grinder game where Jerrells, Tweety, and Dugat all had off nights shooting and Lacedarius only played 14 minutes. Interestingly, no Baylor player scored in double figures in that game (the Aggies had 4 guys do it), so Baylor will of course be looking to avenge that loss.
Summary and Projection
Both teams are going to come out wanting this win bad. Baylor plays much better when they feel like they have something to prove, and there's no doubt they will want to show the Aggies they can beat them in College Station again. Look for the Bears to be focused from the get go. The question will be will they be too tight? I don't think so. With this team, tightness comes moreso in big time home games - not on the road in a hostile environment.
A&M on the other hand has a very real possibility of coming out tight. They already have a lot of pressure on them from their coaches and the fan base. Not that they mean anything at this stage, but NCAA tournament projections currently place A&M just out of the tourney. There is a fair amount of potential that the players will start to feel this pressure - especially if they have looked ahead at their next 3 games.
I expect both teams to play extremely hard and make this a physical game. There's a good chance several players end up in foul trouble - just like last year. But in the end, I think Baylor's senior leadership will carry the day as they pull out a close game in the last few minutes.