No 23 Aggies host Oklahoma in Big 12 Showdown

The No. 23-ranked Texas A&M Aggies (17-4, 3-3 Big 12) battle the Oklahoma Sooners (15-5, 3-2 Big 12) in a Big 12 Conference showdown on Saturday at 3 p.m. at Reed Arena. Oklahoma is led by 6-10 freshman forward Blake Griffin (left). The game will be televised regionally on ESPN. Tony Hooten previews the Aggie-Sooner clash.

The No. 23-ranked Texas A&M Aggies (17-4, 3-3 Big 12) battle the Oklahoma Sooners (15-5, 3-2 Big 12) in a Big 12 Conference showdown on Saturday at 3 p.m. at at a sold-out Reed Arena.

The game will be televised regionally on ESPN.

The Aggies are coming off an outstanding 80-63 win over No. 10 Texas on Wednesday night. The win over Texas backed up a crucial 59-56 victory on the road over Oklahoma State last Saturday, which ended a three-game losing skid.

Oklahoma (15-5, 3-2 Big 12) is coming off a 64-61 win over cross-state rival Oklahoma State, its third Big 12 win in a row after defeating Texas Tech and Baylor last week.

Oklahoma will be looking for a win over the Aggies to climb into the Top 25.

Jeff Capel is in his second year as head coach of Oklahoma. Two weeks after Kelvin Sampson left Oklahoma in March, 2006 to become Indiana's new coach, Capel was announced as Sampson's replacement. Capel had compiled a 79-41 (.658) record over the previous four years as head coach at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Capel faced a rebuilding challenge his first year at Oklahoma. The Sooners had three of their top four scorers graduate. Shortly after Capel took over, three of Oklahoma's top recruits decided to go elsewhere. Scotty Reynolds got out of his letter of intent and wound up as the Big East Rookie of the Year at Villanova. Damion James reneged and has turned into a future pro at Texas and Jeremy Mayfield never arrived and landed at UAB.

Capel and the Sooners struggled in that first season to a 15-16 record, 6-10 in the Big 12.

But Capel has shown his coaching class by quickly turning the Sooners around in his second season. Oklahoma has already won as many games as all last season, including wins over then-Top 25-ranked Gonzaga, West Virginia, and Baylor.

Since the start of Big 12 play, Oklahoma has primarily used a 7-man rotation.

Oklahoma's best player is freshman forward Blake Griffin (6-10, 243).

Griffin is one of the highest-rated and most decorated recruits to ever sign with Oklahoma. Griffin was rated a five-star recruit and the nation's seventh-best power forward by

Griffin started the first 16 games of the season and is averaging 14.7 points and 8.7 rebounds a game.

Griffin suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee in the first five minutes of Oklahoma's loss to Kansas on January 14th. Griffin showed his toughness, missing just one game (Texas Tech) and making a surprise return from injury against Baylor last Saturday, coming off the bench against Baylor to register 17 points, 15 rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes of action.

In recognition of his Baylor performance, on Monday Griffin earned his second Big 12 Player of the Week honor. ESPN's Andy Katz named Griffin his national player of the week. And that was before Griffin teamed with his older brother, Taylor, to catapult the Sooners to a 64-61 win over rival Oklahoma State on Monday night.

Griffin had 27 points and 14 rebounds in his matchup with Kansas State and its super freshman Michael Beasley.

Since returning from injury, Griffin has come off the bench in Oklahoma's last three games, all Big 12 wins, so the Sooners may stick with this formula.

Oklahoma's starters are expected to be:

Senior center Longar Longar (6-11, 232) - averaging 13.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.2 blocked shots in 26 minutes a game.
Sophomore guard Tony Crocker (6-6, 191) - averaging 11.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.6 assists in 31 minutes a game.
Junior guard Austin Johnson (6-3, 161) - averaging 8.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in 30 minutes a game.
Senior guard David Godbold (6-5, 221) - averaging 7.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, ansd 2.3 assists in 27 minutes a game.
Junior forard Taylor Griffin (6-7, 236) - averaging 6.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, an 0.9 blocks in 20 minutes a game.

Longar Longar is a slender, skilled center who possesses good coordination and runs the floor extremely well. Last season Longar ranked second on squad in scoring (10.4 ppg), first in rebounding (7.1 rpg), led the team with a .553 field goal percentage, and ranked sixth in the Big 12 in blocked shots (1.4 per game).

Longar was Oklahoma's leading scorer in its wins over Arkansas, Gonzaga, and West Virginia, and in its losses to Memphis, Kansas, and SFA.

Tony Crocker possesses tremendous athletic ability and endurance, is an excellent finisher around the rim, can score inside and out, boasts one of the best vertical leaps on the team, and is an excellent defender on the perimeter. Last season Crocker led the team with his 25 starts, averaging 8.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 23.3 minutes per game.

Austin Johnson is a lanky guard that possesses excellent passing skills and scores in a multitude of ways from a variety of spots on the court. Last season Johnson had 23 starts, averaged 7.0 points, 1.8 rebounds and a team-high 2.8 assists in 23.6 minutes per contest.

David Godbold is a big guard who leads current Sooners in career games played (88) and starts (48). Godbold is an unselfish player that runs the floor well and possesses excellent leaping ability. He's one of the team's better defenders. Last season Godbold led the squad in total minutes played (866), averaged 7.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists and a team-high 1.3 steals per game. Godbolt also ranked second on team with 43 3-pointers.

