So let's get right to Texas A & M.
As mentioned in our prelude to the Madness, Texas A&M is by far the highest ranked (per Kenpom.com) 9th seed in this tournament. As many were expecting they took care of a solid BYU team yesterday. M. Mark Turgeon's Aggies will once again present a huge test for our Ben Ball warriors like they last year. Yes, those who didn't jump on the Bruin bandwagon this year should remember who Coach Howland's 06-07 version of Ben Ball warriors had to pull off a nail biting 3 pt win against the Aggies last year in Anaheim, which was a classic street fight between two very physically gifted and athletic defensive teams.
Obviously things are a little different as we lost AA (who was clutch during the last mins of that game) and gained KL, while the Aggies have been going through their own transition with a new head coach and w/o their best player from last year. From Billy Witz (who happens to be Dohn's predecessor at the DN) of Sportsline.com:
"It's a big change," Kirk said of the transition. "Acie's a talented guard -- you can't replace somebody like that -- and Coach G did a great job here. The biggest adjustment has been everybody just getting along with our coach. When you go from three years in one system and all of a sudden change to another system, it's pretty hard. But we learned from it and we all bought into it."
Kirk, who was recruited by Mark Turgeon at Wichita State as a point guard, has returned to that position. The Aggies have been given more freedom on offense. Their big men gained permission to roam from the block and the guards got the OK to create on their own.
Turgeon has been brutally honest with his team's failings, often calling out specific players. He's also been brutal about himself at the same time. The Aggies squandered a 20-point lead against Arizona on Dec. 2, eventually losing by 11 points. A&M has struggled offensively with no players ranked in the top 20 in scoring in the Big 12. Josh Carter (12.5 ppg) is the leading scorer and top perimeter threat. Expectations were big for senior F-C Joseph Jones, but he has responded with the lowest scoring (10.6 ppg) and rebounding totals (5.2 rpg) of his career. And heralded freshman C DeAndre Jordan struggled most of the season before becoming a presence inside with 10 rebounds in two of his final four regular-season games.
A&M's guards are sometimes prone to shaky decisions against teams that forcefully defend them, leading to scoring droughts that have been especially prevalent late in the season. They do rank second in the conference in field-goal percentage (46.7 percent) and third in defensive field-goal percentage (39.1 percent). But the Aggies are last in the Big 12 in free-throw shooting (63.5 percent), steals (4.68 per game) and turnover margin (minus 1.26 per game).
So, as Carter caught that first pass and prepared to shoot, it was an early barometer of the Aggies' prospects in the tournament. At their best, they're an athletic, physical team that can score inside and out -- the same type of profile that would describe Washington, USC and Texas, the three teams that have beaten top-seeded UCLA this season. When they're not, they've been bludgeoned by 27 (Texas and Oklahoma) and by 21 (Kansas State).
Thus, when Carter's 3-pointer swished through the net, and then was followed by two more in the first four minutes, it proved to be a harbinger of good things to come for ninth-seeded Texas A&M in a 67-62 victory against BYU in a first-round West Region game. The victory marked the third consecutive season Texas A&M has advanced to the second round -- something it hadn't previously done since 1980.
The Aggies had plenty of help from the wave of postmen they sent at BYU center Trent Plaisted, limiting him to 13 points, and a clutch 3-pointer from Dominique Kirk, but the reason they were smiling at the end of the night was the way Carter shot the ball. He was 6-for-10 on 3-pointers and finished with a season-high 26 points.
"It feels good to have a good performance," said Carter, a 6-foot-7 junior from Dallas. "But, I mean, we didn't come here to just win one game. We just want to keep it rolling, and whoever we get, we're going to play hard. We just want to keep doing it -- keep winning."
Given our experiences in the second round from last two years our guys need to get ready for a tough, bruising, and emotional battle. Hopefully they will be able to zero in and focus after their finals and papers today.
As for the Aggies, their fans have been looking forward to this game ever since the bracket came out. Let's hope the Bruin Nation is out in force tomorrow in the OC. We need to turn the Honda Center into Bruin blue.