Aggies battle BYU in NCAA opening round

No. 9-seeded Texas A&M (24-10, 8-8 Big 12) will play No. 8-seeded Brigham Young (27-7, 14-2 Mountain West Conference) on Thursday in the opening round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. Junior guard Lee Cummard (left) leads BYU. Game time for the nationally-televised game (CBS) is set for 6:25 p.m. (CDT).

No. 9-seeded Texas A&M will play No. 8-seeded Brigham Young on Thursday in the opening round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.

Game time for the nationally-televised game (CBS) is set for 6:25 p.m. (CDT). Dick Enberg (play-by-play) and Jay Bilas (game analyst) will call the game for CBS.

BYU and Texas A&M have only met once, a 83-81 neutral-court victory by BYU on Dec. 28, 1972.

The Aggies advanced to the semifinals of the Big 12 conference tournament, after beating Iowa State and Kansas State, before bowing out to top-seeded Kansas.

Texas A&M is making its third straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. A&M has posted its fourth straight 20-win season, another first in school history. The Aggies are 51-17 (.750) in the last two seasons, ranking them among the winningest teams in the country in that span.

Seniors Joseph Jones and Dominique Kirk are the winningest players in school history. The Aggies have gone 94-36 (.723) since the pair arrived on campus, including a 67-10 (.870) mark at home. Jones and Kirk have each started and played in more games than any other players in A&M history and have reached postseason play all four years of their careers, including three straight NCAA Tournaments. The pair are 5-3 in postseason play (including a 2-1 mark in the 2005 NIT). Junior Josh Carter has played in the NCAA Tournament all three years of his college career.

Despite these veterans, the Aggies are still a relatively young team. Of the 13 scholarship players, nine are freshmen or sophomores and only two are seniors.

A&M’s Mark Turgeon is making his second appearance as a head coach in the NCAA Tournament. In 2006, he led Wichita State to the Sweet Sixteen, where they were eliminated by eventual Final Four participant George Mason (63-55).

Turgeon’s is 2-1 in NCAA Tournament play, posting wins against Seton Hall (86-66) and Tennessee (80-73) in the 2006 event.

BYU is listed 27th in this week's ESPN/USA Today Top 25 Coaches Poll and 28th in AP.

This is BYU's 23rd NCAA Tournament appearance. The Cougars advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season as a No. 8 seed, losing 79-77 in the first round to Xavier at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. Prior to last year, BYU last appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 2004 as a No. 12 seed, losing 80-75 in the first round to Syracuse at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.

The Cougars have an 11-25 record in the NCAA Tournament.

BYU has gone to the NCAA Tournament five out of the last eight seasons.

BYU has lost in the first round in its last five NCAA appearances. BYU's last NCAA win was in 1993 as a No. 7 seed in Chicago when the Cougars defeated SMU, 80-71. BYU lost to No. 2-seed Kansas, 90-76, in the second round that year.

BYU is 7-15 in its opening round games in NCAA Tournament play.

Two-time MWC Coach of the Year Dave Rose helped make BYU the second-most improved program in the nation in his first season with a 20-9 record and guided the Cougars to the outright MWC title and a top-25 ranking in his second campaign in Provo as the Cougars went 25-9 last season. The Cougars have also been nationally ranked in back-to-back seasons.

Rose is 0-1 all-time in NCAA Tournament play with last year's 79-77 loss to Xavier. Rose played in the NCAA Championship game for Houston's "Phi Slamma Jamma" team that lost to North Carolina State at the final buzzer in 1983.

BYU became the first MWC team to win two outright league titles with a 14-2 record in conference play. The Cougars also won the MWC crown outright last season.

BYU won its second straight league title with a one-game improvement over last year's 13-3 record, setting a league record with 14 conference victories. The Cougars also improved their margin from last season to this year, winning the title by two games over UNLV this year after just a one-game margin last season.

