Tonight is another big test for the Tigers against likely the best team in the SEC, and a win in College Station would be huge for Coach Jones and the boys. The Aggies come into this one ranked 10th in the nation ( AP has them 10. KenPom has them 13. USA Today, 8) with 4 seniors and loads of continuity that has led to an SEC best 5-0 in conference play and 15-2 overall. Big wins over Florida and at Georgia (a 34 point absolute beat-down) have this team white hot, and rolling at home, where the Tigers will attempt to get a big win despite past road struggles. It's a 1 vs. 2 SEC match-up where the Tigers are currently 2nd in the standings, with a 4-1 conference record so far this season. After a close win over Arkansas (one I'm not sure they necessarily deserved, props to C. Victor for bailing them out), this would be a huge statement for the Tigers to get a win tonight. It could be a tough proposition as the Tigers haven't fared well on the road thus far this year.
Switching up the starters: Blakeney and Quarterman to the bench. Going smaller, getting better penetration from Gray and more consistent shooting threats from Patterson. I had mentioned I thought that moving Blakeney to the bench would energize him, and he seems to have responded well, playing better within the system of the offense, turning it up on defense, and hitting some big shots in big spots. Quarterman, however, is more of a surprise. For me, it seems that he likely hasn't found a way to fit with Simmons in a way where he can still be effective. He's essentially a non-shooter, his normally excellent defense has been spotty at times, and he hasn't seemed to be exerting himself with consistency. He's performing when it matters, but it's certainly a question mark for a guy that some scouts had as a possible first round pick.
Bottom line: A&M is a balanced team, plays great defense, takes great care of the ball. Efficient on offense because of willingness to pass, and continuity. Only losses came to Syracuse and ASU. For personnel, the Aggies led by seniors Jalen Jones and Danuel House. Jones is an efficient rebounder and shooter, while House is a slasher and natural scorer. When these guys get it going it can be fun to watch, but this team makes its money (just kidding) on the defensive end and on the glass. Another guy to keep an eye out for is senior guard Alex Caruso. He's a solid floor general, shoots a high percentage from deep and is great a probing the D to create angles for his guys. He's not the guy to put up huge numbers by any means, but if he's hitting shots and doing his thing, it makes them tough to stop.
This is a hugely important game for the Tigers, who have been pretty terrible on the road so far this year. On the flip side, A&M has been (and likely will continue to be) excellent on the road, so this is a key spot to get a win for this season series. Some have A&M pegged as the class of the conference (Joe Lunardi currently has them projected as a 3 seed), and while I think that may be a bit of a lofted perception, it also might be the case once everything is said and done. A win here goes a huge way towards forging a future with the NCAA tournament. A loss wouldn't be crippling, but with LSU looking like a bubble team right now, they certainly need every signature win they can get.