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.
Acie Law IV has led the Aggies to a 22-4 record this season (10-2 Big 12).
As the latest in a season-long series of Blog Q&As, I chatted with Texas A&M senior point guard Acie Law IV on Monday. Law leads the eighth-ranked Aggies in points per game (17.0), assists (5.5) and clutch shots (basically, every time they've needed one). A member of the Wooden Award's midseason top 30, Law has piloted A&M to a 22-4 record leading into Wednesday's showdown with Oklahoma State.
Luke Winn: With game-winners against Texas (last year) and Kansas (this year), plus innumerable late-game scoring barrages (against Oklahoma on Saturday, for example), you've established yourself as one of the nation's best clutch shooters. Is it pretty much understood by the rest of the Aggies that you'll have the ball in your hands when the game is on the line -- or is it still not a guarantee?
Acie Law IV: I think, in the last few minutes, we just look for matchups. Sometimes we try to get it inside to Joe [Joseph Jones], and sometimes we try to get it to myself. I've been fortunate to be able to deliver in the clutch, but it's not just me -- we have a couple of guys we can go to. LW: Sure, but that doesn't mean you don't want it …
AL: Oh, I always want the ball. Whenever we're in a tight situation, I go to coach [Billy Gillispie] and say, 'I need the ball. I want the ball.' And usually he'll say, 'OK, take it and make a play.'
LW: And how did it happen against Kansas?
AL: The ball got tipped out of bounds before that play; I looked over at coach and he had called something different [not for me]; I told him I wanted it, and he said 'OK.' I took the inbounds in the corner, and [KU's Brandon] Rush back off me enough to let me take the shot. That was a sign of how confident coach has become in me, and how much our relationship has grown.
LW: I'm not sure if I've seen a player, anywhere, have Roman numerals on the back of his college hoops jersey. What factored into your decision to go with your full name -- "Law IV" -- instead of just "Law"?
AL: It's my name. I'm Acie Law the fourth. When I first got to A&M I wanted to put my whole name on there, and that's what it is.
LW: Tell me about the first three Acie Laws. What are their stories?
AL: My great grandfather is Acie Sr., but I never got to meet him. My grandfather is Acie Jr.; he passed away in 1997, when I was 12. He was the best person in the world. We had a great relationship; he'd take me shopping as a kid, he'd watch me play basketball, and was around a lot in Dallas. He was into basketball, but his big deal was boxing; when he died it was at my house, right after we had watched the second Tyson-Holyfield fight. He got so excited over it that he had a heart attack.
My father is Acie the third; he's an auto mechanic in Dallas, and he played ball when he was young. He had committed to go play at St. Louis, but then he had my older brother and ended up going to Navarro College instead (a juco in Corsicana, Texas, south of Dallas). And he was a point guard, too.
LW: You're the grand-nephew of Ernie Banks on your mother's side. Has he ever given you any athletic advice?
AL: We actually spoke just last week, and he told me he's coming down for my Senior Night, which I'm excited about. When I first met him as a kid, and he found out I played basketball, he told me that if I worked hard, anything was possible. I think he was the first person to get me thinking that I could achieve great things through basketball.
LW: You have a tattoo on your right arm that says "Lord's Favorite Lawman." Can you explain what that means?
AL: The Lord has been so good to me, and I just wanted to express that. I've always felt that I'm unbelievably fortunate to be where I am, and the tattoo was one way of showing it. "Lawman" is one of the nicknames that my dad gave me; people called him that and they called my grandfather that, too. It got passed down through the generations.
LW: The tattoo on your left arm appears to be a long verse of scripture. Which one is it?
AL: It's part of Psalms 91 and 93. When first I read those verses, they just hit home for me; they say that God is my fortress, in him I trust, and that I shall fear no one. That's how I feel.
LW: A fact about you that's not widely publicized is that you're ambidextrous; you shoot left, but were born -- and still write -- righty. Can you explain how it happened?
AL: I broke my right hand when I was young. Rather than just sitting around without playing, my dad forced me to dribble, and do things with my left -- and I just got good at it. I started out as a righty, but I broke my hand three different times, falling on it playing basketball in seventh, 10th and 12th grade, so I got used to shooting lefty and stuck with it. Those were tough injuries, but everything happens for a reason.
LW: You're somewhat famous for your accurate, lefty knuckleball shot. Did coach Gillispie try to tinker with it at any point?
AL: He taped my whole right hand up in one practice, because he felt like my right thumb was the reason the ball wasn't spinning. It didn't really work; after that he just told me to continue working on my shot, and if I keep making it, it's fine. The no-spin thing doesn't bother me. Everyone talks about it, and my teammates give me a tough time about it -- but as long as it goes in, that's what it's all about.
LW: Which teammate gives you the most flak for the knuckler?
AL: That would be Joe [Jones], who I'm really close with. He'll say things like, 'I couldn't even do that if I tried,' and guys well mess around in practice, seeing if they can shoot without spin. I have no real explanation it; I've worked on trying to make it spin, but it doesn't happen.
