The No. 22-ranked Texas A&M Aggies (20-6, 6-5 Big 12) will be seeking end a two-game losing streak and regain their winning form when they host the Nebraska Cornhuskers (15-9, 4-7 Big 12) on Saturday afternoon.
The game will be televised regionally by ESPN.
The Aggies are coming off a 77-50 blowout loss to Texas in Austin on Monday night. It was the second straight loss by the Aggies after being upset 59-54 at the hands of Oklahoma State last Saturday.
Nebraska is coming off one of their most impressive games of the season, upsetting No. 25 Kansas State 71-64 on Wednesday night in Lincoln.
Doc Sadler is in his second season as head coach at Nebraska. The 2006-07 Huskers posted a 17-14 record under Sadler despite battling numerous injuries and competing with a small lineup that included only one player over 6-4 averaging more than 10 minutes per game.
Prior to Nebraska, Sadler spent two seasons as head coach at Texas-El Paso where he helped continue the long-standing tradition of success in Miners basketball. Sadler’s UTEP teams boasted 48 victories in his two years as head coach and won 72.7 percent of their games.
Nebraska uses a small lineup, starting a center and four guards, with only one starter over 6-5.
This season, some smaller lineups have posed problems for the Aggies.
Aggie head coach Mark Turgeon was asked about how the Aggies would prepare for Nebraska's smaller, quicker lineup at his Thursday media luncheon.
"We're going to prepare for their zone and prepare for their man and prepare for their tempo. They're going to try to dictate tempo and if they're going to dictate, we've got to hit our shots on offense."
Nebraska is led by Australian senior center Aleks Maric (6-11, 275) who is averaging 16.2 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 1.8 blocked shots in 28.2 minutes a game. Maric was a second-team All-Big 12 selection following last season and entered this season as the top returning scorer (18.5 ppg) and rebounder (8.7 rpg) in the Big 12 Conference.
When Aggie head coach Mark Turgeon was asked Thursday how the Aggies would defense Alex Maric, Turgeon responded:
"We've got some good post players too. We're going to guard him and not let him have position., I'm going to challenge our post guys. The thing about him is they've got a lot of little guys around him that can play a little bit so you've got to play him straight up sometimes. It might be a game where Junior (Elonu) comes in and helps us defensively, especially in the first half. He's (Maric) good. Last night (in Nebraska's win over Kansas State) he got every rebound down the stretch."
Sophomore guard Ryan Anderson (6-4, 200) is averaging 9.3 points and 5.9 rebounds in 29.7 minutes a game. Ryan Anderson made an immediate impact for the Huskers as a freshman. Despite playing out of position in the 4 spot, Anderson racked up solid numbers as he was second on the team with 10.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
Nebraska's other three starters are all in their first year with the Huskers.
Junior guard Ade Dagunduro (6-5, 190) is averaging 8.5 points and 3.8 rebounds in 22.8 minutes a game. A proven scorer and rebounder at the junior college level, Dagunduro has a solid frame and outstanding end-to-end defensive abilities. Last season, Dagunduro led Antelope Valley Community College to a 31-7 record, averaging 18.2 points and 8.8 rebounds a game.
Junior guard Steve Harley (5-11, 170) is averaging 8.3 points and 2.6 rebounds in 24.7 minutes a game. Last season, Harley earned first-team junior college All-American honors at South Plains College after averaging 19.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game.
An ultra-quick point guard with explosive athletic ability, freshman Cookie Miller (5-7, 165) is averaging 6.8 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 4.2 assists in 28.4 minutes a game. Last season, Miller averaged 18.1 points, 8.4 assists and 2.3 steals per game for Harmony Community School in Ohio.
Coming off the bench for the Huskers are
Sophomore guard Sek Henry (6-3, 195) - 5.9 points and 3.2 rebounds in 22.4 minutes a game.
Sophomore guard Jay-R Strowbridge (5-11, 185) - averaging 4.7 points and 1.4 rebounds in 18.1 minutes a game.
Sophomore forward Chris Balham (6-8, 235) - averaging 2.5 points and 1.5 rebounds in 7.7 minutes a game.
Junior guard Paul Velander (6-2, 190) - 3.1 points in 10.5 minutes a game.
