Breaking Down Texas A&M’s Elite Rim Defense

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 22nd, 2017

Texas A&M was maddeningly frustrating last season. A long, athletic team fresh off a Sweet Sixteen appearance and returning a likely lottery pick proceeded to suffer a painstaking nine single-digit losses to NCAA Tournament teams. High hopes followed that group into this season, as star big man Robert Williams elected to return to school and again set the bar high for the Aggies. So far — at 4-0 with a thumping over then-#11 West Virginia and this week’s Legends Classic championship — Texas A&M is most definitely living up to the hype.

While its offense continues to develop given new backcourt additions along with improved ball-handling and perimeter shooting, the team’s secret ingredient lies in its post defense. With a hulking front line featuring the sophomore Williams (6’9″, 240 pounds), Tyler Davis (6’10”, 265 pounds) and Tonny Trocha-Morelos (6’10”, 220 pounds), it shouldn’t come as a surprise that opposing teams struggle to score inside. But in the wake of today’s pace-and-space era of basketball, many teams also struggle to effectively play multiple bigs on the floor at the same time. Not so for Texas A&M. Lineups including two of the three big men have posted improved defensive numbers, as the below tables show.

So let’s examine both how and why the Aggies’ defense has been such a headache for their opponents. For one reason, Billy Kennedy‘s defense thrives on enlisting post players that possess both size and mobility to quickly slide into help position, preventing opponents from simply dragging the bigs out to the perimeter. In the clip below, watch how much ground Trocha-Morelos (#10) covers as he shifts between playing disruptive help defense on multiple occasions to defending his man on the perimeter. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC Weekend Preview: Opening Night Edition

Posted by David Changas on November 10th, 2017

It has been a long time since there has been so much excitement surrounding the start of SEC basketball. With so many of the league’s football programs struggling and the promise of widespread improvement across the conference on the hardwood — not to mention the specter of an ongoing FBI investigation hanging over a few schools — everyone is ready to start playing. As we open the season at 13 of the SEC’s 14 schools tonight, let’s look ahead to this evening’s most intriguing match-ups:

  • Texas A&M vs. West Virginia – ESPN, 6:00 PM. This is the marquee game of opening night, as the #25 Aggies take on Bob Huggins’ #11 Mountaineers at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. Texas A&M gets an early chance to show that last season’s downturn was a momentary blip on its long-term trajectory, but it will have to do so without potential lottery pick Robert Williams, who is serving a two-game suspension for a violation of university policy. Freshman point guard JJ Caldwell is also suspended for the team’s first five games after an offseason arrest charge that was later dropped. That leaves it up to junior forward Tyler Davis to lead the Aggies in what promises to be a very difficult match-up with a Big 12 heavyweight.

Alabama received the good news that Collin Sexton will return next week against Lipscomb (rolltide.com)

  • Memphis vs. Alabama, 6:30 PM. The Crimson Tide will also get an early test against a rebuilding Memphis team at the Veterans Classic in Annapolis. Although Alabama got news late Thursday that highly acclaimed freshman Collin Sexton will only sit out tonight’s game and can return on Tuesday against Lipscomb, Memphis is a dangerous team to play at less than full strength. Still, this is a major development for Avery Johnson as it appeared earlier in the week that Sexton, a consensus top-10 player in the class of 2017, may not ever suit up for the Tide.

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After Disappointing Season, Texas A&M Looks to Return to SEC Prominence

Posted by David Changas on October 24th, 2017

By any measure, the 2016-17 Texas A&M basketball season was a colossal disappointment. After being picked by virtually everyone to finish near the top of the SEC standings and easily make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament, the Aggies struggled to an 8-10 finish in league play and missed out on postseason play altogether. Last year’s disappointing outcome has not, however, tempered expectations for this year’s team. Once again, the Aggies are expected to challenge for a league championship and easily qualify for the Big Dance. And those expectations are just fine with two of A&M’s stars — Robert Williams and Tyler Davis — who talked about the upcoming season last week in Nashville. When asked about his goals this year, Williams did not mince words: “San Antonio” — the site of the 2018 Final Four. Davis, for his part, was more measured, instead discussing the need to focus on getting better each day. Regardless of how each player answered that question, both know that expectations are high in College Station, and with good reason.

