After an impressive seven-game winning streak, The Texas A&M Aggies may have found their kryptonite.
Though it has come in many forms throughout the season — it’s most recent was the reigning college basketball player of the year: Kentucky big-man Oscar Tshiebwe. in their last game the Aggies put up a fight against the Wildcats — who now sit in the top five of the SEC standings — but could not close the deal in the second half, ultimately leading to their nine-point loss.
In that game, Aggie coach Buzz Williams accounted for Tshiebwe’s expected offensive performance, successfully holding the SEC’s best shooter to just seven points. His impact on the glass, however, was not accounted for.
By the end of regulation, Tshiebwe managed to grab 17 rebounds — more than half of the entire Aggie roster, which Williams gave credit for.
“[Tshiebwe is] so dominant at the rim,” Williams said. “His offensive rebound percentage is 20.4 percent — there are teams in our league that don’t have that.”
“Obviously, we were struggling to figure out a way to stop him before the ball was shot,” he added. “But if you look at a lot of his baskets … a high percentage of [them come] off someone else’s misses.”
Offensive rebounds are another form of Aggie kryptonite.
On the season, Texas A&M is shooting 45.2 percent from the floor. Though it ranks fourth in the SEC, missing more than half of the shots it takes means that more than half of the time, a rebounding opportunity is available — and the Aggies sit in the bottom half of the conference in that regard.
Players like Tshiebwe have not been shy to take advantage of that fact, utilizing their physicality and height under the basket to generate offense.
“As best you can, you try to [prepare] for it,” Williams said. “We can’t mimic the physicality that [Tshiebwe] plays with [or] the stress that it causes on both ends … he’s the reigning National Player of the Year … and it’s hard to practice against that unless he’s on your team.”
Though Texas A&M came out with a win against Florida in the two teams’ second outing, it was anything but pretty. The Gators’ big man Colin Castleton had his way against the Aggies, recording a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds.
In response, the Aggie defense stepped up — holding Florida to its lowest point total of the season en route to a two-point victory.
“The thing that hurts us [against Florida] what that they beat us on the glass,” Williams said. “They’re really hard to score against … [and] they had 17 offensive rebounds, but to hold them [down low] was really good.”
Another key for the Aggies was outscoring the Gators in the paint, which has proven to be key for when the rebounding game does not go their way. That was the case again for Kentucky, only in that game, 16 second-chance points off of rebounds kept it out of reach for Texas A&M.
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“We’ve done a good job through the first five games in our offensive rebound percentage,” Williams said. “[Against Kentucky] was our lowest … we were really bad in those categories today, [but] I thought our guys played incredibly hard. At least it stayed in the range where we had a chance.”
With an upcoming matchup against the no. 15 ranked Auburn Tigers Wednesday, the Aggies will hit the road, looking for another conference win.
Luckily for them, Auburn’s leading scorer is not a big man — that would be 6-10 forward Johni Broome. But not so lucky for the Aggies, he is second in scoring, and the team as a whole is top-5 in the SEC for rebounding.
The game against the Tigers will be another opportunity for the Aggies to face off against a big-time big man, who has seemingly had their number thus far.
“They put pressure on the rim on both sides of the ball,” Williams said. “They play very aggressive, very fast and … [Broome] is arguably one of the better transfers from mid-major to high-major. He’s been very impactful right away.”
So, with conference seeding and NCAA tournament implications on the line, the Aggies will also look to their maroon anti-kryptonite suit: more points in the paint and more offensive rebounds, which will not only play a huge factor in their matchup against the Tigers but for the rest of the season.
And Buzz Williams has confidence in his team to do just that.
“I think our guys are comfortable with the ball at the rim,” Williams said. “In this league, you can’t finish the same way every time because of the length and athleticism [of the players] forces you to shoot and make different shots, but… how we play offensively, we need a high percentage of rim shots… we’ve just got to figure out how to keep [opponents] away from the rim.”
You can follow Matt Guzman on Twitter @mattgzman
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