Aggies face Missouri in pivotal Big 12 game

The No. 18-ranked Texas A&M Aggies (19-4, 5-3 Big 12) seek their fifth win in a row when they travel to Columbia, Missouri to face the Missouri Tigers on Saturday afternoon. Missouri is tough at home and has beaten two top 25 sides there in the last 3 weeks. Tony Hooten previews the Aggie-Tiger clash.

No. 18 Texas A&M (19-4, 5-3 Big 12) enters Saturday's game on a four-game winning streak following a 69-51 win at Iowa State on Tuesday.

Missouri is coming off a 90-71 road loss to No 3-ranked Kanas on Monday night and has had five days to prepare for the Aggies.

After wins over Texas and Oklahoma last week, A&M climbed from No. 23 five spots to No. 18 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll and the AP poll this week. The Aggies have been ranked in both polls a school record 34 straight weeks.

The Aggies opened Big 12 play 1-3 with a pair of tough road losses at Texas Tech and Kansas State, before playing in an epic five overtime contest against Baylor in which they fell 116-110.

Since that game, however, Mark Turgeon's club has won four consecutive, including road wins at Oklahoma State and Iowa State, mixed in with an 80-63 win over Texas and a 60-52 win over Oklahoma

For the fourth time in five Big 12 Conference home games, Missouri will be playing a ranked team inside Mizzou Arena. The Tigers are 2-1 vs. ranked opponents on Norm Stewart Court this season, including last Saturday's 77-74 win over No. 22 Kansas State. The Tigers also defeated No. 12 Texas on Jan. 12.

The Tigers have been close in nearly every game this season and have dropped seven games by eight points or less, including three games to opponents currently ranked in the Top 10, No. 4 Kansas and No. 10 Michigan State.

Mike Anderson is in his second year as head coach at Missouri. Anderson took over a 12-16 side (5-11 in Big 12) and turned it into an 18-12 team (7-9 in Big 12) in his first year as head coach.

Missouri is a fairly balanced side. Five players are averaging between 8.9 and 14.7 points a game. Six Tigers scored in double figures in the Missouri's big win over Texas.

Missouri will be missing their leading scorer, senior guard Stefhon Hannah (6-1, 183) who was averaging 14.7 points, 5.3 assists, and 3 rebounds a game. Stefhon Hannah will miss the next 3-5 weeks with a fractured jaw that was suffered on Jan. 27. Hannah had scored 23 points in Missouri's first loss to Kansas. When you factor in his 5.3 assists per game this year, the senior guard is actually accounting for 26.9 of Mizzou's 80.8 points per game.

Since losing Hannah, the Tigers have lost to Nebraska and Kansas, but did step forward to beat then No. 22 Kansas State last Saturday.

Missouri has used the sophomore combination of J.T. Tiller and Keon Lawrence to pick up for the loss of Stefhon Hannah's 14.7 points per game scoring average. Tiller has seen his scoring average increase from 5.6 points over the first 20 games to 15.7 points over the last three without Hannah. Lawrence's scoring average has grown from 10.0 points over the first 20 to 14.0 over the last three games, marking a net increase of 14.1 points between the two sophomore guards alone, nearly equaling Hannah's 14.7 ppg. output.

Leading Missouri on Saturday will be junior forward DeMarre Carroll (6-8, 225) (pictured above) who is averaging 13.7 points and 7.4 rebounds in 26 minutes a game. Carroll is a very capable offensive threat that can score off the dribble or in a spot-up situation. His offensive strength will be his ability to slash to the hoop and finish with authority. Carroll scored 15 points and pulled down 12 rebounds in Missouri's loss to Nebraska.

Other Tiger starters are expected to be:

Sophomore guard Keon Lawrence (6-2, 175) - averaging 10.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.6 assists in 28 minutes a game. Lawrence is lightning quick off the dribble and Mizzou's fastest player from baseline to baseline. Lawrence excels offensively with the ball in his hand and very comfortable driving through the lane or pulling up on the perimeter. Lawrence scored 25 points in Monday's loss to Kansas and scored 24 points off the bench in Missouri's loss to Texas Tech.

Junior guard Matt Lawrence (6-7, 203) - averaging 8.9 points and 2.9 rebounds 26 minutes a game. Lawrence is a great pure shooter that possesses a quick release and rarely forces or takes bad shots.

Sophomore guard J.T. Tiller (6-3, 187) - averaging 6.9 points and 2.0 rebounds in 18 minutes a game. Tiller is a strong, athletic guard whose strength continues to lie of the defensive end of the floor and is lead defender in Mizzou's full-court pressure. Tiller showed he can also play some offense, by scoring 20 points in Missouri's upset of Kansas State.

Senior forward Vaidotas Volkus (6-8, 210) - averaging 2.7 points and 1.9 rebounds 8 minutes a game. Volkus is one of Mizzou's most physical players in the paint.

First off the bench will be junior forward Leo Lyons (6-9, 240) who is averaging 11.8 points and 4.2 rebounds in 20 minutes a game. Lyons is an athletic forward that worked a great deal on his mid-range jumper and ball-handling during the off-season, and its showing in improved offensive performance this year. Lyons scored 22 points off the bench while pulling down 7 rebounds in Missouri's win over Colorado.