Robert Williams showed his excitement about the upcoming season at SEC Media Days. (RTC Staff)

Davis also talked about improved team chemistry this year, hinting that some members of last season’s squad were not on the same page with head coach Billy Kennedy. “I know he was limited [by] his resources, when it came to game time,” Davis said. “That obviously puts pressure on you as the coach. This year, he’s the same guy every single day; expects the same things out of us. It’s just, are his players willing to give it to him every day in practice.” Last season’s finish aside, it appears there is good reason for high expectations. Texas A&M returns all five of its starters, including Williams and Davis, who could combine to form the best big-man tandem in the SEC. The former, the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year, credits his maturity for a decision to return to school despite being projected as a likely lottery pick. He also thinks another year battling against Davis in the post during practice should improve his game. “We are awesome with each other,” Davis said. “We’ve gotten to the point where we know what each other’s going to do. We try to memorize each other’s games and help each other.” Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC Team Capsules: The Top Tier (#4-#1)

Posted by David Changas on November 11th, 2016

Per usual in the SEC, there is very little question that Kentucky is once again the prohibitive favorite to win the league. While there is always some early-season speculation about how things will turn out, there is often little doubt that the Wildcats will roll into Nashville as the #1 seed at the SEC Tournament. We finish our capsule-sized preview of the league with a look at of course Kentucky, but also the three teams with the best shot of dethroning the SEC giant. Within the last week we published capsules on the SEC’s bottom tier of teams (#14-#10) as well as the middle tier (#9-#5). Today we tackle the top tier.

No. 4 Texas A&M Aggies

Billy Kennedy Looks to Build Off a Sweet Sixteen Appearance (USA Today Images)

Billy Kennedy Looks to Build Off a Sweet Sixteen Appearance (USA Today Images)

  • 2015-16 overall record (SEC) – 28-9 (13-5)
  • Key returnee – Tyler Davis, 11.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG
  • Key newcomer – J.C. Hampton, graduate transfer from Lipscomb
  • Team Analysis: The Aggies lost quite a bit from last year’s Sweet Sixteen team, including their two leading scorers, Danuel House and Jalen Jones. But along with Davis, a preseason all-SEC selection who has a great chance to break out, and guard D.J. Hogg, expectations remain high in Aggie-land. Anything short of a return to the Big Dance this season will be a disappointment.
  • Burning QuestionCan Davis make the jump? Texas A&M had the luxury of two great scorers in House and Jones last season, but the 6’10” center Davis benefited most from an experienced point guard (Alex Caruso) who could deliver the ball to him in positions that allowed him to be effective. Much more will be expected from the sophomore this year, and for Texas A&M to come through on expectations, Davis will have to become one of the elite players in the SEC.

No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs

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64 Thoughts on the the 2016-17 SEC Season: Part II

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 27th, 2016

Yesterday we brought you the first half of our 64 thoughts on the SEC’s upcoming season. Today we finish out our rambling thoughts on the conference.

