After opening their Southeastern Conference slate with a victory at home against the Vanderbilt Commodores, the Gators head to College Station to take on the #5 ranked Texas A&M Aggies. Ever since the Gators and Aggies started their respective seasons with big-time wins this game has been circled on the calendar of fans across SEC nation. Florida will be looking add another signature win to their NCAA Tournament resume that currently includes victories over Gonzaga and Cincinnati on neutral floors, while also attempting to climb back into the AP Poll top 25. Texas A&M, on the other hand, will be looking to minimize the damage after losing on the road in a 79-57 landslide to unranked Alabama to start their SEC season. Heading into this big-time matchup with the Aggies, here is the scouting report.
Season to Date
Challenging themselves with one of the most difficult non-conferences in the country, Texas A&M made it out of their fire walk of a schedule relatively unscathed with a 11-1 record, adding a loss in their first SEC game against Alabama to bring them to a 11-2 mark. The Aggies’ quality win category consists of decisive victories over West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Penn State and USC, all by double digits. Both of their losses have been excusable as they dropped a semi-away game to Arizona in front of a decidedly pro-Wildcat crowd 67-64 and fell on the road to Alabama, though the 79-57 margin was far from glamorous. This is a battle-tested Aggies team that will be ready to defend their home court against the Gators.
Injuries and suspensions have wreaked havoc on Texas A&M’s roster and they likely will be short a couple of key pieces against the Gators. Leading scorer DJ Hogg (14.6 PPG, 50% from 3) will be missing out, serving the final game of a 3-game suspension. Hogg is a tough matchup as a fleet-footed 6’9” forward who can really shoot and his absence will certainly be felt. Junior guard Admon Gilder is currently listed as questionable after missing the last three games to a knee injury and if he was kept out then the Aggies would certainly miss his 12.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. This is definitely a lucky break for the Gators who will look to take advantage of the absence of some key players.
A physically tough and athletically gifted basketball team, Texas A&M is an imposing roster that can play bully ball when they need to get an easy bucket against a team that is overmatched in stature. Tyler Davis, Tonny Trocha-Morelos and Robert Williams are all big men over 6’10” and 225 pounds that play upwards of 24 minutes a game which is constantly going to put pressure on Florida’s frontcourt. Factoring in their entire roster, Texas A&M is the 12th tallest team in college basketball with an average height of 6’6.5” (the Gators’ average height is 6’4.8” for reference). Tyler Davis is particularly adept on the block, averaging 62.2% on post ups and getting fouled on 15.3% of those shots. Luckily for the Gators, Davis is extremely predictable with his post moves and hopefully they can get an edge with the scouting report. When Davis gets the ball on the right block (which he does on 41.7% of his post ups), he turns over his left shoulder an incredible 92.3% of the time before taking a dribble and a hook shot. This means that whoever is guarding him needs to take away the middle of the floor on his post ups and force Davis towards the baseline where a help defender can come to double. We have seen this type of post defense played by the Gators in the past (executed particularly well against Cincinnati), and they’ll need to do it well again to stop Texas A&M’s 3-headed monster of big men.
Another strength of the Aggies’ offense is the way they move off of the ball and use screens on the weak side to get backdoor cuts. This is a familiar look in coach Billy Kennedy’s offense and it allows them to get some easy layups when a defense falls asleep. Florida will need to make a habit of communicating on every single screen that is set (a habit they haven’t had great success with so far this season, much to the chagrin of Mike White) to make sure that the player getting a screen set for him isn’t able to curl over for an easy cut to the basket while also making sure the screen setter can’t slip towards the hoop while on the attention is on the other player.
Part of the reason the Aggies work so hard to generate layups off of the ball is because they aren’t a strong shooting team from the perimeter. Knocking down only 34.5% of their 3-point attempts, this is a team that doesn’t often hurt you from the outside. The exception to this is DJ Hogg who has hit 34 of Texas A&M’s 91 threes on the year so the Gators are extremely lucky he’ll be missing this one. Admon Gilder is second in 3-point makes, so if both he is also out that means Texas A&M’s roster against the Gators will actually be a 25.5% shooting team from behind the arc. After some of the ridiculous threes that Vanderbilt was making in the second half on Saturday, this is a tremendous stat to discover. The Aggies’ inability to shoot at times has made them the target of many zone defenses throughout the season but I actually think playing zone against them could be a mistake. Texas A&M shoots the ball similarly against both defenses (43.2% man, 44.1% zone) but they actually turn the ball over almost 10% of the time more against man defenses, and they draw more fouls against zone. The problem with playing a zone against the Aggies is that they have excellent length and have many good passers around the floor. This means they can work the ball wherever the want against the zone and meticulously pick it apart, something the Aggies have done multiple times this year. That was, of course, with DJ Hogg still in the lineup, and him being out could really hurt their zone offense. Look to see what the Gators will do against this strong offensive squad.
Billy Kennedy’s teams have been tough to face since he took the Texas A&M job in 2011, and it has largely been because of their dogged defense. Strength, size, and athleticism don’t always automatically translate to good defense, but it certainly has in college station. Using their length to make teams uncomfortable on the perimeter and unable to get the ball down low, the Aggies have grown to be the 3rd best team in the country according to defensive efficiency. Their stout defense is further evidenced by the putrid shooting percentages their opponents put up, including 27.1% from three (3rd best in the country in percentage allowed) and 43.6% from two (29th best in the country). Coming off of a relatively short turnaround after Vanderbilt, coach White and the Gators will have to concoct a way to swing the ball side to side to get the Aggies shifting and be able to attack the moment there is an opportunity. Those opportunities won’t come by often so they need to be able to take advantage when the time comes. Florida hasn’t always shown great shot selection to this point and they’ll need to be more disciplined against an Aggies team they can’t afford to waste possessions against. One offense that almost certainly won’t work against the Aggies is isolation. Texas A&M is the best team at defending isolations in the country, using their physical perimeter defenders to push ball handlers towards help and forcing up bad shots. Florida needs to make sure to get into their offensive sets early, as if time starts to run out in the shot clock they will have an extremely difficult time getting a good look at the rim. Containing the pick and roll is another area the Aggies excel as ball handlers have shot a miniscule 29% and have turned the ball over an unbelievable 29.6% of the time. This is largely due to the way that bigs like Robert Williams and Tonny Trocha-Morelos can hedge out and get their long arms in passing lanes, and that could really bother Chris Chiozza if he isn’t able to make the proper reads coming off the screen. If the Gators are able to get the ball into the paint it won’t be smooth sailing trying to finish at the hoop, as Texas A&M is 18th in the country in block percentage, swatting away 16.2% of their opponent’s shots. Robert Williams is particularly skilled at blocking shots, averaging 2.6 per game so far this season. The key to beating these shot blockers will be to recognize when they are rotating over and try to find the post player they are leaving with a drop down pass. Getting a dunk off of a shot blocker leaving his man is particularly deflating for a defense and can lead to that shot blocker being hesitant to rotate over on the next time a player gets into the paint. This is a really good defensive team, and seeing what Mike White has cooked up to try to attack it will be really interesting to see.
Running offense could be really difficult against one of the best defensive teams in the country so I think the play of Chris Chiozza to get the team into offense and through all of the possible progressions will be incredibly important. If he can’t get the ball moving early to shift the Aggies’ defense then the Gators could have some big time issues getting open looks and putting the ball in the hoop. Against one of the strongest frontcourts in the country Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone will have to try to play big, and hopefully they can build off of a strong game against Vanderbilt.
How do you think Tuesday’s game against the Aggies will go? Leave a comment here or leave a country on the Gator Country forums.