The #14 Cyclones take a break from conference action to travel to College Station to reignite a rivalry with former conference mate, #5 Texas A&M, as part of the Big 12-SEC Challenge. Peculiar as the timing of this showcase may be, this will be the first clash with the Aggies since 2012 and will be the third top 5 team the Cyclones have faced in their last four games.
Saturday's tilt will also serve as a reunion for Billy Kennedy and Steve Prohm. Prior to taking the Aggies gig, Kennedy was the head man at Murray State where Prohm served as his top assistant.
About The Aggies
Texas A&M lost at Arkansas on Wednesday evening, but prior to that loss, they had ripped off ten straight and gotten out to a 7-0 start in SEC play. In non conference action, the Aggies notched wins against Gonzaga and a trio of Big 12 teams in Texas, Kansas State and Baylor. Each of those three wins over former Big 12 opponents came by ten points or more.
If Kennedy's success in College Station is a preview of things to come for the Cyclone program, then in the next few years, we might be looking at an elite defensive unit. Kennedy has pieced together one of the top defensive teams in the nation as the Aggies rank 6th in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com. A&M especially excels at forcing turnovers and specifically generating points off those turnovers, ranking 7th in the country in turnover percentage. Alex Caruso leads the Aggies with 2.2 steals per game.
Offensively, A&M is top 40 unit in adjusted offensive efficiency, but few teams nationally do a better job of sharing the basketball. The Aggies average 19 assists per game and assist on 68.7% of their field goals, which is the 5th best rate in the country. Texas A&M is led by the senior duo of Jalen Jones and Danuel House. Jones missed the first four games of the season, but is scoring 17.1 points per game and has decent outside range, knocking down 38.1% of his 3-point attempts. House is a bit of a chucker (39.8% FG% & 32.8% 3PT%), but can get hot in a hurry and while serving as the definition of a volume shooter, he's still scoring 15.8 a night.
The Aggies start four seniors and feature two lead guards in the back court. Caruso isn't a major scoring threat (7.8 PPG), but does a little bit of everything and does a phenomenal job of directing the Aggie attack (5.1 assists per game). Anthony Collins spent his first three years at South Florida, but is playing out his eligibility in College Station and while his shot attempts are rare, he's dishing out 4.6 assists per contest.
A&M is very young inside, but Kennedy has some excellent talent at his disposal and it starts with freshman, Tyler Davis. One of the top recruits of the '15 class, the 6'10" Davis has not disappointed and is averaging 11.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. Tonny Trocha-Morelos (6.9 PPG & 4.4 REB) and D.J. Hogg (6.8 PPG & 3.0 REB). Both Trocha-Morelos and Hogg have to be checked on the perimeter as each has the ability to hit shots from deep.
Kennedy's rotation goes 9-deep and Admon Gilder and Tavario Miller will also see time. Gilder has a little more scoring pop, but has only notched one double-figure scoring effort in his last six games.
So Who Wins?
Maybe a better question; who cares? Obviously, this would be a great win for either team and could really help out come Selection Sunday when the seeding is being decided, but a loss really doesn't hurt either team all that much.
I get why the Big 12 and the SEC decided to schedule this challenge for this weekend and from an exposure standpoint, the two conferences will have the spotlight all to themselves for the entirety of Saturday, but I'm still not in love with the timing.
Both of these teams are in the thick of conference title races and A&M's recent loss notwithstanding, these two programs have been mostly dialed in as of late. Now you're asking them to play what is effectively an exhibition in the middle of conference play? It is what it is, but I would have loved this game to be played back in December.
Personal feelings aside, A&M has won 13 straight at home and each of those wins have come by double digits. That's something.
Jameel McKay has been in and out of the Cyclone line up due to lingering knee issues, but was cleared to play for Saturday, so he should be in the starting five. At the first sign of a flare-up or tweak, though, I would hope Prohm pulls McKay from the floor immediately to rest his knee.
Under different circumstances or on a neutral floor come March, I'd love Iowa State's chances in this game, but something about the timing and the fact that A&M has been rolling the opposition at home makes me think this one could go the way of the bad guys.
Regrettably, I think A&M earns this win.
Texas A&M 78 - Iowa State 73
Tip: 1 p.m. CST
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here
Texas A&M SB Nation Site: Good Bull Hunting