GAME OF THE WEEK
- Texas A&M (8-1) at Florida (7-2), Orange Bowl Classic, Saturday 1:30 p.m. CT
Starting next season, these two programs will battle each other annually in the SEC. Until then, Texas A&M and Florida will settle for playing each other in the Orange Bowl Classic, a neutral-site game set in Sunrise, Florida on Saturday afternoon. The Aggies are a wild card in the Big 12 right now, as they’ve built their 8-1 record against mostly inferior competition– and, more importantly, they have played all but two games without All-Big 12 wing Khris Middleton. The 6’7” junior has missed the majority of the season recovering from knee surgery, returning in time for A&M’s most recent victory over Louisiana-Monroe. Although Middleton hadn’t played since the season opener, he seemed perfectly healthy in torching the Warhawks for 24 points. His return gives Texas A&M an entirely different look on both ends of the floor, so much that it would be worthless to judge the seven games it played without Middleton. For instance, A&M fell flat against the best team on its schedule without him, falling behind by more than 20 points in the first half at Madison Square Garden. That’s why Florida will let Billy Kennedy truly gauge his team for the first time in 2011-12. Though forward Kourtney Roberson is still questionable for the contest, A&M could solidify itself as a Big 12 contender by knocking off the Gators in a quasi-road environment.
Texas A&M Will Play A "Neutral" Game in The State of Florida Against the Gators
The key individual match-up is… Dash Harris vs. Erving Walker. Although Texas A&M’s schedule has not been demanding, this team could have really slipped had Dash Harris not played so steadily. The senior point guard is known for his defense, but offensively, Harris has kept the Aggies afloat without Middleton by making good decisions and taking care of the basketball. He won’t score much, but he’s irreplaceable as a distributor in this offense. And as a defensive stopper, he has the skills to slow down Erving Walker. Harris has a few inches on Walker, and he’s as quick as any guard in the nation. No matter the defender, though, it’s up to Walker to rise to the challenge. He looks to score much more than Harris, and at times, he has looked terrific with the ball in his hands. When he has struggled, it has been his own fault: against Arizona, for example, he settled for quick threes and forced up 16 shots. If he doesn’t settle down against Harris, Walker could be in for a tough night.
Texas A&M will win if… it continues to dominate on the defensive end. This program’s attitude from former coaches Billy Gillispie and Mark Turgeon has carried over to Kennedy’s team. The Aggies are all about defense, rebounding and physicality, but they will have their hands full with the explosive Gator guards. Though Middleton’s blend of size and athleticism is a tough match-up for every team, Florida has excellent backcourt speed in Kenny Boynton, Brad Beal, Mike Rosario, and Walker. A&M has to find a way to lock down those guards and force them into tough shots. In that Arizona victory, Billy Donovan was not happy with the shot selection of his guards. Against a team like A&M, Florida will have to settle down and run its stuff efficiently to have a chance.
Florida will win if… it can control the paint. Texas A&M likes to think it’s tougher than you– David Loubeau and Ray Turner are intimidating physical specimens, and this team rebounds with authority around the basket. UF is no slouch in that category this year. Patric Young might be the best forward on the floor on Saturday, and sophomore Will Yeguete has done a nice job since entering the starting lineup in late November. Neither team is especially deep up front, but A&M could get a big lift if Kourtney Roberson is healthy.
OTHER GAMES TO WATCH
- Baylor (8-0) at BYU (8-2), Saturday 1 p.m. CT
The Bears couldn’t have played a more complete game at Northwestern last weekend, winning 69-41 in Evanston. Last year, Scott Drew‘s team wasted loads of NBA talent by refusing to share the ball and displaying a complete lack of cohesion. Against the Wildcats, Baylor totaled 18 team assists and got decent guard play from A.J. Walton and Pierre Jackson. Baylor will need that sort of team basketball again at BYU, which rarely loses at home. Baylor loves to flaunt its ridiculously deep group of forwards, led by future lottery picks Quincy Miller and Perry Jones, but the Cougars are built around size and strength as well. This is a different BYU team than a year ago. Without Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery it is much less guard-oriented and it does not rely nearly as much on the three-point shot. The new style is clearly working, though, as BYU is riding a four-game winning streak which includes a 28-point smashing of Big Sky favorites Weber State.
- Temple (6-2) at Texas (8-2), Saturday 1:30 p.m. CT
It’s time to find out of Rick Barnes‘s young team has improved at all since a lackluster showing in the Legends Classic a few weeks ago. Replacing an entire starting lineup from 2010-11, the Longhorns hit a roadblock during that tournament by falling to Oregon State in overtime and then blowing an 18-point lead to North Carolina State. Texas hasn’t lost since then, but it also hasn’t played anybody (and no, UCLA does not count as someone). Temple is the more experienced team here, and it will be interesting to see how Barnes chooses to guard Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez. The Longhorns will give up height in the backcourt to those two, both of whom are great creators with the basketball. Fernandez in particular is one of the better passing guards in college basketball, but Texas has its own tandem in Myck Kabongo and J’Covan Brown. Brown has cooled a bit since his hot start, but he is still the most established scorer on this team and the obvious leader.
- Alabama (8-2) at Kansas State (6-1), Saturday 9 p.m. CT
There is absolutely, positively no such thing as a “must-win” game in December, but let’s just say these two programs could use a quality win right now. Alabama looked like a top-15 team by winning the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, claiming wins against Wichita State and Purdue. Since then, it has squabbled away games against Georgetown and Dayton. In that loss to the Flyers (its first true road game of the year) the Crimson Tide did not defend to Anthony Grant‘s standards. In fact, they allowed Dayton to shoot more than 60% from the floor. That is unheard of for a Grant team. Frank Martin is the same way at Kansas State, but his team has struggled more from an offensive standpoint. Kansas State is still working on executing better after losing Jacob Pullen, and it will need to look sharper against Alabama.