The Texas A&M Aggies will face the Florida State Seminoles in an NCAA Tournament Southwest Region first round contest Friday afternoon at the United Center in Chicago. The 24-8 Aggies lost to Lone Star state rivals Texas 70-58 in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament. The Seminoles, who are 2-3 in their last five games, were dispatched by Virginia Tech in quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
Texas A&M will be making its fifth consecutive appearance in the tournament, and third straight trip during Coach Mark Turgeon’s tenure. Florida State will be making its third straight appearance in the tournament. There is a difference between the two teams, however. The Seminoles have been one-and-done the last two tournaments while the Aggies haven’t been one-and-done since the 1987 Big Dance. This will be the first time the Aggies have faced a first round opponent from outside the state of Utah since the 2007 tournament when they Pennsylvania.
The Aggies will rely on defense to extend their streak of first round victories. Texas A&M allows only 60.7 points per game, which ranks 20th nationally. The Aggies also hold opponents to 41.2 percent shooting from the field; a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that Texas A&M doesn’t have a single player averaging so much as one blocked shot per game.
If the defense fails, coach Turgeon can count on 6-7 sophomore forward Khris Middleton and senior guard B.J. Holmes for offense. Middleton leads the Aggies with 14.2 points per game on 44.9 percent shooting while Holmes is the team’s best three-point shooter, making 49-of-116 shots from long distance on the season. The Aggies really aren’t a high-scoring team, averaging 68.9 points per game, which dropped to 64.8 points per game in the crucible that is Big 12 play.
Florida State also hangs its collective hat on the defensive end of the court. Junior forward Bernard James blocked 2.3 shots per game to anchor a Seminoles defense that led the ACC and ranked eighth nationally with 5.7 blocked blocked shots per game. Guards Derwin Kitchen, Deividas Dulkys, and forward Chris Singleton each average more than one steal per game, sparking a disruptive defense that averages 8.8 steals per game; a full two steals greater than the national average of 6.5.
Coach Leonard Hamilton’s team tends not to evoke memories of Loyola Marymount or US International University when on offense, but Singleton is an effective scorer, averaging a team-high 13.8 points per game. However only two Florida State players, James and Kerwin, shoot better than 50% from the field. The Seminoles score 69.3 points per game on effort and determination rather pure shooting or scoring.
This is a clash between teams with similar styles. It would be somewhat surprising to see the Aggies streak of reaching the second end in a game like this. However, that’s why it’s called March Madness.