The Texas Aggie basketball team had a business-like performance in the 80-70 victory over UT-Permian Basin in an exhibition game at Reed Arena. It was the first D-1 collegiate game for four players, and six newcomers have been thrown into the mix for the 2013-2014 season. Thus, the team is trying to find team chemistry and the players are trying to find their role and fit on the court. So it's hard…almost impossible…to make sense of the first exhibition game of the season. The best way to provide some insight into last night's performance is to quickly look at each player individually.
With Reese out, Harris started at the point. In fact, Harris may be the starter anyway. I thought he looked even quicker than he did last year, and played at a high level and ran the point efficiently. He was credited with only one turnover in 21 minutes of play, and A&M fans would take that every game. He was also the leading scorer with 13 points, and he added two of the team's impressive 12 steals. The issue with Harris will always be durability and staying healthy. The staff last night was very careful to keep him rested, logging just 21 minutes. But he looked very good out there and much will be expected, and I expect him to be the main man at the point.
Alex played like Alex. He gives you a lot of assists (3), a lot of steals (3), and a lot of turnovers (3). He logged the most minutes of any player (25) and he's going to be the glue of this team. For one reason, he plays great defense, but also because he's so versatile on the court. In Reese's absence, Caruso played some point guard to give Harris some rest, and he did a pretty decent job. Two things have changed for Alex this season. He's physically matured and has a little more bulk to him, and he flashed an effective mid-range game hitting a couple of 10-12 footers and a runner. He didn't show the three-point shot that he struggled with last season, but he'll still be a much better player if teams must respect his mid-range game. Thus, I expect an improved Caruso in 2013-2014, and I think he's one of the most important pieces on this team.
As I've been saying in some of my earlier previews, Jones will be a key figure on this year's team. He has the potential to be that go-to guy, and you see flashes of that potential on the court. However, he's just not there yet. He missed several early shots from the outside, and seemed out of sorts offensively in the first half. But, you could see him feeling more confident in the second half and he took his man off the dribble several times and created some scoring opportunities. He finished with 11 points and he also helped out in the paint collecting six rebounds. If he can get his outside shot working for him (and he was a good 3-point shooter in JUCO), he'll be a key offensive player on the team. He was also one of the few players who made his free throws (3 of 4).
As you know (if you've followed my hoops recruiting coverage), I thought Fitzgerald was a big pick-up for this staff and a very underrated prospect coming into the new season. So my expectations were somewhat high, and I've got to say that the Georgia product met my expectations…but in a different way than I thought. In high school, Fitzgerald was a spot-up shooter who occasionally drove to the bucket. For his size at 6-foot-8, he was primarily a perimeter player and that's what I expected to see last night. But the freshman played quite a bit in the paint and got down and dirty with most of his points coming either in transition or in putbacks around the rim. He finished with a solid 10 points, five rebounds, two blocks and two steals. Sure, he won't be able to do that against much bigger SEC teams, but I came away feeling this kid can be a player at Texas A&M, and he'll contribute in some capacity with his length and athleticism as a freshman.
Johns was a surprising starter, and he does have some skills. He had a very nice post move where he spun and softly pushed a one-handed bank shot in the middle of the net. He also changed some shots in the paint and had a block. But, he gets pushed around on the rebound and struggles to grab defensive rebounds. It will be interesting to see how the staff uses Johns because he can provide dividends in terms of shot blocking with his length, and he provides some benefits in post offense, but there are some deficiencies on the block with his lack of bulk.
Bless Jordan Green…he tries and he tries hard. He's also a vocal leader on the floor, and I must say he has improved his overall game. He was credited with four assists and committed just one turnover. However, he still struggles to finish off scoring opportunities. He'll get his share of minutes because of his leadership and stabilizing presence, but he will likely remain a role player on this team.
Shawn is the one player where I left last night's game where I wasn't sure what to think. He is a great defender because of his quickness and size. He is fabulous in transition. His acceleration in transition provides a lot of scoring opportunities and he does finish well. There's so much to like about Smith, except for his outside shooting. Last night, he kept trying to shoot himself out of his outside struggles. He missed all three 3-point shots, and missed them badly. He finished 2-of-8 from the field. But, he scored nine points and went to the free throw line eight times. If he can slow down on the outside shooting and understand his role, he can be a very nice and effective player for this team.
If only Antwan were an inch or two taller, he'd be a dominant player. At a little under 6-foot-8, he will struggle with bigger teams in the paint, but he's very athletic and he's skilled for a lengthy player who can step out of the paint and do some damage. He's made some 3-pointers in scrimmages, but he didn't attempt any outside shots last night because he didn't have to against a UT-PB team that was small in the paint. Space was controlling the defensive paint, grabbing a team high eight rebounds. Space is an intriguing prospect because he runs the floor well and did some nice things in transition. I'm withholding judgment until I see what he does against a D-1 team with more length, but I liked what I saw last night.
I like this kid. He's another undersized post player in terms of height (6-foot-7.5), but he's muscular, strong, and a bundle of energy in the paint. He showed good hands on a quick pass that resulted in a layup and when he gets close to a rebound, nobody takes it away from him. He made some overzealous freshman mistakes, and he'll surely frustrate A&M fans at times, but they will also love that same energy when it results in a good play…and he will make good plays and he will make some mistakes. In just 15 minutes of play, Miller had four blocked shots, a steal, and made all three shots to finish with seven points.
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