While January 8th, 2014 will go down in infamy as the day Jonathan F. Football departed from Texas A&M, we have just the pick-me-up for up you. The Aggie basketball team starts conference play tonight against Arkansas! I know, you're still sad. Hey, why are you leaving? Don't go, please!
Times are bleak over on the hardwood as Billy Kennedy's squad has lost two of their last three games, one of them being a 20-point drubbing by national powerhouse North Texas, and averaging 52 points a game during that stretch. What once looked like a team with some promise to turn some heads this year now searches for a giant "RESET" button and a lineup that can achieve the magical feat of putting the basketball through the hoop. They'll need to find it quick because the Razorbacks bring in the seventh highest scoring offense in the country led by sophomore guard Michael Qualls and freshman big man Bobby Portis.
Here are three keys to tonight's conference opener and hopefully the Aggies' revival.
WHERE YOU AT, KOURTNEY??!!
While the ineptitude of the past three games has been a complete team effort, a key contributor through this stretch has been the offensive disappearance of Kourtney Roberson. In the last three games, Roberson has averaged three points a game, and did not record a single basket in their last contest against UT-Pan American. It hasn't helped that there isn't any other options in the low post either. The duo of Antwan Space and Devante Fitzgerald haven't shown any skills in the paint to really scare any opponents, allowing for Roberson to be double-teamed as soon as he gets the ball.
He'll have his hands full tonight against Arkansas' second leading scorer, Bobby Portis. The 6-10 McDonalds All-American averages over 12 points a game along with 6 rebounds. He came to Arkansas as a 5-star recruit who can score in the post and shoot from mid-range as well. This will most likely be Roberson's toughest challenge to date and if the Ags want to have a chance, they'll need a big effort from their team leader and defensive anchor.
MR. JONES AND ME
I am a Houston Rockets fan and therefore have an excruciating experience watching Dwight Howard miss free throws. The worst part about watching his free throws is every shot actually looks good upon release. The ball has a nice spin, nice arc and near perfect trajectory. It's not like Deandre Jordan where there's no telling where the ball's going with each shot. Every time Dwight shoots, the free throw LOOKS like it's going in. Then...CLANG.
It's the exact same experience when Jamal Jones shoots 3-pointers. Everything about his shot resembles the glory years of Josh Carter draining corner-3's for days, but the junior's still shooting only 36% beyond the arc (still the highest on the team. *sigh*). It's obvious that Kennedy has given him the green light (He has 69 3-point attempts. The second highest? Fabyon Harris with 35.), and the offense hinges on whether or not his shots are falling, so it is vital for him to be successful. An encouraging sign is he's still not afraid to take shots. As the old saying goes, the only way for great shooters to get out of a funk is to keep shooting.
DOOON'T STOP BELIEEVIN'
This last key should be dedicated towards A&M's kryptonite: zone defense. But through all the struggles of the season, the Aggies have continued to play aggressive defense and seemed to show good team chemistry. Though the shots haven't gone in, this group looks like they enjoy playing with one another and really want their teammates to succeed. That is until the North Texas dumpster fire and UT-Pan American game. For the first time all season, the team looked lost and fed up by the lack of execution on offense. Most teams have found an identity by the start of conference play, but the Ags are still searching for answers and picked the worst time to go into a rut.
A&M still has let only one team score over 70 points against and the biggest component for that has been hustle and relentlessness. If this rough stretch takes that away, things could really get ugly. The Ags need to remember that in three of their four losses, they were in the game and had opportunities to win. It's obvious that if the Aggies produced just an average offense then things would look entirely different right now. I know Johnny Football's gone so it may look like the end of the world right, but remember...
I've seen them lose and I've seen them win, but I have never seen them quit.
Aggies stay strong on defense, but the search continues on offense.
Arkansas - 67, Texas A&M - 54