LW: Back in coach Gillispie's first season, you were considering leaving A&M. Why?
AL: It was just immaturity. We were coming off a winless season [0-16 in the Big 12], coach was coming in, and we didn't hit it off. It was a matter of me being irresponsible and not buying into the system. His system obviously works; he's won everywhere he's been. For the first couple of weeks it was tough, though. I've never been an outspoken kid, and he said to be a point guard you have to talk a lot more than I was doing on the floor. We were doing a defensive drill in practice where I was supposed to talk, and wasn't. I was stubborn, and coach is very stubborn, and you're not going to win against coach. The drill went on for 20 minutes, with me not talking, and my teammates starting to yell at me, until I finally gave in. That was the day I started to be a leader.
LW: Who's the best on-ball defender you've squared up against in college?
AL: I would have to say Marcus Dove at Oklahoma State. He's a long defender who's quick enough to guard on the perimeter but can also match up against guys in the post. You have to go extremely fast against him, and he makes it difficult to execute plays; basically, he makes it real tough for you.
LW: And what do you think of the 'Dove Sign' that he -- and the whole Cowboys team -- does after dunks?
AL: I've seen it, and I like it. It's just a way of expressing himself, and the passion and joy he has for the game. I don't want to see him do it against us, though.
LW: You obviously don't like to give the ball up in crunch time, but if you had to pick one other player in college -- and not another Aggie -- to take a shot with the game on the line, who would it be?
AL:Kevin Durant, from Texas. He stays cool in tight situations and has proven himself on numerous occasions, like that Oklahoma State triple-OT game, and he played well here [in College Station] against us. He knows how to handle himself and can perform under pressure.
LW: Last one. Of all the big shots you've hit as an Aggie, which one is your personal favorite?
AL: It's still the one against Texas [a game-winning three-pointer on March 2, 2006]. It was on our home floor, and our backs were against the wall because we were trying to get into the NCAA tournament [they did as a 12 seed]. The fans were so excited that they rushed the floor. They still call it The Shot at A&M, and they made posters of it that they gave out this year.
LW: I'm assuming you have one of those.
AL: I've got one, but I signed it and took it to get framed, and am waiting for it to be finished. For now I'm just going to leave it in Dallas until I get my own house [he's a projected first-round NBA Draft pick in June]. Then it'll go in my game room.
Wow. This thing actually worked. If you're late to the party, on Monday I debuted a "Durant Prediction Formula" (and reader contest) that predicted the Texas superfrosh would score 28 points against Texas A&M. Which is exactly what he did.
So the winner of the reader contest is either no one ... or Mike R. from Cypress, Texas, who said 28 points without realizing it was also my pick. Should we still give Mike a prize? Or maybe just some of Todd Bozeman's discarded ham sandwiches?
Freshman forward Kevin Durant is averaging 33.1 points in Big 12 play for Texas.
The Kevin Durant Show, which has produced at least 30 points in six of eight Big 12 games, rolls into College Station tonight for a tasty duel. The nation's best individual offensive player will square off against Texas A&M's top-five defense -- which is sure to give Lil' Kev the most physical challenge he'll face in the Big 12. (Kansas' defense is statistically more efficient than A&M's, but we can't really call the Jayhawks superior to the Aggies at this point.)
Late Saturday night after winning in Lawrence, A&M's Mr. Clutch, Acie Law, was already talking about his team's next test. "You've got Mr. Superstar, Mr. Do-It-All Kevin Durant coming in," Law said. "I really enjoy watching him play, to tell you the truth."
No doubt the Aggies will also enjoy harassing Durant into what they hope will be his lowest point total of the Big 12 season. The current low is 26 against Nebraska on Jan. 24. While it's still unclear which A&M player -- either Dominique Kirk, Antanas "A.K." Kavaliauskas, or Marlon Pompey -- will guard Durant, there is a good chance he won't break 30. And I think there's a good chance Texas won't win, either ... but Vegas has already established that.
I did a far-too-elaborate analysis today to attempt to predict how Durant would fare against A&M. First I took his point totals in Big 12 play and, thanks to the possession data on midmajority.com, came up with a "DPPTP" (or, Durant Points Per Texas Possession) score for each game. The DPPTP score was then divided by the opponent's overall defensive efficiency (or Defensive Points Per Possession, from kenpom.com), to get a final "DRatio" (Durant Ratio) that factored in his efficiency versus the relative strengths of the defenses he's faced.
By plugging the average DRatio for the eight Big 12 games (.499) into a formula with Texas A&M's defensive efficiency (.827) and the projected number of possessions for a Texas-Texas A&M game (67.0), Durant's projected point total for Monday night is 27.7. I'll round it up to 28, and make it my official pick.
Readers: To what point total will the Aggies hold "Mr. Superstar, Mr. Do-It-All Kevin Durant"? Leave your picks (as well as your NAMES) in the comments before tip-off. There will be a prize for the winner, and additional nods to anyone who can come up with a more absurd Durant-prediction formula than mine.