No. 9-seed Texas A&M will face No. 8 seed Brigham Young in the first round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship on Thursday at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia.
Game time is 12:30 p.m. (EST)/11:30 a.m. (CST). The game will be televised nationally by CBS Sports.
The game is a rematch of last year's first-round contest played in Anaheim, Calif., when the teams had identical seeds. The Aggies beat the Cougars, 67-62.
The winner of Thursday's game will advance to Saturday's second-round game to face either No. 1 seed Connecticut or No. 16 seed Chattanooga.
A&M is one of just 16 schools to play in the last four NCAA Tournaments. Before this stretch, A&M had never made consecutive NCAA appearances.
Aggie Head Coach Mark Turgeon said "That's really surprising. One, we're just really glad we're in, but to play the same team with the exact same seeds... The NCAA usually doesn't do that so when I saw their name come up I thought that it wasn't us because I thought we were right around the 8-9-10 line. It takes a little bit away from it, I'm sure they felt the same way. We're a different team, we lost 4 of our top 8 players from that team. I know they lost their big kid in the middle. We know who they got, Cummard was a tough guard for us last year, Fredette had a good game against us and Tavernari will be a tough match up for us. He's a Singletary type, not to bring up any bad memories, but he can really shoot it. I didn't think [the NCAA] would have the same first round matchup as last year. They just don't do that. But, that's what it is... it's in a different location, a little further from their home. Philadelphia is a great city. A month ago it didn't look like we'd be in, so to be in as a 9 shows you what we've accomplished down the stretch."
Aggie senior guard Josh Carter added "It's kind of crazy how that happened. You'd like to play someone new just to get a new experience, but we know they're a good team... we'll prepare and get ready to play them."
Aggie junior guard Donald Sloan agreed, "It's crazy how it ended up happening like that again, I know BYU is a good team. I watched them all year seeing how we played them last year. I'm friends with [BYU forard Jonathan] Tavernari, he's a good player. I'm just looking forward to the battle again."
Carter and Sloan say this Aggie team brings a great deal of confidence into the BYU game and possible second round matchup against No. 1 seed Connecticut.
Carter spoke of this team's confidence, "We're always confident in our team. You play against the best and they're humans just like you are, so you're always confident you're going to win if you're any kind of player. That's why you go to school to compete against the best, and to have the opportunity to do that if we take care of BYU is good."
Sloan added "I think we have confidence against anybody we play... it's not even a question. I do think that our coaches will get us ready, the scout team will get us ready, and we've got to get ourselves ready mentally and by the time Thursday comes we'll be ready to play."
A large part of this team confidence came from being down with a 3-7 conference record and having to win 6 straight games to earn the NCAA tourney invite, before falling to Texas Tech in the first round of the Big 12 tournament.
Carter said of the pressure and the 6-game win streak, "If we didn't get on that 6 game win streak we wouldn't have been called today. We always try to play with a 'backs against the wall' type mentality and that's what we're going to continue to do."
Coach Turgeon said this team has played its best under pressure, "We had a lot of pressure on us down the stretch. It might have been the reason we didn't play as well in Oklahoma City because we felt like we were in and we might have relaxed a little bit. It should help us going in, every game's been big. We've been there before, a lot of our games have played in the NCAA Tournament, so that helps us."
The extra rest may just benefit the Aggies, especially recovery of Josh Carter's injured ankle.
Carter indicated "[My ankle's] already starting to feel better. That was the only good part for me, but whenever you play you always want to win and for us to not get the job done there, we're not happy about it."
Coach Turgeon added "I was hoping for him we'd play Friday, but we'll get him in there and practice tomorrow. I didn't want him to come back until he was 100%. I think he'll be really close to 100% tomorrow, but I don't think he'll quite be there. It's all how his ankle reacts to tomorrow's practice. If it reacts well, we'll feel good going into Thursday."
Josh Carter becomes the first Aggie player to play in four NCAA tournaments. Carter says "It feels good. It's your goal whenever you come to college to make it to the Tournament, so to be able to say that I made it every year, it feels good."
Coach Turgeon said its a huge accomplishment for Carter and for the whole Aggie team to make four straight NCAA tournaments, "We've lost a lot of really good players the last two years. What we've done with this team is develop guys. We weren't really good, honestly, in the beginning of the year and we just got better and guys just kept developing. To keep the streak alive is huge, I'm really happy for Josh, he'll be a trivia question from now on... I'm just really happy for everybody involved. It helps recruiting when you get in the Tournament there's no question. Hopefully we can keep it going after this year. I think guys want to win in college. That's why they choose the perennial powers. If you can make a name for yourself and start being a standard, it helps you. This was a big four weeks for us and our program. We did the same last year, but to get where we are now and get in a Tournament game is going to help us down the road."
It's clear that winning six straight games with their backs against the wall has given this Aggie team a lot of confidence and mental toughness going into the the NCAA tourney.
Look for the Aggies to come out firing when they take the floor Thursday morning in Philly.