Before Wednesday, Aggie Basketball looked ready to mail it in for the rest of the 2012 season. After a run of terrible games starting with a loss to Southern, the Aggies didn't appear to have the talent, or even the interest, in becoming a competitive SEC team.
Nerlens Noel's shot blocking ability will be an entirely new challenge for the Aggies on Saturday.
Against Arkansas though, the Aggies came out disciplined with the ball, aggressive on the boards, and focused on defense. So now the question is, was Wednesday a fluke? Was it a one-off game that, for whatever reason (Melvin curse?), the Aggies decided to give it something extra? Or is this a team that really has the desire to be competitive in the second half of the season?
Well, we might find out tomorrow. The key for the Aggies on Saturday isn't to win, because A&M winning in Rupp Arena might be one of the biggest conference upsets in the country this season. No, the key is for A&M to come out playing like they believe they can win. Will the Aggies be patient on offense and wait for good shots like they did Wednesday, or will they sink back into their earlier habits of lazy passing and poor shot selection?
If A&M really has turned a corner from an effort and leadership standpoint, then here are four things you'll see in tomorrow's game. If not, well then Aggie fans at least got to enjoy one night of good basketball this season.
Ray Turner All The Time
Before the season I said that A&M's most important player was probably J-Mychal Reese, but it turns out that it's Ray Turner. He's not A&M's best player, that title still falls to Elston Turner, but Ray Turner is the player that the rest of the team seems to feed off of most. When he's playing solid defense, getting rebounds, and being patient on the offensive end, it seems to rub off on the players around him. That's why tomorrow you want to see a Ray Turner who doesn't shy away from Nerlens Noel in the middle of the paint or one who lazily fouls on rebounds he has no chance at. Turner needs to be able to pull Noel away from the basket, and be a solid fundamental rebounder despite the talent disparity.
Elston Turner Finding Shots
A simple truth about this team offensively is that a bad shot for Elston Turner is probably just as good as a good shot for anyone else. The Aggies have to find ways to get him open against better defensive teams, and that's something that we haven't seen in the past. A&M simply isn't good enough offensively to have their best offensive player vanish for stretches of the game.
The biggest sign of whether or not A&M is playing the right way is how many times they get to the free throw line. Earlier in the season they did a great job getting to the stripe, but later in non-conference they struggled badly. Against Arkansas, A&M got to the line 27 times on the game, making 22 of their shots. A&M is a pretty good team at the free throw line, so guards have to continue to find ways to get to the stripe.
Opponent Missed Shots/Offensive Rebounds
If A&M has any chance of being successful down the stretch, they absolutely cannot afford to give up second chance points. Giving up second chance points it's usually a sign of lazy rebounding, and that's why the Aggies struggled with it in late December. They certainly weren't getting out-athleted by teams like Southern and Army. They might be out-athleted by Kentucky, but that's still no excuse to be lazy on the boards.
Now,am I predicting the Aggies are going to into Rupp and knock off the defending champs? Of course not. However, those are some things you can look for even in this game to see if the Aggies are indeed focused enough and perhaps have turned a corner, or if Wednesday's effort was just a one-time show.