The senior class of the Missouri mens basketball set a school record last Wednesday with their 101st victory in their four years together, an 83-65 win over the Oklahoma State Cowboys. However, out of those 101 wins, none of them have come at Texas A&M’s Reed Arena. In fact, the team hasn’t won there since 2001. The Tigers will hope to change that today when they take on the Aggies this afternoon in College Station.
Texas A&M was expected to contend for the Big 12 title this year, but have failed to live up to expectations, partly because of injuries to top players like junior forward Khris Middleton, and also the adjustment to their new head coach Billy Kennedy. The Aggies are 13-12 on the season, 4-9 in Big 12 play, and most recently broke a four losing streak with a gritty 47-38 win over Texas Tech.
The matchup against the Tigers marks the beginning of a huge homestand for the Aggies. After the game against No. 3 Mizzou, No. 5 Kansas comes into College Station on Feb. 22. As long as Kansas maintains its ranking, it will be the first time in program history that Texas A&M will play top five teams in consecutive games. But neither the Tigers nor the Aggies can afford to look ahead to games at this point in the season, with Mizzou vying for a No. 1 seed in March Madness and A&M looking to finish a disappointing season with a little momentum.
The two teams could not match up any differently. Mizzou plays with an extremely efficient, fast paced offense, and is eighth in the country at 80.7 PPG and third in field goal percentage at 50.1 percent. The Aggies, meanwhile, are 307th nationally in scoring, at 61.2 PPG, but rank 34th defensively, allowing 60.7 PPG. They have relied heavily on their defense to win the games they have, but have struggled putting the ball in their own basket, especially recently with injuries to Middleton (11.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG) and senior guard Dash Harris (5.8 PPG, 4.4 APG). Middleton has played in the last two games after missing the previous five, but has only averaged seven points since his return. Harris has missed the past six games, but is expected to return for today’s game. The one consistent offensive presence for A&M is junior guard Elston Turner, who averages 14.3 PPG.
This contrast between offensive and defensive minded teams will be the deciding factor for today’s game. Michael Rodriguez, a writer for The Battalion, Texas A&M’s school newspaper calls Missouri a “juggernaut”, and recognizes that defense will be key for the Aggies.
"“With a chance to avenge the early conference loss to the Tigers, the Aggies are going to have to continue playing their hard-nosed defense but find a way to generate points in order to keep up with the high flying Tigers.”"
A&M is capable of shutting teams down defensively, and did so in their first meeting with Mizzou this year, holding the Tigers to 40 percent shooting. Unfortunately, the Aggies could only muster up 35 percent shooting themselves, and fell 70-51 in Columbia. They will have to have similar results on the defensive end, and also get just enough points from Turner and Middleton to have a chance to pull the upset. If they can’t slow Missouri down, there’s no way they have enough firepower to stay with Missouri in a shootout. Expect a close game, and if Mizzou can run their offense through A&M’s tough defense, they could enjoy their first Reed Arena win in over a decade.