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Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
11/23/2007 11:46:00 PM

The Early Word On ... Texas A&M

Joseph Jones harassed Ohio State freshman Kosta Koufos into 4-for-16 shooting.
NEW YORK -- Four things we learned about Texas A&M from its 70-47 rout of Ohio State in Friday's NIT Season Tip-Off Final at Madison Square Garden ...

1. The Aggies are still as physical as ever on D.

There's a noise that 6-foot-9 forward Joseph Jones occasionally makes while holding his defensive ground in the post. It's the basketball version of the tennis grunt, an "UGH!" that's muddied by his mouthpiece but can still easily be heard from press row. The first time Ohio State's budding Greek god, freshman Kosta Koufos, tried to back Jones down on the block, the Buckeyes' baby 7-footer was met with the sound and a collision, and the right-handed hook shot he attempted was off the mark. Jones says the grunts are an unconscious thing, but by being so aggressive, "I try to let players know that I'm here, and I plan on being here the whole night."

For Ohio State, it was the longest of nights. Koufos, who had scored 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting in Wednesday's semifinal against Syracuse, was manhandled by A&M and limited to just 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting. Said Jones of the Aggies' game plan, "Coach [Mark Turgeon] said [Koufos] has a tendency to shy away from contact, so we tried to play him as physical as possible." That they did, with the trio of Jones, Bryan Davis, and DeAndre Jordan not only keeping Koufos' offense in check but also holding him to only three rebounds, while A&M finished the game with a massive, 47-32 advantage on the boards. While the Buckeyes' cold shooting contributed to their worst loss since a blowout at the hands of Florida on Dec. 23, 2006, they were demoralized by the Aggies' thorough domination of the interior. It wasn't entirely a coincidence that OSU shot 24.6 percent from the field and went the opening 11 1/2 minutes of the second half with just one field goal. They were in the clutches of a defensive juggernaut.

2. Even DeAndre Jordan is starting to look the part of an A&M menace.

The 7-foot Jordan came out high school with five-star hype but didn't exactly live up to it when he first arrived in College Station. He was tentative and immature, and even when I saw an Aggies practice in mid-October, Jordan was getting roughed up by Jones and Davis, and was relatively ineffective on offense. "He was being a baby [then]," said Turgeon. "[Jones and Davis] have been great for DeAndre." What they've done is turn Jordan -- who didn't need to exert much energy to dominate tiny opponents of his 126-student Christian Life Center Academy in Houston -- into a force against high-major competition. He scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 26 minutes on Friday. Another near-perfect shooting performance -- 5-of-6 from the field -- brought his season field-goal percentage to a stunning 87.9 percent (29-of-33). Those buckets are mostly dunks and put-backs, but still, can you find another 7-footer who's averaging double-digits with that kind of accuracy?

In what might be perceived as a sign of respect, even Jones and Davis have begun to cut Jordan a break in practice. "Jo' and 'BD' used to do a thing where they'd screen me at the same time, kind of squishing me, and that took a lot out of me," Jordan said. "But now they don't really do it anymore, I think because they don't want me to get hurt during the season."

3. Dominique Kirk is no longer a question mark at the point.

In October, Turgeon said the Aggies' point-guard position, which had just been vacated by All-America/Lottery Pick Acie Law, "is a daily [question] for me." He had three options: Kirk, a savvy senior; Donald Sloan, an athletic sophomore; and B.J. Holmes, a diminutive freshman. Turgeon chose Kirk, with Sloan in relief, and the move has thus far been a resounding success. Kirk dished out a team-high five assists against zero turnovers against Ohio State, and his assist-to-turnover ratio through six games is 3.25-to-1, higher than both his (2.6) and Law's (1.9) from last season.

"Dominique has been phenomenal," said Turgeon, who in his playing days was a point guard under Larry Brown at Kansas. "The first day of practice I was like, 'Oh man, I've got problems.' But [Kirk] has come so far, and now he thinks like a point guard. ... So I feel much better today than I did then."

The unselfishness of Kirk and Sloan has transformed A&M from a team that often lived or died with Law's scoring ability into one with an extremely balanced attack. Against the Buckeyes, the Aggies had five players between nine and 15 points in the box score: Derrick Roland (15), Nathan Walkup (11), Jordan (11), Jones (10) and Josh Carter (nine).

4. A&M just might belong in the top 10.

Asked if the Aggies had made a national statement by winning the NIT title, Jones said, "I don't know if the world thinks we're a good team or not, but I think we're a pretty good team ourselves."

