The good news is that on Thursday Texas A&M become one of just three teams (Texas A&M, North Carolina, Memphis) to have won a postseason game in each of the last five years by beating BYU, 79-66, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The bad news is that the Aggies have now earned to right to face the No. 1 seed in the West region, the Connecticut Huskies.
Connecticut won its first round game in a 103-47 rout of Chattanooga for its first postseason win in three years.
Connecticut (27-4) finished tied for second to Louisville in the 16-team powerhouse Big East Conference, with a conference record of 15-4.
BYU has a record of 14-3 at home and is 13-1 away from home (road and neutral).
Connecticut is currently ranked No. 5 in the country. The Huskies were ranked No. 1 from February 2nd to February 22nd and have not been ranked lower than No. 5 all season.
Connecticut has an RPI of 7 and a Strength of Schedule (SOS) of 30.
Connecticut’s best wins this season have come on the road over current No. 1 and Midwest No. 1 seed Louisville (RPI 5) on February 2nd, 68-51, at home over Syracuse on February 11th, 63-49, and at home over Villanova (RPI 13) on January 21st, 89-83.
Of some hope for the Aggies, Connecticut has lost three of its last seven games.
Connecticut was upset by South region No. 3 seed Syracuse (RPI 12) in an epic 6-overtime encouter, 127-117, on March 12th in the Big East Tournament.
Connecticut’s worst loss of the season was to at home to Georgetown (RPI 65), 74-63, on December 29th. For reference, Georgetown (16-15) did not make the NCAA tourney and lost to Baylor, 74-72, in the first round of the NIT tournament on Wednesday night.
In addition to the Syracuse and Georgetown losses, both of Connecticut’s other losses came against East region No. 1 seed Pittsburgh, losing at home on February 12th, 70-60, and at Pitt on March 7th, 76-68.
Connecticut has a balanced scoring attack with four players averaging between 13.2 and 14.2 points a game.
However, one of these, junior guard Jerome Dyson, suffered a season ending knee injury on February 11th. Dyson was a key 3-point shooter and was averaging 13.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.2 assists a game. The Huskies have lost three of their eight games since losing Dyson.
Connecticut is led 7-3, 265-pound junior center Hasheem Thabeet. Thabeet is a dominating inside presence and is averaging 13.9 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 4.5 blocked shots in 32 minutes a game. Thabeet had 14 points and 11 rebounds in UConn’s win over Louisville. Thabeet had 16 rebounds and 7 blocked shots in UConn’s win over Syracuse. Thabeet was held to 4 points in UConn’s loss to Georgetown, 5 points and 4 rebounds in UConn’s first loss to Pitt, but had 14 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 blocks in UConn’s second loss to Pitt.
Senior guard A.J. Price (6-2, 181) is averaging 14.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 4.7 assists in 32 minutes a game. Price is hitting an outstanding 40.8% of his shots from 3-point range. Price scored 17 points in UConn’s win over Syracuse, 18 points in UConn’s first loss to Pitt, and 19 points in UConn’s second loss to Pitt.
Senior forward Jeff Adrien (6-7, 243) is averaging 13.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in 35 minutes a game. Adrien had 18 points and 7 rebounds in UConn’s win over Louisville. Adrien had 12 points and 14 rebounds in UConn’s win over Villanova.
The other starters are junior forward Stanley Robinson (6-9, 210) and senior guard Craig Austrie (6-3, 180). Robinson is averaging 8 points and 6 rebounds a game, while Austrie is averaging 7 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists a game.
Connecticut plays primarily a 7-man rotation.
First off the bench is freshman guard Kemba Walker (6-1, 172) who is averaging almost 9 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in 26 minutes a game.
Also seeing considerable playing time is junior forward Gavin Edwards (6-9, 234) is averaging almost 4 points and 3 rebounds in 11 minutes a game.
Four Georgetown players scored in double figures in their win over UConn and and four Pittsburgh players scored in double figures in their first win over UConn. Thabeet and Walker fouled out in UConn’s first loss to Pitt. Four Huskies fouled out in UConn’s 6-overtime loss to Syracuse.
Free throw can be somewhat suspect for UConn. As a team they are shooting only 67%. Thabeet, Adrien, and Robinson are all shooting under 63%. Fortunately for UConn in most games this has not been a factor. But in all four of UConn’s losses the Huskies made fewer free throws and had a lower free throw percentage than their opponents.
From looking at UConn’s best wins and four losses, a few keys emerge:
A balanced Aggie scoring attack – Three of UConn’s losses came when the opposing team had at least four players in double figures.
Not be dominated by defense of Thabeet - The Aggies cannot let the imposing defense of Hasheem Thabeet dominate them. The Ags need to limit Thabeet's blocked shots and offensive rebounds.
Tough defense on Thabeet and Adrien inside – The best UConn wins have come when Thabeet and Adrien have big games inside, especially Adrien, while in most UConn losses, Adrien and especially Thabeet have been limited.
Force UConn to make free throws - Put UConn on the line rather than give up the easy basket inside, but spread the fouls.
Rebounding – Rebounding will once again be a key for the Aggies, as it has been all season. A&M has been outrebounded just once in its last 12 games and has had an average margin of +8.4 in that span. The Aggies have had double-digit rebounding margins in 13 games, including seven of the last 13 games.
It’s never going to be easy to play a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney. But of all the No. 1 seeds, UConn is the one I would most want to see the Aggies face.
Here’s the Aggies chance to shock the nation and be this weekend’s NCAA highlight.