Texas A&M entered their quarterfinal matchup against the #5 Auburn Tigers with a full head of steam, but their NCAA Tournament hopes were hanging by a thread. After starting the season 15-2 with a 4-0 conference record, 8 straight SEC losses made any thought of postseason play a delusional mirage at best. However, winning 5 of the final 6 regular season games, including a top 25 win at Alabama, left the Ags with a glimmer of hope. After knocking off Florida in overtime of their SEC Tournament opener, the Aggies still needed a statement victory to make a reasonable case for their inclusion in the field of 68 ahead of Selection Sunday.
Led by Quenton Jackson, Tyrece Radford, and Henry Coleman, the Aggies made an emphatic declaration at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay in knocking off Bruce Pearl’s Tigers, 67-62. A&M ability to control the game throughout was the exclamation point. The Aggies only trailed for 58 seconds in the first half when Auburn’s all-world Jabari Smith hit a transition three to give the Tigers and early 3-2 lead. After Henry Coleman hit a transition layup with 10:07 remaining in the first half to give Aggies a 5 point edge, the game would never get back to a one possession margin. The Ags outshot Auburn by a wide margin and were lethal from beyond the arc. Despite being outsized by the Tigers, A&M lost the battle of the boards by only a single rebound.
Tyrece Radford led the way for A&M with 19 points on 7-11 shooting, including 5-6 from beyond the arc. He added 8 rebounds for good measure. Quenton Jackson contributed 17 points on the night, with 13 of those coming in the second half. Q was 7-9 from the charity stripe in the second half, helping A&M maintain a lead in the face of Auburn’s surge down the stretch.
The win moves Buzz Williams’s Aggies to 22-11 on the season. It was also Texas A&M’s first men’s basketball win over an AP top 5 team since beating Texas in 1982. A&M picked up its third quadrant 1 win of the season, improving 20 places in RPI and 5 spots in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings.
SB Nation’s Blogging the Bracket currently charts the Aggies in the First Four Out slot after knocking off Auburn. CBS bracket expert Jerry Palm moved A&M into his tourney projection as a Last 4 In team, projecting the Aggies to play Rutgers in a 12-seed matchup in the First Four. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi slots the Aggies into the Next Four Out. I personally believe that the Aggies need one more victory in order to solidify their tournament resume. I have problems with Blogging the Bracket’s decision to slot Notre Dame over A&M, and I don’t like Lunardi’s inclusion of Michigan. However, these expert opinions show that the Ags still have work to do in the eyes of the selection committee.
The Aggies move on to the SEC semifinals to face the Arkansas Razorbacks at 12:00 PM CT on Saturday on ESPN. A&M split its regular season series with the Hogs, picking up a 5 point victory at Reed Arena on January 8 before dropping a 76-73 decision in OT in Fayetteville on January 22. Arkansas comes into this game with a 25-7 mark after knocking off LSU, 79-67, in the quarterfinals.
Our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook have set the Aggies as 6 point underdogs* to the Razorbacks.
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
A win against the Razorbacks will advance the Aggies to Sunday’s SEC final against the winner of Kentucky and Tennessee and will almost certainly put A&M in the field of 68. A loss will leave the Aggies teetering on the edge for Selection Sunday, with an NIT invitation the likely outcome.