In the first half, the team looked very mechanical in the half-court offense and the sets were not creating scoring opportunities because the players were thinking too much and not swinging the ball with a lot of speed and confidence. That's why the team struggled most of the first half. There were some early "nervous" misses at point blank range by Roberson and especially Davonte Fitzgerald. The freshman struggled with his shot, but he put himself in some good positions to make shots but he pressed and was a bit excited. He found himself in some wrong spots on defense..again, his eyes were wide-open and he looked like a deer in the headlights. However, I see a lot of potential there. Just let him settle down a little.
Before I talk more about each player, let me give you more overall team thoughts. I like what the team is doing on defense. Sure, there are some mistakes and easy baskets, but that is a product of the aggressive, man defense where they overplay, cut off passing lanes, and try to create turnovers. It worked with eight steals and 15 turnovers against a Buffalo team that wasn't half bad, especially with their guard play.
That length and athleticism that plays well with aggressive defense, it also plays well in transition. When A&M is forced to play a lot of half-court offense, the game is close. When A&M went on a run in this game, it was getting the transition game going and getting some easy buckets. Later in the half after some transition buckets, the team finally hit a few 3-pointers that stretched the lead to eight at halftime, and allowed A&M to pull away in the final 8-10 minutes.
It's too early to make any major conclusions about the future of this team. I think the Aggies are built to beat the teams they are supposed to beat. I just don't know yet if they can beat teams that are much bigger in the paint or equally athletic. I'm not sure they have the natural perimeter shooters to get hot and beat superior teams. We'll see. All I can tell you is this team is DEFINITELY better than last year's 18-win group.
Here's more player observations...
The team's most valuable player is unquestionably Alex Caruso. When he comes out for a breather, the other team usually goes on a run. When he goes back in, A&M stabilizes and cruises. He's just such an instinctive player on both ends of the court, and he's surprisingly athletic. He had an incredible 8 assists, four steals, and a block in a team high 33 minutes. BUt the difference in sophomore Caruso and freshman Caruso is the turnovers...or must I say lack of turnovers tonight...ZERO. Also, he committed just one foul. That's 13 positive "plays" with one negative play. That's huge. He's also good at finishing on the break, and he's not too bad playing the point. He can play so many positions and is so versatile.
Fabyon Harris had a business-like night for him. I know they need him to play the point, but I'd like to see more Caruso at the point with Harris at the No. 2 shooting the 3-ball. This is a kid that nearly led the SEC in 3-point percentage on a team struggling to make 3-pointers, and he did not attempt one perimeter shot behind the arc. He actually got fewer minutes than other guards Caruso, Smith, Green...and that's two-fold. They don't want to wear him out and his lack of length hurts him with the type of defense the staff wants to implement...aggressive, over-playing, cutting off passing lanes with long arms. There's definitely a role for Fabyon and he's a valuable component, but the staff knows they won't win more games if they need him for 35 minutes a contest like last year.
That leads us to Jordan Green. I'll be honest. I just about wrote this kid off after a lackluster scrimmage. He just never played with confidence and that led to turnovers and bad shots. But I must say, he looked like a completely different player from a mental standpoint. I'm not saying he's become a stud, but he is a heady player and his body type fits with exactly what they want to do on both ends of the court. Green had some baseline drives and slams, which he's done occasionally in his career, but that's not what caught my eye. It was the zero turnovers and a couple of big three-pointers when Buffalo was starting a run that I liked. He always withered in the past when the team needed a big play. Tonight, he actually delivered in the clutch. I'm not going to get carried away with this one game, but his progression is something to keep an eye on here. He played a whopping 28 minutes and had no negative plays. If this was a "light bulb" moment, then this is big news. Hopefully, he isn't a one-hit wonder. This is now a storyline to watch.
Shawn Smith is an explosive athlete. He hit a couple of nice 3-pointers which was nice to see, but his bread-and-butter is finishing in transition. He had a crazy reverse layup and another nice finish in transition. I thought he made some mistakes on defense, shading his man the wrong way and getting beat a couple of times, but the rest of the time he's in his man's grill and disrupting. He finished as the team's third leading scorer with 13 points.
There will be a lot of talk about Kourtney Roberson's 15 point, 11 rebound effort. It was a solid effort by Roberson, but he let smaller posts back him down on the post when on defense and he did what he normally does during a game...he missed a point blank put-back or in this case a dunk. Solid, but about like he always plays. He'll have more difficulties when he faces longer opposing post players.
Antwan Space is starting to grow on me. What I like about him versus say Roberson, is when he goes to the top of the key to screen or take a pass, the defender must go with him because he can and will shoot from the outside. That vacates the paint and allows for smaller cutters, and Space made several nice passes from that spot and managed three assists. He can also finish well around the basket and he moves well. Yeah, he has a brain fart every now and then and will throw the ball away, but I like what he brings to the court.
He's not going to be a huge component of this team, but I like Tavario Miller. Even though he's a freshman and undersized, he's not timid in the paint and he finds a way to get balls. Now, he's raw on offense and he missed all three shots, but he's very athletic and he'll get his share of put-backs and dunks this season. He's a nice ball of energy who can come off the bench and raise a little hell in the paint for a 3-4 minute stretch here and there.
Dylan Johns has a bright future, but he'll need a year to beef up. He's skilled enough that if the team needs him for a few minutes, he can be functional.
I was disappointed that Jamal Jones didn't try to create going to the basket like he did in the scrimmage and exhibition game. He ended up making three 3-pointers, but he was a little out of sorts and committed three turnovers. Jamal and the staff need to find his role on this team as he's talented and capable.
Hop's Hoops Game Analysis - Buffalo
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