Can A&M win the Big 12 Championship?

The Aggies are extremely hot right now. They're off to the best start since 1921-22, Mark Turgeon has set the school record for the best start by a first-year head coach and the Aggies are beating their opponents by more than 20 points per game. What happens now that Big 12 play is here? Where do the Aggies stand in the race for the Big 12 Title? Who else has a shot?

In 1922, head football coach Dana X. Bible was pacing the sidelines at the 1922 Dixie Classic against Centre College. His players were falling one by one and he feared that he was going to run out of players. As the story goes, E. King Gill came down from the press box and stood next to Bible if needed. One of Texas A&M's oldest and proudest traditions was born that year—The 12th Man.

But Bible and King were part of something else that year in Aggieland as well. Bible was the last basketball coach to guide an Aggie basketball squad to a 14-1 start that year with Gill.

Fast forward 86 years and A&M is 14-1 once again, head coach Mark Turgeon is off to the best start by a first-year coach in school history and the the 2007-08 Aggies are hoping to carry on one of the newest traditions in Aggieland—a championship basketball program.

The Aggies have won 14 straight home games dating back to last season and have won 34 of their last 35 games at home. The last time they lost a home non-conference game was December 13, 2003 against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi—46 games ago.

A&M is ranked among the top-10 teams in the nation for field goal percentage defense, field goal percentage, rebound margin and scoring margin, beating opponents by more than 20 points per game. The Aggies have outscored their opponents by 28.4 points per game over the last seven games since losing on the road to Arizona.

They've been ranked in the Associated Press for 29 consecutive weeks. Prior to that streak, the Aggies were ranked a total of 27 weeks in school history.

But now the non-conference season is over. Big 12 Conference play is upon us, which means the games really mean something and Reed Arena will be filled to the brim from this point forward.

So what can the Aggies expect this year? Will Turgeon take them to the next level after an incredible three-year run under Billy Gillispie, who is not having quite as much fun in his first season at Kentucky?

Who will the Aggies be fighting for the Big 12 Championship? Where do the Aggies rank in the Big 12 Conference pecking order?

I'm glad you asked.

Big 12 Championship Contenders

1. KANSAS (14-0)
Darrell Arthur 13.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg
Darnell Jackson: 12.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg
Mario Chalmers: 12.0 ppg, 4.8 apg
Brandon Rush: 10.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg
Like the Aggies, the Jayhawks are extremely deep and perhaps even more balanced. They can take it to you inside and beat you in the paint, or pop it out to Rush and Co. from three-point range. They're a tough team to prepare for because they've got so many weapons. Kansas is the only other Big 12 team to have seven players averaging at least seven points per game. As always, they'll have an advantage over teams like A&M and Texas by playing in the Big 12 North. It will be tough for anyone to dethrone the Jayhawks until the North becomes as competitive as the South. Kansas is in a very good position to get a No. 1 seed and will be a national title contender.

2. TEXAS A&M (14-1)
Josh Carter – 13.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg
Joseph Jones – 11.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg
DeAndre Jordan – 10.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg
The Aggies are extremely deep, which is one reason that they've probably got the best chance of any team in the Big 12 to challenge for the conference championship. More often than not, the Aggies will be the fresh team heading into the final minutes of play, which could be the difference maker against teams like Texas who are talented, but not very deep. But playing teams like Texas, Oklahoma and Baylor twice is a lot tougher than playing home and home series with Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas State and Missouri. A&M will need Kansas to come into Reed Arena in the season finale with at least two conference losses if they want a shot at the title. The Aggies' depth may also be an advantage in the conference tournament, giving the Aggies a chance to play their way into a higher seed in the Big Dance.

3. TEXAS (13-2)
D.J. Augustin – 20.5 ppg, 6.1 apg
A.J. Abrams – 18.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg
Damian James – 13.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg
The Texas starting five may be as talented as any team in the country, but I just don't see them having the legs to make it through the brutal stretch that is the Big 12 Conference, especially in the South. The Longhorns' five starters are all averaging 30-plus minutes per game, and that's against weaker non-conference teams. Foul trouble will cause major problems for Rick Barnes at times and any injuries could spell disaster for a team that is already thin at virtually every position. The starting five is capable of leading Texas to 11-12 conference wins though, I just don't see them having the depth to win the Conference. They'll still be a high seed in March.

