Aggies host LSU to kickoff 2008

No. 10 Texas A&M continues its homestand on Saturday night when they host the LSU Tigers. The Aggies have won 6 in a row and look to avenge losses in 2006 to LSU. Tony Hooten provides an indepth preview of the Aggie-Tiger clash.

The No. 10 Texas A&M Aggies continue their 8-game homestand on Saturday night when they host the LSU Tigers at 7 p.m. in what is expected to be a sold out Reed Arena.

Texas A&M (13-1) have won 6 in a row and this week moved back into the Top 10. The Aggies are ranked No. 10 in the ESPN/USA Today poll and No. 12 in the Associated Press poll.

LSU (7-6) plays in the tough Southeastern Conference - Western Division, with the likes of Auburn (9-2), Arkansas (10-3), Alabama (10-4), and Mississippi (13-0).

LSU is coming off a disappointing 68-63 loss on the road to cross-state rival Tulane on Wednesday night.

The Tigers suffered a major blow in Wednesday's loss to Tulane game when starting center Chris Johnson broke a bone in his hand. Johnson had surgery on Friday and will be out at least 2-3 weeks. The 6-foot-11 junior was the Tigers’ third-leading scorer (11.5 points per game), was grabbing 4.8 rebounds a game and had blocked 27 shots.

This would be considered a relatively down year for LSU.

LSU is rated No. 149 (of 341) in Jeff Sagarin's Basketball Ratings. The Tigers' seven wins have come against Southeastern Louisiana (No. 191), McNeese State (No. 218), Chaminade (Non-NCAA), Nicholls State (No. 185), Southern University (No. 265), Northwestern State (No. 328), and Oregon State (No. 190).

LSU's six losses have included the 20-point loss to Mark Turgeon's former team Wichita State (No. 124), and losses to Oklahoma St (No. 100), Arizona St (No. 61), Villanova (No. 47), Washington (No. 63), and Tulane (No. 113).

By contrast, Texas A&M is currently rated by Sagarin at No. 15. The one common opponent, Washington, the Aggies beat by 14 points, while LSU lost by 8 points.

John Brady is in his 11th year as head coach at LSU. Brady's 192 wins in 10 and a half seasons are the third most wins by an LSU basketball coach and only two LSU basketball coaches have served longer tenures.

In 2006, LSU won the SEC regular season title with a 14-2 record and won the Western Division for the second straight year. LSU has won 31 SEC games the last three years. The SEC Championship in 2006 was Brady's second and the school's first outright championship in 21 years.

Who will forget LSU's last second win over Texas A&M in the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament. LSU went on to knock off the tournament's top seed, No. 1-ranked Duke, in the regional semifinals, and nationally-ranked Texas in overtime to advance to the first NCAA Final Four at LSU in 20 years.

While "Big Baby" Glen Davis was unable to recreate his sophomore first-team All-American season, last year playing with injuries and having to play with the burden of intense media pressure, Davis still earned All-SEC honors as he finished third in the league in scoring at 17.7 points per game and was the league's leading rebounder for the second straight year at 10.4 boards a game, eighth best in the nation. Davis was drafted after his junior year by the Boston Celtics.

This year's Tigers just aren't the same team without "Big Baby" Glen Davis.

The Tigers did return two outstanding players in junior forward Tasmin Mitchell (6-7, 230) and junior guard Garrett Temple (6-6, 185).

Entering his junior season, Tasmin Mitchell had started all 68 games since arriving at LSU in 2005. Last season Mitchell averaged 14.5 points per game and 5.9 rebounds a game. He was 12th in the SEC conference in scoring and 13th in the league in rebounding. Mitchell was expect to lead this Tiger team, but was lost with an injury in the third game of the season against Oklahoma St. Mitchell was diagnosed as having a stress reaction in the shin bone area of his left foot, had surgery on Nov. 29, and has not played since.

Garrett Temple was a defensive All-American as a sophomore and this season is averaging 6 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists a game. Temple create mismatches with his size at the guard position.

Marcus Thornton
Marcus Thornton (above and cover) is averaging 18 points a game for the Tigers. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

This year's leader for LSU has been junior college transfer guard Marcus Thornton (6-4, 195). Thornton hit 74 three-pointers as a Kilgore Junior College player last season. This year Thornton is averaging 19 points and 6 rebounds a game. Thornton is dangerous from 3-point range, having sunk 31 to lead the Tigers.

Thornton has already had seven 20-point games for the Tigers. However, in LSU's loss Wednesday to Tulane, Thornton had his worst game of the season, scoring only 7 points and missing all five of his 3-point attempts. This was only the second game this season Thornton has been held to under 12 points.

Other starters for LSU are expected to be true freshman forward Anthony Randolph (6-11, 220), junior guard Terry Martin (6-6, 203), and freshman guard Bo Spencer (6-1, 180).