Taylor Griffin is the big brother of Blake. Taylor is an all-around offensive player who can score, rebound and pass. Taylor is the strongest player on the roster and his Vertical jump of 38 inches is the best on the team. Taylor scores most of his points within 15 feet of the basket. Last season Taylor made 22 starts, averaged 6.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in 23.4 minutes per game.

Taylor was the Sooners leading scorer in its wins over Oklahoma St on Monday (20 points) and over Texas Tech last week (16 points and 12 rebounds)

In addition to one of the Griffins, the other Sooner that comes off the bench to see lots of playing time is freshman guard Omar Leary (5-10, 170). Leary is a left-handed point guard that possesses good ball-handling skills and quick feet. Leary is an excellent perimeter shooter and is averaging averaging 5.5 points in 19 minutes a game.

Texas A&M is expected to start the same lineup as it has for its last four games: junior forward Josh Carter (6-7, 200), senior forward Joseph Jones (6-9, 255), sophomore guard Donald Sloan (6-3, 205), senior guard Dominique Kirk (6-4, 185), and sophomore forward Bryan Davis (6-9, 250).

Josh Carter leads the Aggies in scoring with 13.5 points a game and has scored in double figures in 14 straight games. Carter has hit 49 three-pointers and ranks second in career three-point accuracy in Big 12 history at 43.3 percent. In Wednesday night's big win over Texas, Carter led the Aggies with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

Joseph Jones is averaging 11.5 points and 5.4 rebounds a game. Jones was named MVP of the Dick’s Sporting Goods NIT Season-Tip-Off in November and ranks among the school’s career top 10 in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots, field goal percentage, steals, free throws and free throw attempts.

Donald Sloan is averaging 9.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 3.3 assists a game, and has averaged 12.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists in the last three games.

Dominique Kirk is averaging 8.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 4 assists a game. Kirk owns the Big 12 record for consecutive starts with 117 and was a .defensive All-American last year.

Bryan Davis has started the last four games for the Aggies and is averaging 8.4 points and 4.7 rebounds a game. Davis posted career highs in rebounding (30) and rebounding (14) against Baylor for his first career-double-double. Davis leads the team in blocks (27) and steals (19) and is third in rebounding (4.7). He is making .606 from the field in Big 12 play.

First off the bench and averaging over 20 minutes a game will be freshman center DeAndre Jordan (7-0, 260) and sophomore guard Derrick Roland (6-4, 190).

Jordan started the first 17 games of the season and is now averaging 9.3 points and 6.7 rebounds a game, while Roland is averaging 5.9 points and 2.7 rebounds. Jordan, a preseason freshman All-America pick, ranks third nationally in field goal percentage (.693).

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). Holmes has made 5-of-8 (.625) from three-point range in Big 12 play, including 4-of-7 (.571) in the last two games.

Aggie coach Turgeon was asked Monday about starting Bryan Davis over DeAndre Jordan the last four games and responded "I think it’s the best thing for our team right now. I think Bryan Davis has earned it, he’s played at a high level. DeAndre struggled in our first two big 12 road games out of the gate. I brought him off the bench in the Baylor game and he played more minutes than he has as a starter."

To get a better feel for the Aggie - Sooner matchup, Oklahoma is rated No. 29 (of 341) in Jeff Sagarin's Basketball Ratings., one spot below Texas A&M (No. 28).

Oklahoma's most impressive games this season have been a 72-68 home win over then-No. 20-ranked Gonzaga (Sagarin No. 23), an 88-82 road win over then-No. 23-ranked West Virginia (No. 32), and 77-71 road win over then No. 25-ranked Baylor (No. 33).

Oklahoma's worst losses were at home 66-62 to Stephen F. Austin (Sagarin No. 86) and on the road 85-55 to then No. 3 ranked Kansas (No. 2). The Sooners other three losses were to then No. 3 ranked Memphis (No. 1), to then No. 24 ranked USC (No. 22), and to Kansas State (No. 18)

Texas A&M has seen their Sagarin rating drop from No. 17 to No. 36 after the Tech, K-State, and Baylor losses, and back to No. 28 after the Oklahoma State and Texas wins.

Texas A&M's most impressive wins have been Wednesday night's 17-point win over Texas (Sagarin No. 20), its 23-point win over Ohio St (No. 21), and its 14-point win over Washington (No. 63). A&M's four losses have been by 11 points to Arizona (No. 16), by 15 points to Texas Tech (No. 79), by 21 points to Kansas State (No. 18), and the 5-overtime loss to Baylor (No. 33).

Texas A&M and Oklahoma have faced five common opponents - Rice, Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State.

The Aggies and Sooners had similar results in their wins over Rice and Oklahoma St. A&M lost on the road by 19 to Kansas St while Oklahoma fell by just 2 at home. The Aggies lost to Texas Tech and Baylor while the Sooners beat Tech and Baylor.

The Sagarin analysis would indicate this will be a very close game, with the Aggies having a slight advantage playing at home. The common opponent analysis would give an edge to Oklahoma.

Texas A&M needs a win over the Sooners to climb above .500 in Big 12 play and continue its march towards the NCAA tourney.

I expect the capacity Reed Arena crowd and the momentum from the Texas game to help carry the Aggies to a crucial win over the Sooners.

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