NCAA hoops: A&M may be hitting its stride; UT struggles

Billy Kennedy and the Aggies are heating up. Getty Images


Last week (0-2): L-Kansas State 67-64, L-@ TCU 87-71

This week: Monday vs. Baylor, Saturday @ Oklahoma

Things couldn’t have gone much worse for Texas than they did last week. First, they lost a tight game at home to Kansas State, 67-64. Kansas State shot 54% from the field, and pulled out the win despite the Horns having a +10 rebounding edge. Texas struggled from distance, shooting 8 of 29 from 3-point range. Mohamed Bamba led Texas with 18 points and 12 rebounds in the loss, but struggled to get anything in the second half. There was no tight game on Saturday, as TCU crushed the Longhorns 87-71 in a game that never even felt close. This time the Horns allowed TCU to go 55% from the field. Texas lost the rebounding battle (-11) and the turnover battle (-5) in the loss. Bamba again shined on offense, adding 23 points, but five rebounds from their big man was disappointing. Dylan Osetkowski and Kerwin Roach, who were key performers earlier in the season, combined to go 3-13 from the field after both had shaky performances in the Kansas State game. Texas is now in a position where they desperately need to pick up wins this week, as they host Baylor on Monday and travel to Oklahoma on Saturday. 

TEXAS A&M AGGIES (17-8, 6-6 SEC)

Last week (2-0): W-@ Auburn 81-80, W- Kentucky 85-74

This week: Tuesday @ Missouri, Saturday @ Arkansas

Don’t look now, but Texas A&M is starting to live up to its potential. The Aggies had a phenomenal week, starting with an 81-80 win at No. 8 ranked Auburn. Freshman TJ Starks, now solidified as a starter, put up 23 points on 8-12 shooting, including 4-5 from 3-point range. Senior Duane Wilson sealed the game making 1 of his 2 free throws with just over three seconds left in the game. The Aggies used their size advantage nicely, outrebounding the Tigers 33-22. The Aggies returned home on Saturday, and a strong second half got them an 85-74 win over Kentucky. Starks led the team again with 17, but all five starters were in double digits. The Aggies, who started conference play 0-5, have worked their way back to 6-6 and have a favorable schedule the rest of the way. This week they will be on the road, first at Missouri on Tuesday and then Arkansas on Saturday. 


Last week (2-0): W-SMU 67-58, W-Tulane 73-42

This week: Thursday vs. Cincinnati, Sunday @ Temple

Houston may have sealed a tournament bid with two strong showings last week. First, they took out SMU 67-58, fueled by a 17-1 run to finish the game. Armoni Brooks led the way for the Cougars, scoring 23 points and collecting 10 rebounds. All of his shots came from beyond the arc. The Coogs also out-rebounded the Mustangs 36-26 in the win. They finished the week with a 73-42 drubbing of Tulane, avenging a head-scratching loss from January. Houston held the Green Wave to 29% shooting from the field, and forced 16 turnovers while only giving away 8. Senior Devin Davis led the Cougars with 16 points, and Brooks added a double-double with 11 points and 11 boards. Houston starts the week with Cincinnati, who is 12-0 in conference play and hasn’t lost since early December. On Sunday the Coogs travel to Temple. 

RICE OWLS (5-20,  2-10 CUSA)

Last week (0-2): L-@ Middle Tennessee 94-75, L-@ UAB 61-56

This week: Thursday @ Middle Tennessee, Saturday vs. UAB

It was another rough week for the Owls, and at this point they probably can’t wait for the season to end. They started the week on the business end of a 94-75 drubbing by conference-leading Middle Tennessee. Offense wasn’t the problem for the Owls, as Connor Cashaw led a group of four double-digit scorers with his 18. Middle Tennessee had their way on the other end, shooting 15-32 from 3, and 52% from the field overall. Rice showed a little more fight in their weekend matchup against UAB, and in fact had a 2nd half lead before falling 61-56. Bishop Mency and Ako Adams both had 15 points in the loss. The Owls struggled from the field against UAB, shooting under 35%. Things may not get any better in the week to come, with home games against Marshall and Western Kentucky, who currently sit at 4th place and 2nd place in the conference. 