History often repeats itself, and for the second year in a row No. 23 BYU (27-7, 14-2 MWC) lost to UNLV (26-7, 12-4) 76-61 in the championship game of the 2008 Mountain West Conference Men's Basketball Championship in Las Vegas on Saturday.

The Cougars have won 15 of their last 17 games.

At 27-7, BYU has tied for the best 34-game record in the 105-year history of the program.

The Cougars' 27 victories this year have come by an average margin of 16.9 points, including a season-opening 40-point road win at Long Beach State (74-34), one of 20 double-digit wins for BYU this season and one of nine victories by over 20 points.

BYU has played three top 10 teams this season - then-No. 1 North Carolina, then-No. 6 Louisville and then-No. 9 Michigan State. The Cougars beat the Cardinals, 78-76, before falling, 73-63, to the Tarheels despite battling UNC through six second-half lead changes. BYU held a double-digit halftime lead against the Spartans before losing, 68-61.

BYU's seven losses this year have come on neutral floors against then-No. 1 North Carolina and then-No. 9 Michigan State and on the road at Boise State, at Wake Forest, at UNLV and at SDSU. BYU held double-digit leads over Michigan State, Boise State and UNLV and battled the top-rated Tar Heels through six second-half lead changes.

BYU is shooting 46.0 percent from the field this season while allowing opponents to shoot just 38.6 percent from the floor (No. 1 in the MWC).

The Cougars are 25-3 this season when leading at the half with 15 of the 28 advantages coming by double digits.

The Cougars have outscored their opponents in the paint in 18 games and equaled them in two others this year, recording a +3.2 margin in that category. BYU has posted a double-digit margin in 11 games, including a season-best +38 margin (54-16) against Jackson State. The Cougars are 17-1 when besting opponents in the paint while six of BYU's seven losses on the season have come when the Cougars have been outscored in the paint.

BYU has a very balanced and high scoring attack. BYU has had five players score in double figures in a game five times this season, surpassing last year's total of three games in which at least five players reached double digits. Five different Cougars have led the team in scoring with Lee Cummard pacing BYU a team-best 16 times.

With 278 three-pointers this season, the Cougars have set a new program record, surpassing the old mark of 256 treys set last year. BYU has posted double-digit triples in a game 11 times this year and has made at least five three-pointers in 32 of 34 games this season.

Junior guard Lee Cummard (6-7, 185) leads BYU in scoring (15.8), steals (32), blocks (35), 3-Point percentage (.464), and field goal percentage (.569). Cummard has done as much for his team in the most variety of ways this season than any other player in the MWC. In conference play, Cummard ranked in the top 10 in nine of the 12 MWC statistical categories.

Cummard earned All-Mountain West Conference Tournament honors last week for his efforts in leading BYU to the MWC Tournament Championship game. In BYU's three games, Cummard averaged 16.3 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per contest and 4.7 assists per outing, leading the Cougars in scoring and assists. He shot 59.3 percent from the field, including making 6-of-9 (.667) three-point attempts, and went 11-for-12 (.917) from the free-throw line.

Junior center Trent Plaisted (6-11, 245) leads the Cougars in rebounding (7.8) and is second in scoring (5.6).

Sophomore forward Jonathan Tavernari (6-6, 215) has averaged 13.1 points and 5.3 rebounds a game.

Lee Cummard became BYU's fourth MWC Player of the Year in the nine-year history of the league as he earned Co-Player of the Year honors this season.Cummard and Trent Plaisted were named to the All-MWC First Team while Jonathan Tavernari earned third-team honors.

BYU's other two starters are expected to be senior guards Sam Burgess (6-3, 190) and Ben Murdock (6-2, 185). Burgess is averaging 8.8 points 3.6 rebounrd and 2 assists a game, while Murdock is averaging 4 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 3.7 assists a game.

