Aggie Hoops - Just How Good Are They?

The Texas A&M basketball team is off to a fast 11-1 start. Still, after last year's Sweet Sixteen appearance, Aggie fans are still asking just how good is this team under first year coach Mark Turgeon, Aggie Websider's David Sandhop takes a closer look at the numbers.

In 2006-2007 (2007), the Texas Aggie basketball team reached new heights in the program's long history. Their Sweet Sixteen appearance in the NCAA Tournament matched the 1980 squad known as "The Wall" with post players Rudy Woods, Vernon Smith, and Rynn Wright advancing past North Carolina. But there were many other program firsts that last year's team doesn't share with anybody. Most notably a high water mark of a No. 6 national ranking and Texas A&M's first-ever win over the Kansas Jayhawks and the first win at Phog-Allen Fieldhouse by a Big 12 South Division school.

So as we celebrate the Christmas holidays and come down the home stretch of the non-conference basketball schedule, Aggie fans are beginning to compare the 2007-2008 (2008) team with last year's special squad. Through 12 games last year, the 2007 team was 10-2 and ranked No. 11, suffering both losses to top ten teams LSU and UCLA. While those two losses came against stiff competition, the remainder of the non-conference schedule was very weak with wins against the likes of Fordham, Prairie View A&M, Idaho St., and Arkansas-Little Rock.

The 2008 squad is 11-1 and ranked No. 11 as well, with its lone loss coming on the road against Arizona, a team that's in the top 10 of several RPI ratings services. However, this year's Aggies under first year coach Mark Turgeon have faced a stronger non-conference slate with wins against Top 100 teams such as Ohio State, Washington, Oral Roberts, Alabama, UTEP, and Arizona. Overall, Texas A&M's non-conference strength of schedule ranges from a respectable No. 28 (simulated RPI formula) to No. 70 in the Pomeroy Ratings Index with Top 100 LSU still on tap in early January. Combine that with what looks to be a very difficult Big 12 schedule, and this team won't have any issues with the NCAA selection committee in regard to strength of schedule come March.

In contrast, the non-conference strength of schedule for last year's team was much weaker at No. 198, so on paper the 2008 squad has been equally successful with a significantly more difficult schedule to date. For comparison sake, the non-conference schedule for 2006 ranked No. 271, the 2005 schedule was rated No. 319, and Melvin Watkins last year came in at No. 304. Needless to say, Aggie fans are being treated to a more entertaining, more competitive caliber of basketball before New Year's in 2008 than ever before, and the team is winning these games by an average of 20 points/game.

Under Billy Gillispie, Texas A&M became one of the stingiest and feared defenses in college basketball, consistently ranking in the top 10 in scoring defense the past two seasons. Understandably, fans want to compare the 2008 team under Turgeon with these recent intense defenses under Gillispie. At first glance, it may look like this squad isn't as good defensively, ranking just No. 41 in points allowed (58.7). However, some of that can be attributed to Turgeon's faster-paced offense that gives opponents more possessions, and naturally more points.

The compelling defensive statistic to judge is the opponent's field goal percentage, and the Aggies jump up in a big way here, ranking a very impressive No. 9 in the nation. Frankly, that top 10 statistic is the most accurate barometer to compare with the 2007 team. Clearly, the No. 9 ranking suggests that this year's Aggie team is as stingy and capable as the 2007 squad under Gillispie. That plays out in the raw numbers, with last year's team allowing an opponent's field goal percentage of 34.3% versus 34.5% for the 2008 team currently. So, clearly we can put this argument to rest. The defense is still very good, and just as effective as the 2007 squad.

In addition, the 2008 version of Aggie basketball also is excelling in several other statistical categories including No. 5 in the nation in rebounding margin, much stronger than the 2007 Aggies that finished outside of the nation's Top 50 in rebounding. Turgeon's team also owns a very good field goal percentage, currently ranking No. 15 in the nation. Last year's squad was sported a high field goal percentage, ranking No. 5 nationally at this point in the season.

However, there are two statistical categories where the current team is struggling. Of course, Aggie fans are all familiar with the problems at the free throw line, and it is reflected in the national rankings. A&M is ranked No. 318 out of 328 total teams…ouch. Surprisingly, the Aggies are also ranked near the bottom of the national rankings in steals, coming in at No. 317.

But overall, this year's men's basketball team appears on target to match and even exceed last year's team in many statistical areas. That bodes well for the remainder of the 2007-2008 season, including Big 12 conference play and into the NCAA Tournament.

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