Last week (2-0): W-@ Oklahoma State 67-56, W-Kansas 80-64

This week: Monday @ Texas, Saturday vs. Texas Tech

Baylor had a massive week. They worked their way out of the Big XII basement, and finally got their first road win of the season, a 67-56 win over Oklahoma State. Manu Lecomte led the Bears with 18 points. Baylor shot 54% from the field and hit all nine of their free throw attempts. They held the Cowboys to 37% shooting for the game. The Bears followed that up with their best win of the season, an 80-64 thrashing of 10th ranked Kansas. The Bears held the Jayhawks to 20 points in the first half, and never looked back. Jo Lual-Acuil led the Bears with 19 points in the win. Lecomte added 18 and 6 assists. The Bears shot 53% from 3-point range in the win. Baylor will look to stay hot with a short road-trip to Texas on Monday and a Saturday matchup with the conference-leading Texas Tech Red Raiders.


Last week (1-1): L-@ Kansas 71-64, W-Texas 87-71

This week: Monday @ West Virginia, Saturday vs. Oklahoma State

The Horned Frogs came oh-so close to picking up a massive road win against Kansas, but eventually fell 71-64. It was a 2-point game with 4 minutes left to play, when TCU went on a 3 minute scoring drought. Freshman Kouat Noi led the Frogs with 17 points in the loss. TCU could have used a better showing from the free throw line, as they made only 8 of their 15 attempts. The Frogs righted the ship back at home against a Texas team that looked lazy and slow, taking an 87-71 win over the Longhorns. Vladimir Broadzianksy led the effort with 25 points for the Frogs. Noi added 18 to the cause. TCU shot 55% from the field and 50% from 3 in the victory. This will be a key week for TCU’s tournament hopes, as they travel to West Virginia in pursuit of their first road win over a ranked opponent in nearly 20 years. They close out the week with a home game against Oklahoma State.


Last week (2-0): W-Iowa State 76-58, W-@ Kansas State 66-47

This week: Tuesday vs. Oklahoma, Saturday @ Baylor

While the rest of the Big XII’s top teams struggled with opponents they should have beat, the Red Raiders took care of business this week. They started with a 76-58 drubbing of Iowa State. Tech, which has struggled to find offense from players outside of Keenan Evans, got plenty out freshmen Zhaire Smith (21 points) and Jarrett Culver (16 points) in the win. The victory ensured that Chris Beard’s squad would be the first team in conference to hit the 20-win mark. They kept the momentum going on the road, taking a 66-47 win over Kansas State, and locking up sole possession of 1st place in the conference. The game was tied at half, but Tech turned up the defense in the 2nd half to pull away. The Red Raiders forced 18 turnovers and held the Wildcats to 29% shooting on the night. They will look to extend their 6-game winning streak against Oklahoma on Tuesday, before a weekend road trip to Baylor. 

SMU MUSTANGS (15-10, 5-7 AAC)

Last week (0-2): L-@ Houston 67-58, L-Cincinnati 76-51

This week: Wednesday vs. Memphis, Sunday @ UCF

What once looked like a promising season for SMU has turned ugly recently as the Mustangs have played without their two leading scorers. They dropped both games this week, starting with a 67-58 loss at Houston. The Ponies were dominated on the glass (-10) and went scoreless in the last 2:41 of the game as they let the Cougars come back and finish the game on a 13-1 run. Jahmal McMurray had 17 points to lead SMU in the loss. The Mustangs then got dominated at home against AAC-leading Cincinnati, 76-51, in their biggest blowout loss since joining the AAC 5 years ago. The Bearcats didn’t need a late run to get a comeback win, as they dominated from tip to buzzer. McMurray and Jimmy Whitt put up 19 points a piece, but the other 5 Mustangs that logged minutes combined for only 13 in the loss. With the key injuries stacking up and still on a scholarship restriction, the Mustangs chances at a 2nd straight NCAA berth are looking pretty grim right now. 

