Aggies battle Sooners for NCAA invite

The Texas A&M Aggies (21-7, 7-6 Big 12) travel to Norman to battle the Oklahoma Sooners (18-10, 6-7 Big 12) in a Big 12 Conference showdown on Saturday at 1 p.m. Oklahoma is led by 6-10 freshman forward Blake Griffin (left). The game will be televised nationally on ESPN. Tony Hooten previews the Aggie-Sooner clash.

The Texas A&M Aggies (21-7, 7-6 Big 12) travel to Norman to battle the Oklahoma Sooners (18-10, 6-7 Big 12) in a Big 12 Conference showdown on Saturday at 1 p.m. at what is expected to be a sold-out Lloyd Noble Center.

The game will mark Oklahoma's "Cheer Like a Champion Day" with each Lloyd Noble Center seat will be furnished with a white T-shirt. Oklahoma's 1988 team, one of two Sooner teams in history to reach the national title game, will be on hand Saturday for a 20-year reunion celebration.

The game will be televised on ESPN.

The Aggies are coming off an outstanding 44-point demolition of Texas Tech on Wednesday night. The win over Texas Tech ended a 3-game losing streak by the Aggies.

Despite Wednesday's huge win over Tech on Wednesday, the Aggies need to win two of its last three regular season games to be assured of a Big 12 tourney invite. One win in the last three games could get the Aggies into the tourney, but the Aggies can't count on this.

With the Aggies likely underdogs when Travel to Waco to face Baylor on Wednesday night and when they host Kansas next Saturday, it critcal for the Aggies to win on the road over Oklahoma on Saturday.

Oklahoma is coming two tough road losses, a 63-45 loss at the hands of Nebraska on Wednesday night and a 62-45 loss to Texas last Saturday. Prior to this, Oklahoma had won three straight.

In Wednesday's loss to Nebraska, the Sooners scored just 12 points in the first half, shooting 26 percent and scoing just two baskets in the final 12 minutes of the first half.

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 Scout.com.

Griffin is averaging 15.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in 29 minutes 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.

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

In addition to Blake Griffin, Oklahoma's other starters are expected to be:

Sophomore guard Tony Crocker (6-6, 191) - averaging 11.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in 31 minutes a game.
Junior guard Austin Johnson (6-3, 161) - averaging 8.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in 31 minutes a game.
Senior guard David Godbold (6-5, 221) - averaging 7.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, ansd 2.0 assists in 29 minutes a game.
Junior forard Taylor Griffin (6-7, 236) - averaging 6.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, an 0.8 blocks in 21 minutes a game.

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)

First off the bench is expected to be senior center Longar Longar (6-11, 232), who is now averaging 11.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1 blocked shots in 25 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.

Longar missed two games due to a broken bone in his lower right leg but has returned to average 23.6 minutes over his five games since. The team's second-leading scorer and rebounder on the year, Longar has not been as productive since returning from injury, averaging 6.2 points and 3.6 boards over the last five games.

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 4.3 points in 17 minutes a game.

Texas A&M is expected to start the same lineup as it did for the Texas Tech game: 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 freshman center DeAndre Jordan (7-0, 260).

Josh Carter leads the Aggies in scoring with 12.6 points and 4.3 rebounds a game and has scored in double figures in 18 of the last 22 games. Carter has hit 61 three-pointers this season and ranks fifth in career three-point accuracy in Big 12 history at 43.0 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 10.9 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. Jones has scored in double figures in 20 games and tied his season-best with 9 rebounds against Missouri.

Donald Sloan is averaging 9.7 points, 4.0 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 19 of his last 21 free throws.

Dominique Kirk is averaging 8.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 3.7 assists a game. Kirk owns the Big 12 record for consecutive starts with 124. 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. Kirk scored 16 points in the Aggies win over Tech on Wednesday.

DeAndre Jordan started the first 17 games of the season, and returned to the sdtarting lineup in Wednesday's win over Texas Tech. Jordan and is now averaging 9.0 points and 6.6 rebounds a game and ranks among the top 15 nationally in field goal percentage (.630, 160 FGA min.).

First off the bench and averaging over 20 minutes a game will be sophomore forward Bryan Davis (6-9, 250) and sophomore guard Derrick Roland (6-4, 190).

Bryan Davis has been arguably A&M's MVP this season. After coming off the bench the first 17 games of the season, Davis started the 10 games prior to Texas Tech. In 10 games as a starter, Davis ranked second on the team in scoring (11.5) and leads in rebounding (6.2). For the season, he leads the team steals (30), ranks second in blocks (33) 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.

Derrick Roland is averaging 6.2 points and 2.3 rebounds. Kirk scored 12 points in the Aggies win over Tech on Wednesday.

Freshman guard Derrek Lewis (6-5, 195) came off the bench and played 17 minutes in A&M's win over Tech on Wednesday, based upon his strong defensive performance in practices earlier in the week..

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 - Sooner matchup, Oklahoma is rated No. 37 (of 341) in Jeff Sagarin's Basketball Ratings.

Oklahoma's most impressive games this season have been a 72-68 home win over then-No. 20-ranked Gonzaga (Sagarin No. 22), an 88-82 road win over then-No. 23-ranked West Virginia (No. 23), a 77-71 road win over then No. 25-ranked Baylor (No. 34).

Oklahoma's worst losses have been by 14 points to Colorado (No. 152), at home 66-62 to Stephen F. Austin (Sagarin No. 72), bu 18 points to Nebraska (No. 60), and on the road 85-55 to then No. 3 ranked Kansas (No. 5). The Sooners other losses were by 10 points to then No. 3 ranked Memphis (No. 2), by 10 points and by 17 points to Texas (No. 8), by 8 points to then No 23 ranked Texas A&M (No. 27), by 11 points to then No. 24 ranked USC (No. 21), and by 2 points to Kansas State (No. 32)

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. 27 after the losses to Oklahoma State, Texas, and Nebraska and win over Texas Tech.

Texas A&M's most impressive wins have been Wednesday's 44-point win over Texas Tech (No. 69), the 17-point win over Texas (Sagarin No. 8), its 23-point win over Ohio St (No. 36), an 8-point win over Oklahoma (No. 37), and its 14-point win over Washington (No. 74).

A&M's seven losses have been by 11 points to Arizona (No. 28), by 15 points to Texas Tech (No. 69), by 21 points to Kansas State (No. 32), the 5-overtime loss to Baylor (No. 34), the 5-point loss to Oklahoma State (No. 75), the 27-point loss to Texas (No. 8), and last Saturday's 6-point loss to Nebraska (No. 60).

Texas A&M and Oklahoma have now faced nine common opponents - Rice, Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Texas, Colorado, Iowa State, and Nebraska. The Aggies sport a 6-6 record against these common opponents while the Sooners are 7-5 against these common opponents.

Oklahoma is 12-3 at home this season, 4-2 in conference. Texas A&M is 3-4 on the road this season, 3-3 in conference.

The Sagarin analysis and recent momentum would give a small edge to the Aggies while the common opponent and home court analysis would give a small edge to Oklahoma.

The first game with the Sooners was in doubt until with 21 seconds on the clock Bryan Davis made a layup, was fouled, and made the free throw to give the Aggies a a 58-52 lead.

All signs point to a nail-biter in Norman, but we think the Aggies will pull then game out in the last two minutes of play in their march towards to NCAA tourney.

 


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