  1. Kasey Hill shot under 54 percent from the foul line last season. Mike White can’t afford to have a point guard on the floor who can’t make free throws in crucial end-of-game situations.
  2. Florida’s alternative at the point, Chris Chiozza, converts 79 percent of his free throws.
  3. Based on scrimmage results, Devin Robinson seems poised for a breakout year. Robinson connected on all four of his three-point attempts and finished the game with 23 points.
  4. I believe Robinson is going to have such a big year that I put him on my All-SEC first team, which includes: G- De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky; G- Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky; F- Devin Robinson, Florida; F- Yante Maten, Georgia; C- Moses Kingsley, Arkansas
  5. Kingsley in 2014-15: 3.6 PPG, 2.5 RPG; Kingsley in 2015-16: 15.9 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.4 BPG.
  6. Maten in 2014-15: 5.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG; Maten in 2015-16: 16.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG.
  7. My All-SEC second team: G- J.J. Frazier, Georgia; G- Malik Monk, Kentucky; G- Quinndary Weatherspoon, Mississippi State; F- Bam Adebayo, Kentucky; C- Tyler Davis, Texas A&M.
  8. Honorable mention (otherwise known as guys who would have made the first or second team if I didn’t limit the selection to five players): G- KeVaughn Allen, Florida; G- Antonio Blakeney, LSU; G- Matthew Fisher-Davis, Vanderbilt; G- Dusty Hannahs, Arkansas; F- Luke Kornet, Vanderbilt; G- Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina; G- Duane Notice, South Carolina; G- Mustapha Heron, Auburn; C- John Egbunu, Florida; F- Sebastian Saiz, Ole Miss; F- Craig Victor, LSU; F- DJ Hogg, Texas A&M.

The SEC has no shortage of quality freshmen, and Auburn’s Mustapha Heron might be the best not in a Kentucky uniform. (Getty)

  1. By the way, all-conference teams should include no more than five players to remain consistent with the All-America teams and because it’s just common sense.
  2. The SEC is in no shortage of quality freshmen, and Auburn’s Mustapha Heron might be the best not in a Kentucky uniform.
  3. The addition of Heron has a lot of people in Auburn, Alabama, excited about basketball for Bruce Pearl’s third season. Pearl finished his third season at Tennessee in 2008 with a 31-5 campaign and the schools’ first trip to the top of the AP poll. Could year three with Auburn finally represent the breakout year the Tigers have been waiting on?
  4. No matter what happens, Auburn has something all of us wish we had – a giant bronze statue of Charles Barkley.
  5. Even with Heron suiting up for the Tigers, there isn’t a reasonable scenario where Auburn finishes any higher than 12th.
  6. My predicted order of finish: 1- Kentucky; 2- Florida; 3- Georgia; 4-Texas A&M; 5- Vanderbilt; 6- Arkansas; 7- Alabama; 8- Ole Miss; 9- Mississippi State; 10- South Carolina; 11- LSU; 12- Tennessee; 13- Auburn; 14- Missouri
  7. The top five (Kentucky, Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt) will receive bids to the NCAA Tournament.
  8. Only Kentucky will make it out of the first weekend.
  9. Missouri seems hopeless. I would be surprised if Kim Anderson is still coaching the Tigers next season.
  10. Anderson has put together a total of 19 wins in two seasons in Missouri.
  11. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Mike Anderson gone too if Arkansas fails to make the NCAA Tournament again.
Mike Anderson and Arkansas will, yet again, try to make a statement on the road against Tennessee (foxnews.com).

Will Mike Anderson survive another year in Fayetteville?

  1. If Arkansas is left out of the field on Selection Sunday, it will be the age-old “not enough quality wins on its resume” argument that provides the reason.
  2. The Razorbacks play only one preseason top 50 KenPom team (Texas) on its non-conference schedule.
  3. Arkansas is always strong at home at Bud Walton Arena, but Florida is likely the best opponent making a trip to Fayetteville this year.
  4. If you’re keeping count — that’s potentially three SEC coaches who won’t be around after the 2016-17 season.
  5. One SEC coach is on his way in, however, as new Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew is bringing high hopes along after a 30-win season at Valparaiso. Vandy might be happy with just 25 wins (a feat it last accomplished in 2012).
  6. According to KenPom, Drew’s last Crusaders team fielded a top-10 defense, which has to excite Commodores’ fans with the level of shooting that returns in Nashville. Both Matthew Fisher-Davis and Jeff Roberson shot over 45 percent from behind the arc last year.
  7. Just imagine if Riley LaChance shoots like it’s 2014 again.
  8. Vanderbilt has the opportunity to tip off the season with quality wins in neutral site games against Marquette and Butler before December.
  9. Last year’s Tennessee team was the first time ever that a Rick Barnes team finished with a sub-100 KenPom defense.
  10. Barnes’ last Texas team in 2014-15 finished first in two-point defense percentage and first in block percentage.
  11. Avery Johnson’s second Alabama team will be slightly better than his first, even with the loss of Retin Obasohan. Expect to see the Crimson Tide compete in some games we wouldn’t necessarily expect.
  12. Ben Howland’s second Mississippi State team will be slightly better than his first, but don’t expect a big jump until year three.
  13. The SEC lacks the overall star power (outside of Kentucky) that it had last year, but 2016-17 is still shaping up to be a fun year for both college basketball and SEC fans.
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64 Thoughts on the 2016-17 SEC Season: Part I