LSU TIGERS (14-10, 5-7 SEC)

Last week (1-1): L-@ Florida 73-64, W-Ole Miss 82-66

This week: Tuesday @ Alabama, Saturday vs. Missouri

LSU continued their road struggles, falling 73-64 to Florida last week for their fourth straight loss away from home. The Tigers actually had a halftime lead, but Florida responded with a strong 2nd half, finishing the game with 12-3 run. Brandon Sampson led LSU with 17 points. Tremont Waters struggled mightily, going 3 of 15 from the field and 1 of 9 from 3-point distance. He also turned the ball over 7 times in the loss. The Tigers responded nicely against Ole Miss, dominating the Rebels 82-66. The game was tied at half, but Duop Reath was an unstoppable force for the Tigers. Reath scored 26 points on 10-12 shooting. Skylar Mays added 17 in the win. The Tigers will look to stop their road woes on Tuesday in Alabama before returning home on Saturday for a matchup with Missouri. 

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Rockets get another much-needed win. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets went on a redemption tour by beating the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks. But the most pivotal win was against the Mavericks as the Rockets finally showed their true potential. John Wall finally made his return from his injury hiatus and played with a lot of energy. DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Gordon combined for 61 points. It was great to see Stephan Silas crack a smile as he was able to beat his former team.

The Rockets clearly missed Wall during his eight-game absense. This season, the Rockets are a .500 team with Wall on the court. Wall is the Rockets' floor general that leads, constructs, and also pushes his teammates to become better.

Wall only played 21 minutes in the 133-108 win over the Mavericks but still had eight assists. Even though Wall only had 7 points, his presence was still felt by finding his teammates for open looks beyond the perimeter. Wall made sure Cousins and Gordon got a plethora of touches. He called multiple actions, so they got open looks from three, which was mainly Gordon. Gordon and Cousins' struggles have been similar but with Wall on the court, they were successful against the Mavericks. According to NBA Stats, Wall posted a 111 offensive rating with the starters versus the Mavericks, which included Gordon and Cousins.

"He's the engine to this team. He gets everybody going. He makes the game easy," Cousins told a reporter after the game. "The pressure that he constantly puts on the defense is a tough thing to deal with."

Gordon has struggled all season long with three-point shooting and relied on his slashing abilities. Saturday night, Gordon made six three pointers against the Mavericks, which was 66 percent from beyond the perimeter. Gordon increased his three-point percentage from 31 percent to 34.5 percent after Saturday night's game. Gordon's 33 points came from being able to attack the entire Mavericks' defense. Willy Cauley-Stein didn't stand a chance against Gordon as he was burned multiple times. Gordon's been a lifesaver for the Rockets in the last two games, and hopefully he maintains his play.

Cousins played fantastic against the Mavericks scoring 28 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. This is Cousins' first double-double with the Rockets this season. Cousins became the vintage player from the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. It was extremely fun watching Cousins push the ball up the court and aggressively snatch rebounds. Boogie shot 50 percent from behind the arc by making four three-pointers. He was dominant inside the paint as Cousins went 7/8 from the restricted area versus the Mavericks. This was the game Cousins needed after having a poor performance against the Pistons Friday night.

"It was really, really good. He did it all. He's a physical presence on both ends of the floor," as Silas said on Cousins' performance.

David Nwaba and Mason Jones were big factors off the Rockets' bench by having a combined total of 34 points together. Nwaba has been great in transition for the Rockets the entire season. Keep in mind that Nwaba is returning from an Achilles injury he suffered with his former team, the Brooklyn Nets. Nwaba has became a great defender, slasher, and is averaging a career-high nine points per game with the Rockets. He finished with 18 points on Saturday night versus the Mavericks.

Mason Jones has become a fan favorite of the Rockets because of his confidence. Silas is loving the usage of Jones off the bench but wants to find more minutes for him. Jones had a breakout performance versus the San Antonio Spurs with 24 points off 66 percent shooting from the field. He continues to get better with his reads from the point guard position. Jones' knowledge of running the offense has helped his efficiency on the court. He is never afraid to take clutch shots in pivotal moments of the game.

"To have a young kid who can come in and not be afraid of the moment, that's big. That's a tough position to be in as an undrafted rookie. I trust him. It's a good problem to have," Silas mentioned after the game. "He's showing me he's ready. He's a confident kid, and he should be. That's why he's good. He's not afraid of the moment, at all. He can get us organized, run plays, and score the basketball."

Hopefully, the Rockets can sustain their level of play when Victor Oladipo returns against the Washington Wizards, Tuesday. It will be interesting to watch Oladipo and Wall play in the same backcourt.

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