The world, Joe, should soon be warming up to that notion. In this young season, no team has destroyed a quality opponent like the 15th-ranked Aggies did to the Buckeyes on Friday. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim insisted on Wednesday night that "Ohio State is without any question a top-25 team" -- and then A&M made that same team look like an NIT club two days later. Even Turgeon admitted, "I wasn't expecting this. I was expecting a high-scoring game out of them. They're so hard to guard."

Given the vulnerabilities shown by a number of teams ahead of A&M in the AP poll -- Louisville, Marquette, Tennessee and Oregon, to name a few -- it's more than reasonable to consider the Aggies worthy of a spot in the lower portion of the top 10. In terms of administering bruising beat-downs, they might as well be ranked No. 1.

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posted by Luke Winn | View comments (11) |


Posted: 1:04 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Thanks for the insight Luke. A lot of Big 12 programs are hoping that A&M's recent success will be short-lived. It looks like they are going to be disappointed!
Posted: 1:08 AM   by Blogger brian
Posted: 1:12 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
I agree that Texas A&M is a great squad. They are extremely long, athletic, and physical, especially on the defensive end. You can rely on defense night in and night out, and the Aggies are one of the best defensive sqauds in the country (I feel like I should give a shout out to the defense that the Salukis play each year as well).

But I don't think people should judge OSU on this loss. They're a young team, but are very talented. This was their second game in three days against very good opponents, so it wasn't a complete shock to see OSU's freshman struggle, especially shooting.

I think come March Ohio State will be a very good team. By that time the freshman will have gone through a very difficult schedule and be accustomed to the rigors of DI basketball. They will have a "two step forwards-one step back" season, but they will steadily improve.

A key factor in that will be PG Jamar Butler. If you need experience at a position, PG is it, and Butler is as experienced as it gets. He's a deadly shooter, takes care of the ball, and is a great defender. The lost weight has also drastically improved his ability to create his own shot. It's no surprise that Butler's been the only Buckeye to play very good basketball each night thus far. Butler is the key to OSU's season, and I think he's shown that he's more than ready to bear that responsibility.
Posted: 3:30 PM   by Anonymous Andrew
I have to say, Turgeon might have been the perfect hire for A&M. He's adapted Gillespie's legacy of defense to his own penchant for offense. A&M was SCARY last night. I think a trip to the Elite Eight is well within reach this year, assuming we continue to develop.
Posted: 4:46 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
I'm a huge Arizona fan and as much as I'd like to say they have a chance, I think it's gonna get ugly!
Posted: 9:34 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Enjoy it while it lasts Aggies! Confrence play will begin soon enough. Texas will return the favor..
Posted: 3:36 PM   by Blogger Spurs215
I think Luke might need to calm down for a second. Let us look at their schedule so far: McNeese State, Oral Roberts, UTEP, Ouachita Baptist, Washington, and Ohio State. Washington and Ohio State are decent teams, but neither is ranked and Ohio State lost to Findlay in an exhibition game. I think Luke meant to write an article on the Longhorns because they actually won a tournament and beat a top 10 team (Tennessee).
Posted: 6:52 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Beat TU.... Get A LIFE. A&M will never win the big one as long as the whole schools identity revolves around beating Texas. You need to start setting expectations that involve national championships and not winning one game per year.
Posted: 11:54 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
A&M is coming to play Arizona. Maybe if Arizona can somehow win, the Wildcats will only drop four or five more spots in the AP poll. Losing to #4 Kansas at Kansas, with the refs doing all they could for the Jayhawks sure made Arizona drop in the poll.
Posted: 10:59 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
I think there are only a handful of teams in the US that can match A&M on the boards. Those guys are big.
Posted: 2:15 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
I know. The Zebras handed that game to KU. WTF! That "Travel" on Chase when he should have been shooting 3 free throws! BS! Not to mention our guys getting hammered in the face. knocked to the ground rebounding... ect... wile jordan hill picked up fouls for even the slightest contact. Whatever. That game proved to me that these cats are gonna be winners. We got to pick up a few more OOC games which wont be easy (Still got A&m, Illinois, UNLV, Memphis, SDSU, and Houston I(and undefeated Cal state Fullerton but there tallest player is like 6'6 so im not gonna count that one) But we will still win a bunch in the PAC (even though its loaded) the only team im real worried about is UCLA cuz our post has been pretty weak, although Fendi-Cent should be back soon and he came to bang)