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 26th, 2016

The beginning of another college basketball season is already in progress, and with it an opportunity to start talking about SEC hoops again. The SEC last season managed just three bids to the NCAA Tournament, but with a new year brings optimism that more teams can break into the First Round field of 64. To tip off the SEC microsite, here are 64 musings, opinions, thoughts, predictions, questions, and observations about the 2016-17 season [Ed. Note: Technically, 32 since this is part one of two with the second part coming tomorrow]:

John Calipari is confident once again as Kentucky shapes up to be the head of the SEC in 2016-17 (AP).

John Calipari is confident once again as Kentucky shapes up to be the head of the SEC in 2016-17. (AP)

  1. Kentucky is the clear favorite to win the SEC this year, but the big question mark about the Wildcats in the preseason revolves around their three-point accuracy. It says here that this will be the best perimeter shooting squad John Calipari has put on the court in Lexington since his 2011 Final Four team.
  2. Wildcat sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe shot just 13.5 percent from beyond the arc last year, allowing opposing defenses to sag to the middle on him. But the limited sample of shooting we have seen so far suggests that he will no longer be an offensive liability shooting the ball this season.
  3. Briscoe was also 9-of-12 from the free throw line in Friday night’s Blue-White game, indicating that his 46 percent accuracy from the stripe last season could also be a thing of the past. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #2 Oklahoma 77, #3 Texas A&M 63

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 24th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion

Three Key Takeaways.

Buddy Hield Led His Team to Its First Elite Eight Since 2009 (USA Today Images)

Buddy Hield and Friends Move On to Oklahoma’s First Elite Eight Since 2009 (USA Today Images)

  1. Buddy Ball. When you’ve got a National Player of the Year candidate like Buddy Hield involved, one of the big questions going into a game is always how the opponent plans to slow him down. Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy opted to put his best defender, Alex Caruso, on Hield from the opening tip in an effort to deny him the ball. In implementing this strategy, however, it took Caruso — a defender effective at coming off his man and providing help defense — out of his normal role. This opened up the rest of the Oklahoma offense to take advantage of a distracted Aggies’ defense to find driving lanes and easy looks around the hoop. Hield didn’t exactly have his normally explosive offensive night, but the attention the Aggies paid him left a distinct mark on the rest of the game.
  2. A&M Mis-Step and Adjustment. Early in the first half, Texas A&M had the good fortune of knocking a few early threes down. This turned out to be a short-term blessing and a long-term curse. Following the discovery of that fool’s gold, the Aggies spent the remainder of the first half relying unsuccessfully on jumpshots, leading to an extended drought that allowed Oklahoma to build a lead. Over the last 14 possessions of the first half, A&M turned it over six times, missed three threes, clanked five two-point jumpers and only made one layup and one jumper — turning a game that was tied 18-all into an overwhelming 45-25 deficit at the half. A&M adjusted, however, by pounding it inside either via the post-up game (specifically freshman Tyler Davis) or the drive early in the second half. That proved much more successful, but its inability to hit free throws (11-of-22 in second half) was the ultimate killer. Of interest going forward is that this is an area that Oklahoma could potentially be taken advantage of in the next week-plus.
  3. Scrappy Sooners. Perhaps the popular conception of this Sooners team is a fun-loving bunch of three-point bombers. While there’s some truth to the notion, there’s also a little bit of junkyard dog in this team as well. Despite statistics telling the story of a team that struggles to clean the glass, the Sooners today paid special mind to it and fought the bigger A&M team almost to a draw there. Even superstar Hield grabbed 10 boards on his way to his first double-double of the season. More to the point, though, is that the Sooners were consistently first to a number of loose balls in order to add extra possessions.

