Just like that, the stars aligned perfect and Aggie basketball rose from the middle of the SEC standings back to the top where they control their own destiny for a conference title. After a thorough dismantling of Missouri, the two teams A&M needed to lose (Kentucky & South Carolina) both went down on Saturday vaulting the Ags back to 1st place. Tonight, the maroon and white will try not to fall into a trap against an Auburn team still in the rebuilding process.
While it's been a topsy turvy season for Bruce Pearl and company, they do have something in common with the Aggies in that they also are victors over the Kentucky Wildcats. Tonight will serve as their senior night as well so the Tigers should come out emotional and treat this game as their March Madness run.
Let's look at some keys to tonight's matchup.
Will Danuel House round into form?
The first half of the Mizzou game showed that when both House and Jalen Jones are rolling at the same time, A&M is close to unstoppable. The tough part has been that this has rarely happened this season; a big reason being the senior transfer just has yet to consistently knock shots down. House has range like no other and impacts everything A&M and opponents do just by being on the floor.
The senior consistently puts points on the board, but it's a matter whether it'll be a 7-13 type night (Iowa State) or 2-13 (Kentucky). He is one of the most important players on the roster and puts this team into another tier when his shot is finding the bottom of the net. A blessing the last couple of weeks has been the support House received from production off the bench, which leads me to...
Keeping up Bench Production
A huge aspect to A&M's current 4-game win streak has been consistent help off the bench. During the current streak, the Ags have averaged 26 points per game from the bench, highlighted by DJ Hogg nearly scoring double digits on all but one occasion (9 points against Mizzou). The core 4 on the bench of Hogg, Admon Gilder, Tonny Trocha-Morelos, and Tavario Miller have turned a corner and recent weeks, taking some of the burden from the starting five.
Big time bench production will be vital come tournament time and this would be the perfect time for this group of men to be hitting their stride. It also does wonders when your starters get valuable rest this late in the season (not one starter played more than 25 minutes against Mizzou). Tonight will be emotional for Auburn and they pull out all the stops for their final home game, but if A&M matches that intensity and gets productive minutes out of the bench, this has the chance to end up just like Mizzou.
That being said...
Prediction: Tonight will be a close game.
Don't mean to rain on the parade, but the victory last Saturday was A&M's first win on the road since January 16th against Georgia. Going on the road continues to be a struggle for A&M and several other story lines tonight line up against the Aggies.
Along with their precedent of road woes, this Saturday could go down as one of the most important games in program history. For the first time in 30 years, Texas A&M has a shot at becoming regular season conference champions, and the opportunity will come in a rematch against Vanderbilt. Couples that with Auburn Senior Night and the general sense of unpredictability the Ags have instilled this last month and you could have a recipe for a wild night.
I'm still going with an Aggie victory, but it will take until the final couple of minutes to secure it.
Who: Auburn Tigers
Where: Auburn Arena
TV: ESPN U