When former Texas A&M head coach Billy Gillispie bolted for the bluer grasses of Kentucky, Bill Byrne wasted no time going after Wichita State head coach Mark Turgeon, who had led the Shockers to the Sweet 16 just two years earlier. But not many A&M fans knew much about the former Kansas point guard.
But less than one month into the Turgeon era, the Aggies are a win away from making a statement. They'll meet last year's national runner-up Ohio State on Friday night in the NIT Preseason Tip-Off championship game in New York.
While the Buckeyes are not picked to return to the Final Four, they're still a quality team with lots of talent, and a win would put the Aggies on the basketball map this year with upcoming games against Alabama and Arizona to wrap up a tough four-game non-conference stretch.
But Turgeon isn't worried about making a statement, he just wants to improve during the stretch as the Aggies gear up for Big 12 Conference play in January.
"It's a big stretch for us, but it's not the tell all," Turgeon said. "If we win all four games it doesn't mean we're the greatest team ever. If we don't do as well, is it the end of the year? No. There's still a lot of basketball left ahead of us. No matter how we do I won't make a big deal out of it."
Turgeon might not, but the media and Aggie basketball fans will make a big deal of an NIT Season Tip-Off Championship.
The Aggies advanced to the championship game after knocking off an underrated Washington squad. The Aggies struggled in the first half, but used an 8-2 run to start the second half and never looked back. Had they been more effective from the free throw line, the game would have been in hand much earlier. The Aggies were just 22-of-40 (55 percent) from the charity stripe against Washington, which is the only reason they trailed at halftime.
Donald Sloan took over in the second half and the Aggies will look to him again if the Buckeyes do as good of a job of keeping the ball away from Dominique Kirk.
Ohio State is coming off a 35-4 record and a Big 10 Championship in 2006-07 and advanced to the National Championship game against Florida, but the Gators were too much for the Buckeyes in the title game.
They lost 7-foot freshman phenom Greg Oden from that squad, but they've replaced him with another seven-footer in freshman Kosta Koufos, who scored a career-high 24 points in Ohio State's 78-65 upset of No. 21 Syracuse in front of a partisan crowd that made it more like a road game for the Buckeyes.
But Ohio State head coach Thad Matta isn't ready to name Koufos as the next big freshman just yet.
"Time's going to tell," Matta said. "He plays a good game and we blow him up. I really believe we do kids an injustice."
The Aggies will have to do a better job of keeping Koufos, who leads the team in scoring (20.3 ppg) and rebounding (8.0 rpg), from getting easy looks at the basket like he did against Syracuse and controlling the play in the backcourt.
The Buckeyes will hope to get more solid production from Othello Hunter and Jamar Butler, who combined for 29 points in the win against Syracuse. The two athletic guards will be a big test for the Aggies defensively.
Opening tip is scheduled for 6 p.m. and will be nationally televised on ESPN2. The game is one of a school record 15 nationally televised games this year for the Aggies.
Aggies meet Buckeyes in NIT Championship
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