It didn't come as a shock, but it wasn't any less painful. When the Texas A&M Aggies were just starting turn some heads in the college basketball world, a series of unlucky bounces, over-the-head-passes that turn into 3-pointers and passes to the wrong team formed into the most heartbreaking loss of the season to Mississippi State.
But there is no time to mourn because now the Ags face a quick turnaround and travel to Rupp Arena to take on the #13 ranked Wildcats. Now before you chalk this up as an automatic "L" and write a message board rant, Kentucky has a conference loss to none other than the Arkansas Razorbacks, who if you remember got beat quite handily by the maroon and white. So yes, I'm telling you there's a chance!
Let's get right to the three keys...
Since the beginning of conference play, A&M has gone with a 4-guard lineup, putting Kourtney Robertson at the 5 and Jamal Jones at the 4. I'm going to go out on a limb and say this may be a problem when Kentucky's starting lineup includes 7-footer Willie Caulie-Stein and future top-5 draft pick Julius Randle. While Jones has grown into an offensive playmaker, he's listed as 6'8, 194 lbs. Randle? 6'9, 250 lbs. It would be too costly to sacrifice Jones' scoring prowess and have him guard a bulldozer like Randle, so Kennedy will need to get clever when trying to guard the sure-fire lottery pick.
In addition, the Wildcats have size across the board causing another matchup problem with Fabyon Harris. Along with his defensive liabilities, the senior still has not found any sort of rhythm offensively, while freshman Davonte Fitzgerald stands as A&M's second-highest scorer in SEC play... All while playing less than twenty minutes per game.
My guess is Coach Kennedy will put his biggest and highest scoring lineup to start with Caruso-Green-Jones-Fitzgerald-Roberson, and a second straight appearance from The-Majestic-from-Across-the-Atlantic Dylan Johns!
Combined points from Jones/Fitzgerald/Caruso against Mississippi State - 56
Combined points from everyone else - 16, half of those coming from Kourtney Roberson
The combination of Jones/Fitz/Caruso makes a heck of a big three, but even trios like Lebron/D-Wade/Chris Bosh need help. In each of A&M's conference a victory, a player outside of the J/F/C combo stepped up as a scoring option (Arkansas: Harris, UT: Antwan Space, USC: Shawn Smith). Unless they're looking for a 2012 Elston Turner performance, the Ags must have another offensive contributor.
Possible Foul Trouble
A big factor in Mississippi State's victory over A&M was earning 32 attempts at the free throw stripe, with over half of them coming from their two post men, Gavin Ware and Colin Borchert. The challenge will only become tougher with Kentucky's front court (as stated above).
A&M uses aggressive double teams to make up for their lack of size down low. Unfortunately on the road, the cost of these risks result in fouls stacking up on the stat sheet. The Ags showed last Saturday that losing Roberson or Caruso derails this team defensively so they'll need valuable minutes from players like Antwan Space and Tavario Miller. It also wouldn't hurt if the refs allowed let kids play underneath the basket (I'm looking at you, ref who called Kourtney's 5th foul).
Julius Randle is good, and A&M's losses seem to come in two's in the season. The Ags will battle, but Kentucky's size leads to too many second chance points.
Kentucky - 79, A&M - 63