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Figuring out which way Texas A&M is trending isn’t easy

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Mizzou hosts Texas A&M at 6 p.m CT on ESPNU, with dueling four-game win streaks on the line.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Texas A&M C. Morgan Engel-USA TODAY Sports

What a difference a few weeks makes. Despite beating Mizzou at home on January 20th, Texas A&M was in the middle of losing seven games in nine tries, but have recently turned things around a little bit.

What to make of the Aggies? Well, right now they’re streaking. But how will that hold up in the face of the news of grad transfer Duane Wilson being out and J.J. Caldwell being kicked off the team? The duo had played about 78% of the available minutes to them at the point guard position. So the Aggies are marching into Columbia with only one real legitimate option at point guard.

Sound familiar?

MEET YOUR FORMER BIG12/CURRENT SEC FOE THE TEXAS A&M AGGIES

NCAA Basketball: Buffalo at Texas A&M John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

Since taking over for Mark Turgeon, Billy Kennedy hasn’t quite controlled a settled program. There was a steady enough rise from year one to year five to assume things were headed in the right direction. The Aggies finished with a three seed in year five and were going to return their best recruiting class in history for their sophomore years.

The problem was they forgot to recruit some guards in that span and the program struggled post-Sweet 16 appearance. What proceeded was a 10th place finish and some questions for the future. But Kennedy and his staff seemed to make the right moves in the offseason and new hope sprung amongst the Aggie faithful.

The preseason hype was real and despite a few of the same red flags the Aggies had a year ago, we all bought in. They were shallow and unproven at guard, but man oh man that frontcourt was easy to fall in love with.

Tyler Davis and D.J. Hogg and Tonny Trocha-Morelos and... potential lottery pick, Robert Williams. All skilled and athletic and they make defending Texas A&M a big challenge.

But without Wilson and Caldwell and not entirely knowing what you’re going to get from T.J. Starks, the Aggies look a lot like... well, Missouri. Granted Starks for all his flaws is a true point guard, while the Tigers are doing it by committee. But the matchups throughout the rest of the roster setup fairly even.

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Texas A&M Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

The Scout

Tempo | Texas A&M ranks 183rd in adjusted tempo. Which is very average. They take their opportunities to run, but most of those chances tend to come with a point guard. Young bull T.J. Starks is an intriguing and aggressive young guard who is more than willing to push the pace, sometimes even when it flies in the face of convention.

Tale of the Tape | What’s interesting about the Aggies is they aren’t particularly good on offense despite having so many weapons. They work the ball inside quite well but post-ups don’t often yield a high PPP, even when you have elite talent down low, forcing the Aggies Effective FG% to be a fairly pedestrian 51.9%. They certainly aren’t aided by what one might call poor 3-point shooting. But they do play good defense and they absolutely locked Mizzou up last time around.

2018 kenpom texas a&m mizzou

The Zones | The mediocrity of the offense stands out when you see these shooting numbers. But beware of a little bit of fools gold here, the Aggies aren’t shy about 3PA and they’ll take them early and often. There are two charts below...

texas A&M synergy offense
texas A&M synergy winning streak

Chart 1 is overall, Chart 2 is the last four games. The Aggies are on a winning streak based upon their 3-point shooting. Duane Wilson and J.J. Caldwell aren’t the threat here. T.J. Starks, Admon Gilder and D.J. Hogg are. They’re hitting on over 40% from deep over the four-game win streak, and in the previous eight games they hit on just over 26%.

X-Factor // 3-PT shooting | The Aggies held Missouri to 22% 3P% in the first meeting, and only shot 17% in return. Both teams are hitting on 40% over their last four, so one of these two teams is likely to continue their hot shooting while the other isn’t as likely. Whoever finds a way to continue their recent clip will have a big advantage.

Matchups | I said after the last game this is actually a good matchup for Mizzou. It’s strength on strength and the Tigers tend to be slightly more efficient on offense. The bigs should cancel each other out for the most part with the edge going to Mizzou with the 3-point shooting. They just need the home court advantage to cause a few more of the Aggies outside shots to go astray.

  • PG: T.J. Starks vs. Kassius Robertson I This isn’t much of a matchup, in fact, these two are pretty opposite. Robertson is a savvy veteran who relies on his excellent 3-point shooting to offset his not actually being a point guard. Starks is a young enigmatic and energetic guard who attacks, sometimes when he probably shouldn’t. Starks his a bit more of a streaky shooter while Robertson is more of the consistency guy.
  • CG: Admon Gilder vs. Cullen VanLeer | Another mismatch, but VanLeer isn’t being asked to do much. He’ll likely be asked to do more against Gilder who is a dynamic multi-level scorer capable of carrying the Aggies offense at times.
  • WING: D.J. Hogg vs. Jordan Barnett | One of the toughest matchups for Barnett in the conference has to be Hogg. Hogg isn’t overly athletic but he’s long at 6’9 and can impact the one thing Barnett likes to do which is catch and shoot. Neither player played much of a role in the last matchup, but both are more than capable of changing the game tonight.
  • CF: Robert Williams vs. Kevin Puryear | The potential lottery pick versus the man who bleeds Mizzou. Puryear was the difference at the end of the game against Mississippi State, and Williams is prone to disappearing from games.
  • POST: Tyler Davis vs. Jeremiah Tilmon | Last time Davis was probably the biggest key in the game as he nearly single-handedly affecting the young Mizzou bigs. Over the last couple rematches, Jeremiah Tilmon has shown he’s able to take the challenge and absorb his lessons and get better next time around. The Tigers really need Tilmon to do that again.
NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Texas A&M C. Morgan Engel-USA TODAY Sports

Key Reserves | Neither of these teams are going to run out shifts like a hockey team or the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats. But the Tigers will play everyone available and the Aggies might get to Chris Collins with so few guard options available.

  • G: Tonny Trocha-Morelos | In a lot of ways Trocha-Morelos is the unsung hero on this team. He’s solid defensively and provides a threat from deep.
  • CF: Jontay Porter | Porter is almost always the x-factor. When he plays well he really gives Mizzou another dimension on offense and on defense.

The Bottom Line

Mizzou is favored. That’s the good news.

This is no cakewalk, but as we’ve learned with the Tigers, nothing is. They’ve faced all kinds of adversity and are still sitting in the driver's seat for a double-bye in the SEC tournament.

The next big hurdle is beating A&M and recapturing the tiebreaker against the Aggies. With A&M coming in hot it won’t be easy, but you have to hope their outside shooting isn’t quite as effective as it’s been, and they struggle as much with depth at guard as the Tigers do.

If Kassius keeps rolling and the Tigers get Jordan Barnett rolling, the home crowd at Mizzou Arena should be enough to get the Tigers over the hump.