While it is generally accepted, at least for now, that Kansas is the clear number one team in the Big 12, number two is up for grabs. The past few days have served as a temporary weeding out process for that label, with the conclusion coming tonight. Texas and Texas A&M are ranked right next to each other in the polls, both are unbeaten in conference so far, and both have strong teams capable of making long NCAA tourney runs.
The winner of tonight’s game gets the temporary title as the second best team in the Big 12, and also gets the chance to own the tie breaker, which could end up meaning a lot in March. So it’s time to get out our measuring sticks and get ready to have some fun.
This one is easy. Jordan Hamilton is one of the few players considered in the running for conference player of the year. He’s a scoring and rebounding force that can play both inside and outside. Khris Middleton is an up and coming guard coming off his best game of the season. Both players lead their respective teams in scoring, and the way they play each other tonight will probably go a long way in determining the outcome. If one of these guys can clearly outplay the other, then it shouldn’t be too hard to pick the winner of the game.
While there are sometimes major contrasts in style (think Missouri vs. Nebraska), this game is between two very similar teams. Both teams are among the elite rebounding squads in the country. Both have very good offenses, do a good job of sharing the ball, and shoot the ball with eerily similar effectiveness. Both of these coaches pride themselves on good team defense, and rankings support the fact that these teams are almost equal in defensive effectiveness.
I would expect that Texas will pound the ball inside the freshman Tristan Thompson. He’s the teams’ second leading scorer, and has some of the best post moves in the conference. Missouri’s Ricardo Ratliffe was able to dominate on offense against TAM on Saturday, and I would argue that Thompson is a more capable inside scorer. Rick Barnes should run his offense through Thompson, and encourage Jordan Hamilton to take the ball inside as well.
For Texas A&M, they need to try to get the Texas big men in foul trouble. They were able to do that against Missouri, which got them to the foul line quite a bit, and also helped open the paint. While Ratliffe abused them in the post Saturday, he also was fouled out before overtime began, which was probably the big difference at the end. If Texas tries to go pound inside with Thompson, TAM needs to attack him on offense, and try to keep him on the bench as much as possible.
Finally, what a fantastically planned point guard match-up tonight. Dougus Balbay and Dash Harris might be the two worst shooters in the conference, but both are solid leaders who do a great job of running their teams’ offense. Both are great defensive players as well, though they won’t need to play much defense on each other tonight.
Since Texas is at home, and almost everything else seems about equal, I give them a slight edge tonight. Expect a big game from Thompson, and a lot of fun, physical basketball tonight.
Texas 79 Texas A&M 74