Men's Hoops Game Preview - MSU

The Texas Aggie basketball team is in New York participating in the 2K Coaches For Cancer Tournament to be played at Madison Square Garden. Aggie Websider's David Sandhop takes a closer look at tonight's match-up versus the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

The Texas Aggie basketball team faces its biggest challenge of the young season on Thursday night as they battle future SEC partner Mississippi State at New York's Madison Square Garden. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:00 PM central and will be televised by ESPN2.

This is a critical two-day road trip at the 2K Coaches for Cancer Tournament for the Aggies' NCAA Tournament non-conference resume'. The non-conference slate has only three contests against teams in the top 25-50 with the remaining schedule being very soft. Two of those three games will occur tonight and tomorrow. Texas A&M faces either Arizona or St. John's on Friday depending on the outcome of Thursday's match-ups.

Unfortunately, the Aggies must do battle in New York without top scorer and playmaker Khris Middleton who will miss the next three weeks due to arthroscopic knee surgery last week. But frankly, this game against the Bulldogs will be decided in the paint with the big men. The strength of MSU's team is its front line of 6-foot-8 freshman Rodney Hood (12.3 ppg), 6-foot-11, 250-pound junior Arnett Moultrie (16.3 ppg/ 12.7 rpg), and highly regarded and much troubled 6-foot-10, 300-pound Renardo Sidney (10.5/ 4.0 rpg).

In terms of size and height, Texas A&M's front line can't match the physicality of Moultrie and Sydney. If Texas A&M allows MSU to set-up it's half-court offense and pound the inside, the Aggies are in trouble. On the other end, David Loubeau will have a hard time establishing his post-up shots and Ray Turner will give up 2-3 inches and 30 pounds to his man, so pounding the paint for points probably isn't the answer.

But what Texas A&M's front court has that can cause MSU's big men fits will be speed in transition and conditioning. Sydney is significantly overweight and he's been a disappointment for the Bulldogs so far this season. In addition, MSU has not employed a long bench so far. Moultrie is averaging over 35 minutes a game and the top four starters are averaging close to 34 minutes a game.

So the objective is clear for the Aggies. Run the floor. Run the floor, and score in transition. Ray Turner has impressed observers early with his conditioning and ability to get down the court and score in transition. With a couple of big boys that are out of shape and playing most of the game, the Aggies will try to run these guys into foul trouble or exhaustion. Take your pick. With a solid four man rotation in the paint, Texas A&M can wear down these big men, not from banging with them in the half-court, but running them silly in transition. Turner will be the key here. If he struggles to produce in transition, it could be a long night in Manhattan. If he gets it cranked up and scores 15+ points, the Aggies have an excellent chance to win.

The Aggies should have a slight advantage in the back court. MSU has 6-foot-2 explosive point guard Dee Bost (17.3 ppg) who has been the Bulldogs' leading scorer to date, but he hasn't been very efficient with his shots, struggling with his accuracy and field goal percentage so far (40.5%) and tallying more turnovers (11) than assists (10) against pretty suspect competition. The goal for A&M's backcourt defenders is to force the issue and play aggressive defense, hopefully equating into more turnovers and keeping him off-balance.

On offense, Elston Turner needs to prove he can create his shot and score from anywhere on the court against better athletes. He did it against Dallas Baptist and Southern. Can he do it against quality D-1 athletes? The other big issue is Dash Harris and the senior simply playing under control and not causing silly turnovers or shooting bad shots. Jamal Branch will be in the national spotlight for the first time in his career. The concern is that he may try to do too much and be reckless with the ball. If he can keep his nerves under wraps and his game under control, Branch will be an important piece of the puzzle.

But in the end, my key match-ups for the game will be Kourtney Roberson on defense pounding on Moultrie and Sydney and keeping them from getting easy post-up baskets. Those two will get their points, but it is important for them to earn those points and exert energy doing it. The other key of the game is the effectiveness of Ray Turner to run the floor and drag Sydney and Moultrie with him. Turner can run these guys into the ground in transition. If they don't follow him up the court, Turner will have some easy baskets. If they do, conditioning will be a big factor and their effectiveness I the second half will be reduced.

It's an intriguing match-up in the paint. Which one wins out in the end…size or speed?


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