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Why Each SEC team Will Advance to the Second Weekend… and Why They Won’t

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 15th, 2016

After watching five teams head to the Big Dance a year ago (including one eventual Final Four participant), the SEC managed just three bids in a disappointing 2015-16 campaign. Honestly, the league was lucky to get to three. While some teams have to feel pretty good about where they landed (Texas A&M is a #3 seed?!), others should feel happy to be invited (welcome Vanderbilt!), and still others can rest comfortably knowing that the committee didn’t have the option to send them to Alaska to face the Golden State Warriors (Hey Kentucky, Des Moines, Iowa, is supposed to be nice this time of year). Now that the brackets are set, will the SEC continue to disappoint, or might we see one of these three teams still standing in the Sweet Sixteen? Here are some quick reasons why each team will advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and some equally compelling reasons why they won’t:

Kentucky's offensive efficiency under coach John Calipari

Kentucky’s offensive efficiency under coach John Calipari.

Kentucky

Why the Wildcats will advance to the second weekend: Kentucky’s backcourt is playing very well on offense right now, moving the Wildcats into the top spot for offensive efficiency nationally over the weekend. Tyler Ulis has the ability to carry the team for stretches on his 5’9” frame, but with the added marksmanship of shooting guard Jamal Murray and a front line that provide spot duty, the Wildcats are scoring better than any other team in the John Calipari era. In the first two games of the SEC Tournament, Kentucky scored at the second and third most efficient clips per 100 possessions of his tenure. The last time the Cats met up with possible Second Round opponent Indiana in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, it was a high scoring affair — Kentucky should feel comfortable in entering into a shootout with any team in the nation.

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Rushed Reactions: Kentucky 82, Texas A&M 77 (OT)

Posted by David Changas on March 13th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways

Tyler Ulis and Kentucky celebrate yet another SEC title.

Tyler Ulis and Kentucky celebrate yet another SEC title.

  1. Ulis was the difference. Jamal Murray struggled more than he had in quite a while, as his 20-point game streak came to an end at 11 (he still had 17). His backcourt mate, Tyler Ulis, however, was there to pick up the slack. Ulis not only led Kentucky with 30 points, but also delivered the crucial baskets for the Wildcats. Ulis is able to penetrate and find good looks better than just about anyone we’ve seen at his size; in a game that was close the entire way, Ulis was the clear difference. Without him, it’s difficult to imagine Kentucky being in position to garner a #3 seed or making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
  2. This was a quality SEC basketball game. The hoops side of the SEC gets made fun of plenty, and often rightfully so. This is a league that could get only two of its 14 members into the NCAA Tournament — an unfathomable consideration for a power five conference. But these two teams were anything but embarrassing today. Kentucky is the SEC constant and have dealt with a revolving door of challengers through the year; the Aggies are the newest one, and their balance, experience, and overall talent that was on display this weekend should not be taken lightly in the NCAA Tournament. It’s just a shame there aren’t more such teams in the conference.
  3. Texas A&M acted like it had been here before. Despite the loss, the Aggies showed they belonged. Texas A&M is not used to being on this stage, but that certainly did not show. Senior Danuel House was exceptional for the Aggies in scoring a game-high 32 points, including the tying bucket that sent the game to overtime. Four seniors who log a lot of minutes will be gone next season, but the future is bright for Billy Kennedy’s program, as freshmen Tyler Davis, Admon Gilder, and DJ Hogg showed strong signs that they will be able to grow into more prominent roles next season. It’s quite clear why Kennedy was given a five-year contract extension yesterday.

