Keys to Victory: A&M vs. Alabama

On Saturday the A&M basketball team travels to Tuscaloosa to take on the 5-2 Alabama Crimson Tide. If the Aggies are to get a victory, they will have to focus on four key areas to achieve success. Websider's Taylor Freeman takes a look at what the team needs to do to come out of Alabama with a win.

This Saturday, Texas A&M will get its first test in a true away game as they travel to Tuscaloosa to take on the 5-2 Crimson Tide. Texas A&M has won two straight after its disappointing loss in the South Padre Invitational to Tulsa, while Alabama has reeled in 4 wins after losing two of its first three to Mercer and Oregon.

This matchup will be a good test for both teams, as they appear to be evenly matched in many key areas. First, the scoring of each team is almost identical. The top five A&M scorers are averaging 13.9, 12.1, 11.7, 7.7, and 7.3 ppg, while Alabama's five average 13.7, 12.6, 11.4, 7.6, 7.3. Both teams have substantial talent throughout their roster, but have been wholly inconsistent in their play, especially inside the paint.

While still early in the season, both of these teams have something immediate to play for. For Texas A&M, in order to keep its tournament dreams alive it must gather as many wins as possible before entering the brutal gauntlet of the much improved Big 12 South. For Alabama, a string of wins against quality opponents could be the only act that could save their head coach, Mark Gottfried, from the rumors swirling that he could be out before the end of the year. With so much on the line, here are the keys to the game that should help ensure an Aggie victory.

1. Improve in the paint.

Last year it was considered the biggest strength of the team, but so far no one has been able to fill the void of departed senior Joseph Jones. Bryan Davis has been moderately effective, but he lacks a compliment under the rim. "I need somebody to step up," Turgeon said on Wednesday. "Whether it's [Chinemelu Elonu] or Denzel or David Loubeau, and be a lot more consistent."

2. Force turnovers.

Alabama point guard Ronald Steele is coming off of a knee injury that kept him out of last season, and ever since he has not been quite the same. While leading his team in points, he also has developed a knack for turning the ball over, and is one of 4 players on the team to average over two turnovers per game. With defensive play from B.J. Holmes, Josh Carter, and Donald Sloan improving to compliment Derrick Roland's already suffocating defense, the Aggies should find several free layups if they can capitalize on these mistakes.

3. Hit free throws.

While A&M has improved from last year, they still need improvement, shooting .680 from the foul line. In their first true away game, the Aggies need to be sure and get every point they can in free throws, as this will likely be a game that comes down to the end. Fortunately, the three Aggies with the most foul shots, Josh Carter, Bryan Davis, and Donald Sloan, combine for a much nicer .776 average.

4. Get the crowd out early.

Alabama fans have been spoiled as of late with the rapid ascent of their football team. Patience is not a term they have much tolerance for, especially not for embattled coach Mark Gottfried. If A&M can jump to an early lead, the crowd will focus its ire on the home team bench, neutralizing the effects on A&M of playing its first true road contest. The Aggies have started slow each of their last three games, entering the half behind in each contest. They must focus instead on coming out strong from the beginning if they can secure a crucial win against the Tide.

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