Four Cougar freshman are making an impact this year as Chris Collinsworth, Jimmer Fredette, Michael Loyd, Jr. and Nick Martineau have all made a difference for BYU. Collinsworth is fourth for BYU with 4.9 rebounds per game while ranking tied for 13th among MWC players in conference play at 5.3 rpg. He has started six games. Fredette is fifth on the team in scoring with 6.9 ppg and tied for third in steals with 27. Fredette scored 17 points off the bench in BYU's MVC championship game loss to UNLV on Saturday. Loyd is averaging 8.8 minutes per game and has posted 37 assists on the year. Martineau has 14 assists to 9 turnovers in his 20 games played.

BYU's reserves have outscored the opposition's bench only 13 times this year, but they have done it in 11 of the last 23 games after seven straight contests with a scoring deficit off the bench.

At Wednesday's press conference Joseph Jones and Dominique Kirk were asked if BYU reminded them of any team they've played this season.

Joseph Jones responded: "I really don't think we've seen a team this season that can shoot the ball as well as BYU can. They got - it's basically like a four-guard offense around one. So we really haven't matched up with any teams this year that had that kind of offense and the offense capability as them."

Dominique Kirk added: " Just like Joe said, I really don't think we faced a team like that, that can have four people out there that can really shoot the ball and have a big guy that can pass the ball like that. I think the closest team is, like, Nebraska that we played against, that really has four guys that can spread the floor out and have a big main side. Other than that, BYU is a team that we really haven't seen."

A&M went 16-4 at home this year, 4-5 on the road and 4-1 on a neutral floor. After a 20-4 start, the Aggies have gone 4-6 over the last 10 games. Junior guard Josh Carter paces Texas A&M with 11.9 points per game followed by senior forward Joseph Jones with 10.4 ppg. Six players are scoring eight or more points per game to help A&M average 71.5 points while allowing 61.9. The Aggies shoot .466 from the floor, .358 from long range and .637 at the line while holding opponents to .393 shooting, including a .339 clip from behind the arc. A&M wins the battle of the boards, 39.3--32.2.

A key scoring number to look for in the game is 70 .BYU is 22-1 when scoring at least 70 points this year and 23-2 when holding opponents under the 70-point mark. The Cougars are 10-0 when scoring over 80 points on the year and have scored 90 or more points in five games this season, reaching 100 against Jackson State.

BYU has been virtually unbeatable at home winning a school-record 47 straight games in BYU's Marriott Center. The Cougars are not nearly as strong on the road - just 11-7 this season away from home, 8-5 in true road games this year and 3-2 record on neutral courts.

A key to the game will be rebounding. BYU has won the battle of the boards in 23 games this year, going 21-2 in those contests.

A&M is 0-1 in games played at the Honda Center. Last season, the No. 6-ranked Aggies fell to top-ranked UCLA (65-62) in the Wooden Classic.

The Aggies are 4-1 this season in neutral site games with the only loss being to Kansas (77-71) in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City. A&M posted neutral site wins against Washington (77-63) and Ohio State (70-47) in the NIT Tip-Off in New York, and against Iowa State (60-47) and Kansas State (63-60) in the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City.

The Aggies are 6-9 in the NCAA Tournament, but are 3-2 in the last two years.

A&M has been eliminated from the NCAA Tournament by heart-breaking one-point losses in each of the last two years. In 2006, LSU’s Darrel Mitchell hit a long othree-pointer with three seconds left to lift the Tigers to a 58-57 second-round victory in Jacksonville, Fla. Last year in the Sweet Sixteen in San Antonio, Memphis’s Antonio Anderson made two free throws with three seconds left to secure a 65-64 win.

The winner of the A&M-BYU game will play the winner of the UCLA-Mississippi Valley State game at either 3:45 or 6:15 p.m. (PDT) on Saturday. The winner of Saturday’s game will advance to the NCAA West Regional March 29-31 in Phoenix.

The Aggies have proven to be a better road, and especially neutral site team this season than has BYU.

As the similar seedings and other indicators would attest, this should be a very close came.

We look for A&M's neutral site playing advantage and more recent NCAA tourney success to prove the difference in this close game, and look for the Aggies to advance to a showdown with No. 1 seed UCLA on Saturday.

 


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