Star of the Game. Tyler Ulis. This was a no-brainer, as was Ulis’s selection as tournament MVP. Still, it simply can’t be overstated how good the sophomore guard was today. He had several critical drives for baskets during regulation, and he helped UK begin overtime on the right track with a three after a quick move forced his defender to fall down. Ulis vindicated his selection as both conference player of the year and defensive player of the year with a tremendous final week in the SEC.

Quotable.

  • “You’ve got to give Kentucky credit. They made the big shots to win the game.” – Billy Kennedy, on the difference in Sunday’s game.
  • “He’s played three straight days without coming out and he could probably play 40 more minutes right now if he needed to.” – Alex Caruso, on one of the things that makes Tyler Ulis special.
  • “We’re still not where we want to be defensively, but this team has gotten better all year. We’re finally healthy so when guys don’t play well, you look for the next man.” – John Calipari, on the improvement of his team.

Sights and Sounds. As it always is at the SEC Tournament, this was a de facto home game for the Wildcats. Big Blue Nation accounted for at least 95% of the fans in attendance, with Kentucky superfan Ashley Judd among them. Kennedy admitted after the game that the crowd was a big advantage for the Wildcats. “We knew that we were playing in basically Rupp Arena,” he said. Some things never change.

What’s Next. Both teams will await word from the Selection Committee as to where they go next. It’s reasonable to believe both will receive a 4-seed or better. While Kentucky may have improved its seeding with the performance this weekend, it’s hard to imagine that Texas A&M did anything in defeat that would harm its standing. The SEC may only get two teams into the Big Dance, but they’ll both be very tough outs.

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Tyler Davis’ Emergence Gives Texas A&M Hope For March Run

Posted by David Changas on March 11th, 2016

Texas A&M, which had not been known previously as a destination for college basketball’s top recruits, signed one of the nation’s best classes last year in bringing in four players ranked in the Rivals top 70. On Friday, in the Aggies’ 72-66 win over Florida, one of those highly-prized recruits was critical to Texas A&M’s advancement. All season, center Tyler Davis, the Aggies’ third-leading scorer (11.2 PPG) and second-leading rebounder (6.0 RPG) has been an important part of his team’s run to a share of the SEC regular season championship. Without Davis anchoring the middle, Texas A&M would likely not be where it is today. From that standpoint, Davis’ 15 point, eight rebound performance on Friday was not only not a surprise, but it was also expected — even against Florida’s stout frontcourt defense.

Tyler Davis has been a force in the middle for Texas A&M. (Sam Craft/AP)

Tyler Davis has been a force in the middle for Texas A&M. (Sam Craft/AP)

After the game, Florida coach Mike White could not stop talking about how impressed he was with the freshman from Plano. “He is just really good. It’s hard to believe he’s a freshman. He’s enormous. He’s strong. He’s physical. He likes contact. He knows how to seal [in the post], and he has great hands,” White said. Based upon the way he performed both against the Gators and in the Aggies’ six-game win streak to close the regular season, a strong case could be made that Davis has become A&M’s best player. While most of the attention is paid to Aggie seniors Jalen Jones and Danuel House, Davis’s efficiency sets him apart. That was evident again Friday. Jones and House combined to go 11 for 35 from the field, while Davis was made six of his 10 field goal attempts. On the season he has shot over 65 percent from the field; when teammates get the ball to Davis in the post, good things happen.

At 6’10”, 265 lbs., Davis is no ordinary freshman. He has clearly been the biggest addition to a team relegated to the NIT a season ago. Pairing the talented freshman with a core of talented senior leaders has led to a successful regular season, as well as the potential for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Last year the Aggies were heavily reliant upon their perimeter offense. Now, however, when shots aren’t falling for Jones, House, and fellow seniors Alex Caruso and Anthony Collins, Davis has been able to afford a steadying offensive alternative. He made the difference against Florida today, and if the Aggies are to make the sustained March push many believe them capable of, expect Davis to be as prominent a figure as any.

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