Hop's Analysis - Tennessee Win

Despite being 12 point road underdogs, the Aggie basketball team pulled off a dramatic 57-56 upset of the Tennessee Volunteers. Aggie Websider's David Websider provides a detailed analysis of the team's performance and what it means for the remainder of SEC play.

As I've said all year....you can't get too high or too low with each individual game and we must judge the season in its totality and how the team progresses. The big shot by Antwan Space aside, there was one emerging development that could prove critical for the rest of the season.

I mentioned in an earlier hoops discussion that the team needed to find its identity on offense...basically who can you count on to make a bucket and what works best in the half-court set. Until this week, A&M had a collection of athletes and nobody really settled into a role. For example, last year we knew the offensive set was built around finding Elston Turner for an open shot.

Tonight, you could see Jamal Jones really start to step to the forefront, and the players started looking for him on the court trying to find him scoring opportunities. Also, if you go back to my scrimmage reports and early season analysis, Jamal Jones did his most damage in scrimmages attacking the basket. With his skinny frame and 6-foot-8 length, he's a tough stop and a difficult match-up. Put a guard on him and he can shoot and drive over the top of the defender. Put a bigger man on him, and he's quicker to the basket. That's exactly what happened in the second half. Tennessee decided to put a bigger man on Jones in the final 8-9 minutes, and Jones attacked the basket with success.

Earlier in the season, Jones was settling for 3-point shots and the few times he drove the lane he lacked confidence and he didn't react well to being bumped and pushed in traffic. He played much stronger with more confidence tonight, especially when attacking the basket.

Yeah, the headlines will go to Antwan Space, and he was clutch, but this team is getting better because Jamal Jones is building his confidence and getting settled into D-1 ball. Offensively, this team will perform as Jamal Jones performs. If he has an off-night or doesn't play with intensity, there's a good bet this team will lose. If he plays like he did tonight, A&M is capable of winning every game on its schedule with the possible exception of road games at Kentucky and Florida.

The other difference on offense is the improved play of Alex Caruso who has turned the ball over only twice during this two-game SEC winning streak to go with a whopping 19 assists. Life would be so much easier if Alex could hit his free throws and improve a little on his outside shot, but he's still a very productive player right now.

The other component to discuss is team defense. Other than a few average performances around the Christmas break when the players had two 10 day layoffs that I think hurt this team, they've played wonderful defense under the circumstances. Tennessee had a huge size advantage but A&M managed more second chance points than the Vols. The team gave up a couple of easy buckets, and that's it. Everything else was earned the hard way. By the end of the game when A&M held Tennessee to a couple of field goals in the final 6-7 minutes, the Vols were forced to put up long, contested shots.

You know my philosophy with basketball. If the team is playing with consistent effort and good defense night-in and night-out, the coach is in control of the team and the players are listening. That's obviously happening here. Right now, it's not even close. Texas A&M is the best defensive team in the SEC...and they are doing it with middle of the pack size and athleticism. This Tennessee team was more experienced, bigger, and more athletic and A&M shut them down in the second half and held them almost 20 points below their season average.

But, all of this means nothing if the team comes out flat and lays an egg at home on Wednesday against a South Carolina team they should beat. Can the team play with consistency and handle a taste of success? That's the next question Texas A&M must answer. For this night though, A&M can celebrate a huge road win that makes finishing above .500 in the SEC very realistic at this point.

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