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A&M faces first ranked opponent as Kentucky comes to Aggieland

The Aggies will look to prove their mettle against the No. 12 team in the country. A win undoubtedly vaults the Aggies into the Top 25 and puts them squarely in the NCAA tournament conversation.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Texas A&M
Things should be rowdy tonight at Reed Arena as the #12 Kentucky Wildcats come to town to face the Aggies.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

When a college basketball blue blood led by a future hall of fame coach comes to town, there is no need for elaborate introductions. Texas A&M puts its 4-0 SEC record and 8 game win streak on the line tonight against No. 12 Kentucky in the most anticipated game for Aggies hoops since the Wildcats visited Reed in 2018. A win would almost certainly vault the Aggies into the Top 25 and serve notice to the country that this team is a worthy contender for the NCAA tournament. Tipoff is at 7:30 PM CT, and the game will be nationally televised on the SEC Network. As of yesterday, very limited tickets remained, but expectations are that it will be a sellout.

Our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook are currently listing the Aggies at 7-point underdogs* at home. Ken Pomeroy of sets A&M’s win probability at 24% with a projected score of 76-69. This line may feel a little surprising considering at the Aggies recent run of form, but the Kentucky’s caliber of talent and quality of play cannot be denied.

*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See for details.

Kentucky comes into tonight’s matchup with a 12-3 record overall and a 4-1 mark in SEC play. After an opening loss to Duke (79-71), the Wildcats rattled off seven straight wins over an early non-conference slate that felt very similar to A&M’s. They picked up their second loss of the season against Notre Dame in South Bend (66-62), but rebounded with a huge win over North Carolina (98-69). The Wildcats blew out Missouri (83-56) in their SEC home opener but dropped their next conference game to LSU in Baton Rouge (65-60). The Cats have since followed up that defeat with decisive victories over Georgia (92-77), Vanderbilt (78-66), and Tennessee (102-79).

The Wildcats’ five starters are all average double digits, led by a 6’9” junior transfer (West Virginia) forward Oscar Tshiebwe at 16.5 points in 29.2 minutes per game. Tshiebwe (pronounced SHEE-bway) also leads the team in rebounding, steals, and blocks. Freshman guard TyTy Washington Jr. is next in the scoring ledger at 14.5 points per game, followed by Davidson graduate transfer guard Kellan Grady and junior forward Keion Brooks Jr. at 11.8 and 10.6 points per game, respectively. The scoring leaders are rounded out by junior transfer (Georgia) guard and former Texas A&M signee Sahvir Wheeler at 10.3 points per game. Wheeler originally signed with Billy Kennedy’s Aggies in 2018 but was released from his letter of intent after Kennedy was fired following the 2018-19 season. Wheeler is an exceptional passer but can be prone to turnovers.

This will undoubtedly be a tough test for A&M as Kentucky holds a statistical edge over the Aggies in almost all of the advanced metrics. Despite the Aggies’ significant improvement in shooting percentages this year and current SEC-best 37.4% from beyond the arc, the Wildcats have a significant edge in field goal percentage and effective field goal percentage. The Cats’ athleticism also give them a significant advantage on the boards, where they lead the country in offensive rebounding rate and are seventh in defensive rebounding rate. While A&M does a great job at creating steals and forcing turnovers, UK is very effective at limiting their lost possessions.

I expect this to be a very close game in a raucous Reed Area atmosphere. Even if the Aggies get down early, I would look for a second half surge to narrow the gap and keep things them within striking distance. Ultimately, it may come down to a battle between A&M’s pressure defense versus the Cats offensive execution and each team’s ability to make free throws down the stretch. If you’re going to the game tonight, get there early, be loud, and be relentless. Even if Kentucky gets an early lead, keep the energy high. Buzz and his coaching staff have shown that they are adept at making effective halftime adjustments, and these Aggies have shown tremendous resiliency in the second half all season long.