Texas A&M is expected to start the same lineup as it has for its last nine 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 13.0 points a game and has scored in double figures in 18 of the last 20 games. Carter has hit 60 three-pointers this season and ranks second in career three-point accuracy in Big 12 history at 43.4 percent. In A&M's big win over Texas last month, Carter led the Aggies with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Joseph Jones is averaging 11.0 points and 5.4 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. Jones has scored in double figures in 20 games and tied his season-best with 9 rebounds against Missouri .
Donald Sloan is averaging 9.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.2 assists a game. Sloan scored a career-high 21 points with 5 assists and 5 rebounds against Missouri and has made 17 of his last 18 free throws.
Dominique Kirk is averaging 7.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists a game. Kirk owns the Big 12 record for consecutive starts with 122. A defensive All-American last year, Kirk’s primary defensive assignment in Big 12 play this year has made just 32 percent from the field.
Bryan Davis has been arguably A&M's MVP this season. After coming off the bench the first 17 games of the season, Davis has started the last 9 games. In eight games as a starter, Davis ranks second on the team in scoring (11.9) and leads in rebounding (6.2). He averaged 7.4 points and 4.5 rebounds as a reserve. For the season, he leads the team in blocks (31) and steals (26) and is third in rebounding (5.0). 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 the Aggies win over Oklahoma, followed that with 16 points and 7 rebounds in the win over Iowa State, and picked up his second double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds in the win over Missouri.
Jordan started the first 17 games of the season and is now averaging 9.2 points and 6.4 rebounds a game and ranks among the top 10 nationally in field goal percentage (.635, 145 FGA min.). Roland is averaging 5.8 points and 2.3 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). Holmes has made 5-of-9 (.556) from three-point range in Big 12 play.
To get a better feel for the Aggie - Husker matchup, Nebraska is rated No. 76 (of 341) in Jeff Sagarin's Basketball Ratings.
Nebraska's most impressive games this season have been Wednewsday night's 7-point win over No. 25 ranked Kansas State (Sagarin No. 29), a 9-point win over then-No. 16 ranked Oregon ( No. 37), and an 11-point win over Texas Tech (No. 65). All of these wins were at home. Nebraska's most impressive road win was by 4 points over Missouri (No. 50).
Nebraska's worst losses have been a 4-point loss to Colorado (No. 148), an 8-point loss to Iowa State (No. 110), and a 35-point loss to Kansas (No. 3). These losses were all on the road.
Texas A&M saw their Sagarin rating drop from No. 17 to No. 36 after the Tech, K-State, and Baylor losses, back to No. 17 after the Oklahoma State, Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, and Missouri wins, and down to the current No. 26 after the past week's losses to Oklahoma state and Texas..
Texas A&M's most impressive wins have been the 17-point win over Texas (Sagarin No. 8), its 23-point win over Ohio St (No. 35), an 8-point win over Oklahoma (No. 32), and its 14-point win over Washington (No. 72).
A&M's six losses have been by 11 points to Arizona (No. 25), by 15 points to Texas Tech (No. 65), by 21 points to Kansas State (No. 29), the 5-overtime loss to Baylor (No. 40), last Saturday's 5-point loss to Oklahoma State (No. 89), and Monday night's 27-point loss to Texas (No. 8).
Texas A&M and Nebraska have now faced six common opponents - Colorado , Baylor, Missouri, Iowa State, Kansas State, and Texas Tech. The Aggies sport a 3-3 record against these common opponents while the Huskers are 4-5 against these common opponents.
While the common opponent analysis is inconclusive, the Sagarin analysis, combined with this being a home game for the Aggies and road game for the Huskers, would give a big edge to the Aggies.
When asked if it helped that Nebraska defeated Kansas State and how his team would respond to their recent losses, Turgeon responded:
"Yeah and I don't think we we're going to overlook anyone after what happened last Saturday (the Aggie loss to Oklahoma State), but as a coach you like playing against guys after they win, because maybe they let up a little bit. You never know, depending on who you're playing. Nebraska will be focused in, but our guys know what's at stake. They're as disappointed as anyone in what's happened in these last two games."
This is a huge game for the Aggies. A&M needs to win at least 2 of their remaining 5 Big 12 regular season contests, and possibly 3, to be assured of an NCAA tourney invite, and this is probably the easiest of these remaining regular season contests.
If this game were being played in Lincoln, it would be a tossup.
Playing at home in Reed Arena and with their backs against the wall, I look for the Aggies to win this game by at least 10 points.