Basketball Scouting Report: Texas A&M
The object of the game isn't to look pretty, at least not when you have a lineup that's been decimated by departures and injuries. Vanderbilt won't win any style-point derby, and thank goodness that it doesn't have to. The Commodores just have to get one point more than A&M. A 57-56 win with 31-percent field goal shooting would be a work of art… if VU can pull it off. Let's see if the Dores can do just that in the Lone Star State.
TEXAS A&M AT-A-GLANCE
The Aggies started the SEC season 3-0 under head coach Billy Kennedy, but let's face it: Beating Arkansas at home these days is pretty much like holding serve in tennis – it's expected (unless you're Auburn, of course). A road win at Tennessee was and is actually impressive, but a home win against South Carolina doesn't mean much. The Aggies' recent losses to Kentucky and especially Mississippi State have shown that this is not an upper-tier team in the college basketball cosmos. A&M probably won't finish in the SEC Tournament's "play-in round" position this season, but it won't rise to the top four of the league unless it takes some significant forward steps in the coming weeks.
The Aggies thrived under former coach Billy Gillispie, who was shown to have been in over his head at Kentucky – the job that rattled him and sent his life into a tailspin. They did fairly well under former coach and Gillispie successor Mark Turgeon. They have yet to flourish under Kennedy, who came to College Station in 2011 from Murray State. The Aggies represent an odd inversion of what the football program has experienced since moving from the Big 12 to the SEC: A&M basketball has declined since the conference switch, whereas the football program has improved. It all seems counterintuitive, but it's the reality of the situation.
Forward – Kourtney Roberson – Junior, 6-9, 244; 2013-14: 9.7 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game
Roberson isn't a "shooter," a player who is skilled at tossing the ball in the bucket from various spots on the floor, but he has the highest shooting percentage of any regularly-used player on the A&M roster, hitting almost 59 percent of his shots. Given his limited scoring output, one can easily surmise that Roberson is a putback player, a guy who winds up scoring second-chance points or, if not those kinds of points, close-to-the-rim points. Phrased differently, he's not going to beat you with a 15-foot jumper.
Forward/Guard – Jamal Jones – Junior, 6-8, 197; 2013-14: 12.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg
Jones is the only player on this team to average at least 10 points per game without rounding upward (Roberson averages 9.7.) A&M's scoring distribution is balanced, but it's not substantial. It's hard to apply positive spin ("balanced scoring") when that balance is not the product of having multiple first-rate scoring options. This is more a case of a team that doesn't have a big-time go-to guy. It's a team Vanderbilt can certainly contain on defense.
Guard – Fabyon Harris – Senior, 5-11, 178; 2013-14: 6.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 2.2 assists per game
Harris hits only 31.8 percent of his threes on a team that has just one shooter who is north of 35 percent as a three-point marksman – that's Jones, at 38.8 percent. The Aggies' lack of three-point shooters is a big reason why they have no appreciably good scorers other than Jones (and Jones is hardly what one would call an "elite" scorer).
Guard – Jordan Green – Junior, 6-5, 188; 2013-14: 7.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.6 apg
A&M's inability to score is magnified by its backcourt's assist numbers. You will note that Harris hands out roughly two dimes per game, and Green doesn't even rise to that number unless you round up. When players aren't notching lots of assists, you can make guesses about what's happening on a team, but you can know one thing with certainty: Players aren't making enough open shots. This does lead us to the next player in A&M's starting five, the best player on the roster if you look beyond the scoring column:
Guard – Alex Caruso – Sophomore, 6-5, 183; 2013-14: 9.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 5.1 apg, steals per game, 2.2 steals per game
Caruso is a coach's delight – he contributes in just about every way he can, and he's unselfish. He carries his weight as a rebounding guard, but he's easily the best facilitator, distributor, and pickpocket on this team. His contributions spill over into various aspects of competition, stitching a limited team together in numerous ways. This is the player Vanderbilt must truly deal with at both ends of the floor; Jones is the offensive threat the Commodores have to pay attention to on defense.
In an eight-man rotation, the three main reserves for the Aggies are forwards Antwan Space and Davonte Fitzgerald plus guard Shawn Smith. Space offers 4.4 rebounds per game, while Fitzgerald scores 7.9 points per game. Smith contributes 5.4 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. These are better bench numbers than what you'll see from other teams, but then again, Space and Smith average at least 20 minutes per game; they're high-use reserves. (Fitzgerald clocks in at 16.6 minutes of playing time per game.) A&M simply needs to find a little more scoring throughout the roster… or a lot more scoring from at least two non-Jones sources if it wants to really get better.
Keys to the Game
1) Limit Caruso's effectiveness. Clogging passing lanes; ball security in the face of Caruso's defense; matching his energy on the glass – doing these things to reduce Caruso's impact on the proceedings will give Vanderbilt a much better chance of winning.
2) Fare better at the foul line. Vanderbilt's free-throw stats demand constant attention throughout the remainder of a season in which offense will be hard to come by for the Dores. This team simply has to rack up a lot more takes and makes from the charity stripe – it cannot expect to score in meaningful situations if it can't get into the bonus and then convert in the final several minutes of halves, especially second halves. The 9-of-17 showing against Ole Miss is something that simply can't be replicated if this team wants to avoid the play-in round of the SEC Tournament.
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