The Bubble Teams
This is where things get interesting. You've got the big three who will contend for top-3 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, but there are five teams who are virtually even. Any of these teams could finish No. 4 in the Big 12, or they could finish No. 8. Put them in a hat and draw a name.

Blake Griffin – 13.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg
Longar Longar – 12.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg
Tony Crocker – 11.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg
After a loss at home to Stephen F. Austin, a lot of people, including myself, began to question the Sooners, but after back to back wins against ranked opponents (Gonzaga and West Virginia), OU looks to be a team that could make the NCAA Tournament once again. Longar Longar, the coolest name in college sports, has emerged as a solid player this year off the bench and Blake Griffin is nearly averaging a double-double. A&M fans should also beware of the scheduling Gods with the Sooners as well. The Aggies will have to travel to Norman in the final stretch of the season against a Sooner team that could need a quality win to make the field of 65.

Michael Beasley – 24.2 ppg, 13.5 rpg
Bill Walker – 15.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg
Freshman Michael Beasley has definitely lived up to the hype as one of the top freshmen in the country, and it's doubtful that Aggie fans will ever see him play in Reed Arena. The one-and-done forward has been incredible, averaging a double-double, but the Wildcats have been anything but consistent behind their young star. KSU is sitting at 9-4, with losses to George Mason, Oregon, Notre Dame and a 103-77 loss to Xavier. Beasley and Walker will get their points, but will they have enough support around them against quality teams? So far, they haven't.

BAYLOR (11-2)
Curtis Jerrells – 14.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg
Kevin Rogers – 11.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg
LaceDarius Dunn – 11.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg
Aaron Bruce – 10.5 ppg, 2.5 apg
It looks like Baylor might finally have enough talent to overcome coaching this year. The Bears are off to an 11-2 start with a close loss to No. 4 Washington State at home and a seven-point loss to Arkansas in Dallas. They've got wins against Wichita State, Winthrop and Notre Dame, which is more than you could say about the Bears in recent history. But they'll have more games like Washington State and Arkansas during Big 12 play, and until proven otherwise, it's tough to give Drew the benefit of the doubt when a game comes down to coaching. They've got quality guards who can shoot the ball, but their inside game still leaves a lot to be desired, which will create match up problems inside against teams like the Aggies. But if their guards get hot from the outside, they could knock off some teams at home.

Aleks Maric – 16.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg
Ade Dagunduro – 11.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg
The Huskers beat Oregon, which was ranked No. 16 at the time, but they've dropped games to Creighton and Western Kentucky without many other quality opponents. They're led by center Aleks Maric and a slew of Ju-Co guys who will give the Huskers a new look this year. I'm not sure that they're an NCAA team, but it's not out of the question, especially in the Big 12 North. They'll have their first huge test of the year on Saturday against Kansas in the Big 12 Conference opener.

DeMarre Carroll – 14.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg Stefhon Hannah – 14.0 ppg, 5.1 apg Leo Lyons – 11.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg OUTLOOK: The Tigers have dropped five games already, but three of those losses were by three points or less to quality teams (Michigan State, Arkansas, Illinois). The bad news for Missouri fans is that they don't have any big wins. Like Nebraska, Missouri is another team that would struggle to make the NCAA Tournament if it played in the South. They're 8-0 at home this year, and they'll need a solid home court advantage if they're going to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003.

The Spectators

Then you have the bottom feeders, who won't do much more than spoil someone else's party this year. Oklahoma State is probably the most talented team of the four, but Sean Sutton is in way over his head in Stillwater. Cowboys fans expect to beat teams little brother teams like Oral Roberts—no pun intended.

Iowa State (10-5)
Texas Tech (9-5)
Oklahoma State (8-5)
Colorado (8-5)

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