A few days ago, we wrote about A&M's toughest stretch of the season: an eight-game run loaded with mid-tier road tests and difficult home games, a stretch where we could be happy enough with 5-3 and could probably survive at 4-4.
Things have gone south since then.
An uninspired performance at Vanderbilt was followed by a disappointing home loss to South Carolina, and our Aggies now find themselves with a 1-3 record over the last four games. We're in third place in the SEC, and the schedule doesn't do us any favors over the next two weeks:
|1/27||@ Arkansas||12-11 (5-5)||L 71-74|
|1/30||#13 Iowa State||17-6 (6-4)||W 72-62|
|2/4||@ Vanderbilt||13-10 (5-5)||L 60-77|
|2/6||#25 South Carolina||20-3 (7-3)||L 81-78|
|2/10||@ Alabama||13-9 (4-6)||6:00pm (SECN)|
|2/13||@ LSU||15-8 (8-2)||12:00pm (CBS)|
|2/16||Ole Miss||15-8 (5-5)||8:00pm (ESPN)|
|2/20||#20 Kentucky||17-6 (7-3)||TBD (ESPN)|
We can still make a real run at the conference crown, but we have to turn things around immediately.
Let's take a look at a couple of key areas that need real work.
Problem: Teams are burying us under an avalanche of threes
Solution: Take the zone defense out back and put two bullets in it
South Carolina may have been the tipping point, but the issue has been there for weeks - our zone defense simply does not close well on the perimeter. Teams are generally able to get clean looks from the outside when we drop into our 2-3 shell, and they've been hitting their shots recently.
A quick word on the zone: it's generally seen as a trade-off: I'm going to prevent you from getting to the basket, but I'm giving up the perimeter and I'm making defensive rebounding more complicated (as opposing big men have far, far more freedom on the baseline in this setup). It's a defensive adjustment in just about every coach's arsenal, but when the opposing team starts drilling threes you have to do something else.
Our failure to abandon the zone in the face of hot shooting is really troubling.
Problem: Our bigs can't seem to say out of foul trouble
Solution: Dial back the aggressiveness on the offensive glass and stop the moving screens
This is where we miss Elijah Thomas. Early in the year, we played aggressive as hell on defense, knowing that we had 25 fouls to play with on the blocks. If we gambled on a lazy pass or closed too hard on the perimeter, we could protect the rim and take a foul. Not a problem.
Now... not so much. After Trocha and Miller we have literally zero big guy options down low, which resulted in some time for DJ Hogg at the stretch four against SC. He did well in that spot, for what its worth, but that is not the best version of A&M Basketball. We're at our best with players like Hogg at small forward occasionally crashing the glass, not when he's asked to be one of two primary rebounders/rim protectors.
The net result is our over-reliance on the zone to protect our bigs, but then our bigs pick up dumb fouls somewhere else.
Whether its player control (Jalen), moving screens (Trocha/Miller), or over the back calls (Jalen/Davis), our bigs have found a host of new and exciting ways to remain in foul trouble. If we're going to stubbornly stick to the zone, we have to at least keep our big guys on the floor.
Stay Aggressive on Offense
Problem: We aren't making many baskets
Solution: Make more baskets
All kidding aside, we've been a little too content to bomb away from downtown in our last three games. Arkansas was the last real balanced effort I remember seeing, and our aggressiveness that day (35 free throw attempts) kept us competitive in a game we really had no business staying in (with our 21 turnovers and whatnot).
Our upcoming opponents sense that we're a wounded animal, and they (Alabama and LSU - both road games) are going to smell blood this week. If we keep our feet planted 25 feet away from the basket, we're asking for a long range shooting contest. And given our recent inability to pressure opposition three point shooters, that's not a contest we're going to win.
Attack the rim. Feed the ball inside to your bigs, who ideally haven't picked up fouls 90 feet from their own basket. And for the love of everything holy on this earth, abandon the zone if the opposition starts draining threes. Things tend to snowball on the road for this squad, and we simply cannot afford to have that happen this week.
Our margin of error is gone. We can still accomplish great things this season, but the turnaround has to happen immediately. We need three of our next four to stay in this race.