Well, would you look at that. We're playing a little basketball.
The Aggies looked great in Knoxville, pushing their winning streak to four games. The final score was somewhat close, but make no mistake - Texas A&M dominated this game. If not for a flurry of late Tennessee threes, our walk-ons would have played the last couple of minutes.
Aggie Hoops now sits at 4-2 with one-third of the conference season gone, and they are very well positioned to make some noise moving forward. But each projection, each bubble conversation, each forward-thinking ridiculously giddy "holy crap we can really do this" notion counts on the same premise: we can't slip up against the bottom five.
That's the task ahead of us tonight. A road game against a less-than-stellar team, the type of team that can beat us if we don't bring it, but also the type of team that we should defeat on talent alone. Again, it's what every hopeful premise is based on: taking care of business in this exact situation. Let's break it down.
1) It's really, really important that we all keep doing the same things forever
I don't want to alarm anyone, but this your Fightin' Texas Aggie free throw line from the last three games
- LSU: 9-11 (82%)
- Missouri: 15-20 (75%)
- Tennessee: 12-15 (80%)
And this doesn't even count our 5-6 stretch to close out Mississippi St. So, whatever you've all been doing when the Aggies are at the stripe... keep doing it. Feverishly rubbing your hands together? Sure. Push-ups? Knock yourself out. I respect your ambition. Shotgunning beers? Of course. As long as you choose appropriately.
Hitting free throws is how good teams close out feisty not-quite-as-good teams on the road. If we want to get it done tonight, we need the karma.
2) The rotation finally appears to be set
The natives (myself included) got a bit restless when Kennedy continued to roll 12-13 players in non-conference, but he finally appears to have settled on a rotation.
Starters: Caruso, House, Green, Jones, Roberson
Subs: Robinson (ball-handling); Allen (shooting); Miller (post defense/rebounding); Trocha (as foul trouble dictates)
Honestly, I really like it. Even when the second unit is in the game, we usually leave at least one of House/Jones/Caruso on the floor, and over the past four games that has been enough to keep things moving while the big guns get some rest. We're all familiar with the frequency/length of A&M droughts in years gone by, and those passages of play are magnified on the road. If we stick to the script and shorten the bench, that shouldn't happen tonight.
3) The bottom-feeders are feisty
Auburn is staring down the barrel of an absolutely brutal stretch of basketball:
- Texas A&M; @Tennessee; @LSU; Ole Miss; Arkansas; @Georgia
That's six straight games where they will likely be the underdog, and they need to win tonight to keep this thing from spiraling out of control. Which is why I think we'll get a very strong effort from Bruce Pearl's squad.
It's not just Auburn's situation that should concern us, though. The SEC has received some nice pub as a "rapidly improving conference," which is great for NCAA tourney purposes. But it comes with an unfortunate side-effect: the conference rapidly improves. The little guys are (for the most part) not going down easy, which makes the 18-game grind much more difficult to manage.
We're favored to win tonight, and I think we will... but it won't come easy. I see this game being really close down the stretch, begging to be won by a playmaker on either side. We have more of those guys, so I think we'll be fine... but it's gonna be close.