Wednesday is a big night in the SEC, highlighted by a showdown between the Texas A&M Aggies and the No. 12 Kentucky Wildcats in College Station. While the Wildcats once again look like a contender in the SEC, the Aggies are one of two teams that remain unbeaten in conference play.
At 14-3, the Wildcats have stumbled a few times, although they certainly look like a team with potential. Since losing to LSU, Kentucky has rattled off three straight wins in conference play, including a 107-79 blowout of Tennessee over the weekend. The Wildcats are now 4-1 in SEC play, putting them within a game of both Auburn and Texas A&M, the two unbeaten teams in SEC play.
Even with only one returning starter, John Calipari has put together a deep and talented team. West Virginia transfer Oscar Tshiebwe has made a monumental impact at both ends of the court. He’s averaging 16.5 points and 14.9 rebounds per game. He’s also getting plenty of help around him Keion Brooks having another solid season. The Wildcats aren’t even asking that much of fellow forwards Jacob Toppin or Daimion Collins, a top recruit who’s considered a future first-round pick. In other words, Kentucky has a deep frontcourt but doesn’t necessarily need to use it given out Tshiebewe has played this season.
Meanwhile, the Cats are loaded in the backcourt, which is why they have five players who average at least 10 points per game, including Tshiebewe and Brooks. Freshman TyTy Washington has been as good as advertised, averaging 14.5 points and 4.8 assists per game while shooting over 40% from the perimeter. However, he struggled with just five points in the loss to LSU. Kentucky also has Davidson transfer Kellan Grady shooting over 45% from three-point range and chipping in 11.8 points per game, giving the Cats a dimension they didn’t always have last season. Also in the mix are the team's only returning starter Davion Mintz and Georgia transfer Sahvir Wheeler. Wheeler helps to share the ball-handling duties with Washington, averaging 7.3 assists per game. Mintz, meanwhile, continues to excel in a supporting role.
At 15-2, it’s a little surprising that Texas A&M hasn’t reached the top-25 yet. However, the Aggies still haven’t had too many resume-building wins. They beat Notre Dame and Oregon State during the non-conference season and all four of their SEC wins are against teams with a losing record in conference play, including some of the teams at the bottom of the SEC standings.
A handful of transfers have helped to reinforce the lineup for Buzz Williams, although returning senior Quenton Jackson has been the team’s leading scorer at 12.9 points per game. The only caveat is that Jackson has failed to reach double digits in three of Texas A&M’s four conference games. The good news is that the Aggies have a deep backcourt with plenty of other options. Wyoming transfer Marcus Williams has showcased his excellent passing skills and been a consistent scorer as well. Andre Gordon, freshman Wade Taylor, and Virginia Tech transfer Tyrece Radford have also proven to be capable three-point shooters and regular contributors for the Aggies, so it’s not always up to Jackson to lead the way.
Of course, the Texas A&M guards all have to help with rebounding and often have to defend bigger players because Duke transfer Henry Coleman makes up most of A&M’s size in the frontcourt. The good news is that the 6’8’’ Coleman has been on a tear lately, averaging 18.3 points per game during the first four SEC games of the season. Arkansas transfer Ethan Henderson also provides some size and an athletic defender inside the paint. For the most part, seven-footer Javonte Brown hasn’t been a factor, so outside of Coleman and Henderson, the Aggies don’t have anyone in their rotation taller than 6’6’’.
This will easily be Texas A&M’s biggest test of the season, and fortunately for them, it comes at home. A&M’s biggest priority will be trying to contain Tshiebewe without a lot of size in their frontcourt. The Aggies will also have to contend with Kentucky’s contingent of talented guards, although A&M’s depth in the backcourt could prove useful. That being said, the Aggies have a lot to prove if they hope to stay within striking distance with Kentucky after the way the Wildcats dominated in their last game.
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