Well, it's been a pretty quiet and uneventful week in Aggieland. It's the slow period before bowl games pick up and A&M football just began practicing again to no media attention whatsoever. With the program in such stable condition, it's the time of the year to just sit back, relax, and take solace in knowing that everything is going to be okay..........
But as we enjoy the calm and completely un-chaotic holiday season, the Texas A&M basketball team has their toughest and most important game of the season in a Battle of the Brazos showdown against the #16 Baylor Bears. Good ole gigthem08 and I provided some #HateWeek preparation by rehashing our favorite memory from the series. The #SECBasketballFever can be quite contagious, but there may not be another rivalry in A&M basketball quite like the one it had with the Bears from 2006-2011.
A&M-Texas of course had "The Shot" and Acie Law vs Kevin Durant. Texas Tech even had a couple runs with Bobby Knight at the helm. But once the green and gold met the maroon and white, a different kind of intensity and animosity took control every contest. Each game seemed to have at least one chippy moment that would clear the team benches or have the home fans in a frenzy. When Baylor took down the Ags in a 5-OT thriller in Reed Arena, and The Baptism that followed in Waco, the rivalry became personal and the two programs never stopped trading blows until A&M's SEC exodus. Alongside the back and forth battles, what also made the rivalry special was it came during a time when both programs ascended to heights neither had ever reached before.
When Billy Gillispie and Scott Drew came into the picture, A&M and Baylor were at a proverbial rock bottom. The Bears were trying to move on from a weird and very tragic scandal involving the murder of Patrick Dennehy and NCAA violations committed by the Baylor program. Texas A&M finished the 2003 season going winless in Big XII play, firing then-coach Melvin Watkins and having zero direction on where the program was heading. Despite the rubble the two programs lay in, year-by-year, Gillispie (and Mark Turgeon thereafter) and Drew eventually transformed their respective teams into legitimate contenders in the Big XII. Being the two new power players, when their paths crossed twice a year, it always created for memorable drama.
While Baylor and A&M have been on different trajectories the past few years, this Saturday may provide a return to heated rivalry of years past. For the first time in the Billy Kennedy era, Reed Arena will host a matchup between two ranked teams. The Aggies caught everyone's attention when they took down Texas and then-#10 Gonzaga in consecutive games in the Battle 4 Atlantis tourney. But a disappointing loss against Arizona State, along with Gonzaga now being unranked with 3 losses, has A&M once again having to answer the question of whether they are Contender or Pretender. For this year's Aggie squad, there would be no better validation than getting revenge on a Baylor team that beat down and embarrassed them last season in Waco, especially for senior star Danuel House.
A recent development in the last couple of weeks is the surprisingly extensive shooting woes from House. The 1st-team All-SEC guard continues to try finding a rhythm and just hasn't found a groove on his jump shot. At times, the slump has led to ill-advised shots and uncertainty on driving to the basket. He continues to lead the team with 15.4 points a game, but his shot percentage is down to 39%, including making only 6 of his last 31 attempts for 3-point land. Last season, House's breakout came against toughest of competition, Kentucky. Saturday will need a breakout kind of night from House and a game-of-the-year performance from the Aggie big men.
The greatest test for the rematch at Reed will be down low where A&M's frontcourt takes on Rico Gathers and the Baylor big men that outrebounded the Ags by 20 last year, including a 17-1 advantage on offensive rebounds. The Ags' frontcourt took a blow this past week when highly touted recruit Elijah Thomas decided to part ways from the program. The pressure will be on for freshman Tyler Davis and Tonny Trocha-Morelos, who in 11 minutes had 0 points and 1 rebound in last year's contest. Both players will have to be on their A-game and avoid foul trouble if A&M wants to keep up with the Bears in the rebounding department. Baylor ranks in the top-15 nationally and rebounding and does so by overpowering their opponents underneath the basket.
One of the great struggles of recent Aggie basketball teams is getting pushed around when facing big and physical post players (see: All games against Florida). With the addition of Davis and emergence of Trocha, A&M may match up in size but it is to be determined if they will equal Baylor's physicality.
Billy Kennedy proclaimed before the season that this A&M squad was bound for the NCAA tournament. After the rough patch against Arizona State, the team showed signs of righting the ship in their double-digit victory against Kansas State. Since Gonzaga and Syracuse have since slipped up since the Battle 4 Atlantis, Baylor creates a new litmus test of just how good this year's squad is capable of being. Laying an egg Saturday would send the Ags back to the drawing board once again. If they can leave Reed Arena victorious, just like what this rivalry brought years prior, it may be the beginning of something special.
Who: #16 Baylor
Where: Reed Arena