Texas A&M is expected to start the same lineup as it has for its last six 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 13.3 points a game and has scored in double figures in 16 of the last 17 games. Carter has hit 54 three-pointers and ranks second in career three-point accuracy in Big 12 history at 43.2 percent. In last Wednesday's big win over Texas, Carter led the Aggies with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

Joseph Jones is averaging 11.4 points and 5.3 rebounds a game. Jones was named MVP of the NIT Season-Tip-Off in November and scored a season-high 18 points with 6 rebounds in the win over Oklahoma. Jones 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 9.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.1 assists a game, and has averaged 11.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists in the last five games.

Dominique Kirk is averaging 8.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 3.8 assists a game. Kirk owns the Big 12 record for consecutive starts with 119 and was a defensive All-American last year.

Bryan Davis has started the last six games for the Aggies and is averaging 8.9 points and 4.9 rebounds a game. Davis posted career highs in rebounding (30) and rebounding (14) against Baylor for his first career-double-double. Davis scored 13 points with a team-high 8 rebounds in last Saturday's win over Oklahoma and followed that with 16 points and 7 rebounds in Tuesday night's win over Iowa State. Davis leads the team in blocks (30) and steals (24) and is third in rebounding (4.9). He is making .635 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 9.0 points and 6.6 rebounds a game, while Roland is averaging 5.8 points and 2.5 rebounds. Jordan, a preseason freshman All-America pick, ranks fifth nationally in field goal percentage (.664).

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-9 (.556) from three-point range in Big 12 play.

The Aggies are one of the best rebounding teams in the nation, ranking fourth nationally and first in the Big 12 in rebounding margin at +9.2.

Texas A&M ranks second in the Big 12 and eighth nationally in field goal percentage, connecting on 48.9 percent of its shots from the floor.

To get a better feel for the Aggie - Tiger matchup, Missouri is rated No. 52 (of 341) in Jeff Sagarin's Basketball Ratings.

Missouri 's most impressive games this season have all been at home, a 13-point win over Texas (No. 13), a 3-point win over then No. 24-ranked Kansas State (No. 25), a 10-point win over Purdue (No. 40) by 7, and a 14-point win over Maryland (No. 59). Missori has also been impressive at home in losses by 6 points to Kansas (No. 3) and by 3 points to Michigan State (No. 10).

Missouri's worst losses have all come on the road - by 5 points to Iowa State (No. 118), by 8 points to Texas Tech (No. 71), and by 4 points to Nebraska (No. 78).

Missouri has beaten three teams rated in the Top 40 and have not lost to a team rated worse than No. 118.

Texas A&M saw their Sagarin rating drop from No. 17 to No. 36 after the Tech, K-State, and Baylor losses, and now back to No. 21 after the Oklahoma State, Texas, Oklahoma, and Iowa State wins.

Texas A&M's most impressive wins have been Last Wednesday's 17-point win over Texas (Sagarin No. 13), its 23-point win over Ohio St (No. 30), Saturday's 8-point win over Oklahoma (No. 33), and its 14-point win over Washington (No. 86). A&M's four losses have been by 11 points to Arizona (No. 17), by 15 points to Texas Tech (No. 71), by 21 points to Kansas State (No. 25), and the 5-overtime loss to Baylor (No. 35). Other than Texas Tech (No. 71), the Aggies have not lost to anyone rated worse than No. 35.

Texas A&M and Iowa State have faced six common opponents - McNeese St, Texas, Iowa State, Texas Tech, Colorado, and Kansas State.

The Aggies and Cyclones had similar results in their wins at home over McNeese St and Texas and is road losses to Texas Tech. A&M beat Colorado by 17 points at home while Missouri beat Colorado by 4 points on the road. Missouri beat Kansas St by 3 at home while A&M lost to Kansas St by 21 on the road..

It is clear that both Missouri and Texas A&M plays much better at home.

Both the Sagarin analysis and the common opponent analysis would indicate this game will be very close.

Texas A&M won last season's encounter 94-78 in College Station. Since the two clubs joined the Big 12 for the 1996-97 season, Missouri leads the series 8-5, however A&M has won three consecutive. In Columbia Mizzou leads 5-1 with that lone loss coming Feb. 21, 2006, by a 54-51 margin.

This is a huge game for the Aggies, especially as the Aggies are still battling back from their 1-3 Big 12 start..

A win on Saturday and going to 6-3 is a lot different than being 5-4.

You figure the Ags will geta W at home against Oklahoma State

So with a win over Missouri the Aggies should be 7-3 with a trip to Austin. If the Aggies happen to lose in Austin, the team is still in good shape at 7-4. At 7-4, they come home for Nebraska and get the W to go 8-4, and then have a tough two game road trip to Baylor and Oklahoma. If the Aggies split those two, then they are hosting Kansas was at 10-5 ... a win puts the Aggies at 11-5 and a certain #3-4 seed. If they come in at 10-5 and lose, then they are still comfortably in the NCAA's as a #6.

If the Aggies go into Austin having lost to Missouri they could come out of Austin at 6-5 and still fighting for a marginal seeding in the NCAA's. But if they come into that Kansas game at 9-6 and lose to fall 9-7, they may have to win a game in the Big 12 Tourney and there's a likelihood of a bad #8 seed that meets #1 in round 2 of the NCAA tourney.

The Missouri wins over Texas and Kansas State show that this is going to be a tough game for the Aggies.

But with Big 12 road wins over Oklahoma State and Iowa State, the Aggies are starting to show the confidence and toughness needed to win on the road.

Like the Oklahoma State and Oklahoma games, I look for the Aggies to pull out a win in the last few minutes of play.

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