Randolph is one of the top true freshman in the SEC. Coming out of Dallas Woodrow Wilsoon, Randolph was rated the No. 6 Power Forward in the country. Randolph has not disappointed Tiger fans. Randolph is a raw talent but has been an outstanding performer, averaging 14 points and 8 rebounds a game. Of special note, in 13 games Randolph has blocked 36 shots.

Martin had one of his best games of the season Wednesday against Tulane, leading the Tigers in scoring with 19 points, including 4-of-9 3-pointers.

It was reported on Friday that LSU will replace the injured center Chris Johnson with guard Bo Spencer, giving LSU a four-guard look with Garrett Temple, Terry Martin and Marcus Thornton. Randolph will be the only starter taller than 6-6, and the 6-5 Temple will be called on to defend the opposition’s power forward when LSU plans man-to-man.

To counter the now significant Aggie size advantage, look for true freshman Garrett Green (6-10, 218) to be brought in off the bench early.

Anthony Randolph
Anthony Randolph is one of the top freshmen in the SEC. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

The LSU starters are averaging over 30 minutes a game and LSU is not playing many players, signs that this Tiger team lacks depth.

It was reported Friday that injury and academic woes mean that LSU is likely take the floor with just eight players.

After years of pounding the ball down low with players like Glen Davis, this year’s team is much taller but there is no one to pound the ball to the goal. The Tigers are among the nation’s leaders in blocked shots and while LSU appears to be able to score from more options than in years past, LSU is struggling to get back on transition.

Most glaring is LSU’s inability to rebound, getting out boarded by a combined 58 boards in the last five games, 37 of those offensive.

Aggie Head Coach Mark Turgeon is very familiar with LSU and Coach Brady. His Wichita State team travelled to Baton Rouge last season and upset the then No. 6 ranked Tigers 57-53.

At Thursday's media luncheon, Turgeon talked about this LSU team and going up against Coach Brady again:

"They're different, a lot different than they were last year. Everything was around Big Baby. Last year they were a power team."

"I like to think of them as more of a finesse team this year. They’re really long, athletic, shot blockers, they shoot the 3 a lot more this year than they did in the past. They’ve always been very athletic and they are very athletic again."

"You've got a feel for the way he (Brady) wants to coach, he's got a feel for the way I want to coach. That familiarity will help each coach prepare for this game."

Turgeon was asked about Chris Johnson's injury and responded "Coach Brady made a comment that it didn't look good ... Maybe he'll miss one game (laugh)."

When asked if Johnson's injury would affect preparations, Turgeon responded "It doesn't matter. If they had Shaq back, we'd still prepare the same way. We're worried about us right now."

LSU is one of the first teams that will challenge the Aggies' usual size advantage. LSU's backcourt is 6-4, 6-6, and 6-7, while two 6-11 players man the frontcourt.

Texas A&M is expected to start the same lineup as it has for all 13 games: junior forward Josh Carter (6-7, 200), senior forward Joseph Jones (6-9, 255), freshman center DeAndre Jordan (7-0, 260), sophomore guard Donald Sloan (6-3, 205) and senior guard Dominique Kirk (6-4, 185).

Carter leads the Aggies in scoring with 13.6 points a game and has hit 31 three-pointers. Jones is averaging 11 points and 5 rebounds a game. True freshman Jordan has been coming on strong and is now averaging 10 points and 7 rebounds a game. Sloan and Kirk are each averaging about 9 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists a game.

With the Aggie winning margin over 13 games over 20 points, the starters have only averaged about 25 minutes a game.

First off the bench amd averaging over 20 minutes a game have been sophomore forward Bryan Davis (6-9, 250) and sophomore guard Derrick Roland (6-4, 190). Davis is averaging 7 points and 5 rebounds a game, while Roland is averaging 8 points and 3 rebounds.

Other Aggies who have seen significant playing time are sophomore forward Chinemelu Elonu (6-10, 235), true freshman guard B.J. Holmes (6-0, 175), true freshman forward Nathan Walkup (6-6, 195), and senior guard Beau Muhlbach (6-5, 205).

Texas A&M looks to avenge last season's 64-52 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge and the 2006 NCAA tourney 58-57 loss.

I know many Aggie fans look at LSU's 7-6 record, Sagarin rating of 149, and RPI in the 180's, and think this game will be a blowout win for the Aggies, and that could be true.

But LSU has the potential to give the Aggies a tougher game than many expect.

Five of LSU's six losses have been by an average of under 5 points. On Dec 6th LSU led No. 16 Villanova (10-1) most of the game (at Villanova), losing 68-67 on a last-second Villanova shot.

Prior to Chris Johnson's injury , we thought that with the Aggies having faced little competition in the last 6 games and with the size LSU possesses, if Thornton is hot and knocks down a few 3-pointers, LSU could pose a challenge for the Aggies.

With the home court advantage, the motivation from the losses in 2006 to LSU, and LSU's injuries, Texas A&M should win this game by at least 14 points. If the Aggies get on a roll, it could be a lot more.

This nationally televised Texas A&M-LSU contest in a sold-out Reed Arena should be a great tuneup for Big 12 Conference play.

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