Preview: Iowa State @ Texas A&M

Chris Williams

Publisher

By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com PublisherFollow Chris on Twitter @ChrisMWilliams

What: Iowa State (11-3, 1-0) @ Texas A&M (9-4, 0-1) When: Saturday, Jan. 7 at 3 p.m. Where: Reed Arena in College Station, Texas TV: WOI (Ames, Des Moines), KFXA (Cedar Rapids/Waterloo), KPTH-DT2 (Sioux City)

Opportunity is knocking.

With a win at Texas A&M (9-4, 0-1) on Saturday afternoon, the Iowa State (11-3, 1-0) men's basketball team can start a Big 12 season 2-0 for the first time since 2006-07. Problem is, the Aggies have gone 19-5 at home over the last three seasons.

The Cyclones are coming off of their sixth-straight win of the year on Wednesday night, a 77-71 home triumph over Texas. Before Thursday's practice, the Cyclones appeared to be a confident bunch.

“We expect to win," said Iowa State sophomore Royce White. "We expect that if we play well and we do the things that we can do and we should do as a team, we will win. We expect that.”

Meanwhile, it's been a frustrating start to the season for first-year Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy. The Aggies, who were picked to tie for first in the Big 12 according to the league's coaches, lost to Baylor on Monday by a 61-52 final. The Aggies have lost three out of their last four games (the others to Florida and Rice) and team morale just might be an issue when Saturday's tip rolls around.

Iowa State's probable starters:

G: Chris Allen, 6-3 Sr. - 12.6 PPG, 2.9 APG G: Chris Babb, 6-5 Jr. - 10.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG G: Scott Christopherson, 6-3 Sr. - 10.4 PPG, 2.8 RPG F: Royce White, 6-8 So. - 13.1 PPG, 8.7 RPG C: Percy Gibson, 6-9 Fr. - 4.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG

Texas A&M's probable starters:

G: Dash Harris, 6-1 Sr. - 5.0 PPG, 4.4 APG G: Elston Turner, 6-5 Jr. - 13.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG F: Khris Middleton, 6-7 Jr. - 13.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG F: David Loubeau, 6-8 Sr. - 11.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG F: Ray Turner, 6-9 Jr. - 11.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG

BREAKING DOWN THE AGGIES

Defense. It's what Texas A&M does well. Very well. Texas A&M currently leads the Big 12 in five separate defensive categories (scoring defense, field goal percentage defense, 3-point field goal percentage defense, defensive rebounding and defensive rebounding percentage).

“They pressure you. They are such a sound defensive team," said Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg. "They really get up into you and make it difficult to get into your offensive set."

Texas A&M has played nine games at Reed Arena so far this season. During those games, A&M's opponents have shot 33.9 percent from the floor and 23.8 percent from 3-point range.

"They force you to play a different way," said Hoiberg. "We’ll try to play in different ways and throw some different things at them but they are going to do what they do. They guard the dribble very well. They are physical down low. They make it tough to get it into the post.”

Aggie to watch: Preseason All-Big 12 pick Khris Middleton is the obvious choice, but I'll be keeping an very close eye on junior guard Elston Turner come Saturday afternoon. Turner scored his career-high 21 points at Baylor earlier this week and is averaging 16.5 points per game over A&M's last four game. The other side to that is that A&M has lost three of those four.

Middleton missed seven games earlier in the season due to a torn meniscus. He's averaged 15.2 points per game since coming back from the injury give games ago.

I like A&M's point guard, senior Dash Harris. Harris is one of eight players in Texas A&M history to record 300 or more assists and over 100 steals.

Texas A&M's best win: A 58-57 win over St. John's on Nov. 18 gets the nod here, but even that wasn't very impressive when you consider that the Red Storm are currently 7-7. Texas A&M's other eight wins came over Liberty, Southern, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Alcorn State, Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston State, Louisiana-Monroe and Arkansas Tech. Not exactly the Duke's and North Carolina's of the world.

When you consider that Billy Kennedy is a new coach and that Texas A&M has fought injuries all season long, the Aggies still have a lot to prove before they are a lock to make the NCAA Tournament.

Texas A&M's worst loss: Despite what numbers from recent years might lead you to believe, the Aggies are very beatable at home. We know this because Texas A&M lost to Rice, (yes the same Rice team that Iowa State defeated by 27) by a 65-58 final on Dec. 22. The Owls are currently sitting at 9-6 on the season.

NOTEBOOK

--- Iowa State senior Chris Allen needs seven points to reach 1,000 for his career.

--- Iowa State has only started Big 12 play 2-0 four times (1996-97, 1999-00, 2003-04 and 2006-07) in school history.

--- It's been an up and down series between Iowa State and Texas A&M over the years. The Cyclones jumped out to a 7-2 lead in the series, but A&M has rattled off eight in a row over Iowa State and now leads 10-7. The last time Iowa State won a game in College Station was on Jan. 28, 2001.

--- Texas A&M has won five Big 12 home openers in a row.

PREDICTION

It's hard to win on the road in this league. A physical, defensive-oriented basketball team like Texas A&M will make life difficult for Iowa State and scoring consistently concerns me from a Cyclone standpoint.

The good news? Iowa State won't have to drop 80 to beat this group of Aggies.

The bad? The Cyclones have converted on 10 or more 3-pointers seven times so far this season (that's not the bad - keep reading). It's hard to imagine a scenario in which that trend will continue on Saturday in College Station.

If the shots go cold, how will the Cyclones respond?

I fully believe that Iowa State will show up ready to play, but so will A&M in its Big 12 home opener. I like the Aggies in a close, low-scoring bout.

THE PICK

Texas A&M 66, Iowa State 61

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