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What to Know: No. 1 Tennessee at Texas A&M

(Photo via Vernon Bryant/Dallas Morning News)

No. 1 Tennessee stays on the road and will play their third road contest in four games as the top-ranked team in college basketball when they play on Saturday.

The Vols (19-1, 7-0 SEC) take on Texas A&M (8-11, 1-6 SEC) on Saturday night in College Station. The game will mark the fourth contest Tennessee has played as the No. 1 team this season, and three of those four games have been on the road. Tennessee escaped Nashville with an overtime victory against Vanderbilt in their first game as the top-ranked program in college basketball, and they defeated South Carolina by 22 points in Columbia earlier this week.

Texas A&M is in the basement of the conference this season, and they had to replace a lot of talent off last year’s team that made it to the Sweet Sixteen. So far, they’ve won only one SEC game — a comeback 81-80 victory over Alabama on the road. Otherwise, the Aggies have been beaten by an average of just over 13 points in their six conference losses.

The Aggies have played four ranked teams this season, and they’ve lost all four contests by an average of 17 points.

Tennessee has won two-straight games against the Aggies, and they’re 2-2 all-time in College Station. The Vols won their last game on the road against Texas A&M, prevailing 73-63 on December 29th, 2016.

This year marks the eighth season Billy Kennedy has been the head coach at Texas A&M, and he’s facing one of his biggest challenges of his tenure in College Station. Kennedy has had only two losing seasons with Texas A&M in his previous seven seasons, but this year is shaping up to be his third in eight years.

Here are the biggest things you need to know when the Vols and Aggies face off on Saturday night.

Some Offensive Offense

Texas A&M has been bad on offense this season. Like, really bad.

In conference play, the Aggies rank dead last in three-point shooting percentage (26.2 percent) and total assists (66), and they’re in the bottom four of the SEC in total field goal percentage (12th), offensive rebounds (11th), and points per game (11th).

For a Tennessee defense that ranks first in conference play in defensive rebounds, second in field goal percentage defense, and third in points per game allowed, Texas A&M’s offense has to leave them licking their chops.

The Aggies rank 340th out of 353 Division I teams in college basketball in three-point shooting percentage, making just 28.5 percent of their threes in 19 games this season. The only two players on Texas A&M’s roster that shoot over 30 percent from distance are sophomore guard Brandon Mahan (34.2 percent) and junior guard Wendell Mitchell (39.2 percent). TJ Starks leads the team in three-pointers attempted with 105, but he’s only made 21.9 percent of his attempts from deep.

A Young Duo

With the departure of many leaders off last year’s team and the medical issues that sidelined senior guard Admon Gilder for the season, the Aggies have had to depend on a couple of younger players to be their main contributors this year.

Sophomores TJ Starks and Savion Flagg are the No. 1 and No. 2 scoring options for Texas A&M this season, and the two have been an effective duo. Starks averages 13.3 points per game and leads the team with an average of 3.6 assists per contest. Flagg averages 12.3 points a game and leads the team with eight rebounds per game.

The 6-foot-7 Flagg has pulled down nine or more rebounds in seven games this season, including a 20 point, 15 rebound performance against Arkansas earlier this season. He has three double-doubles on the season.

In SEC play, Starks is leading the team in scoring, averaging 13.1 points per game. But he’s only shooting 31.1 percent from the field, so he’s jacking up a lot of shots to get his points. Flagg averages the second-most points per game in conference play for the Aggies, putting in 12.9 points a contest.

Even Up the Series

If Tennessee defeats Texas A&M on Saturday, it would even up the series since the Aggies joined the SEC.

Texas A&M holds a 4-3 edge against the Vols since they joined the SEC prior to the 2012-13 season. Tennessee won the first contest between the two teams in a four-overtime thriller, downing the Aggies 93-85 in College Station in 2013.

After that win, however, the Aggies went on a run.

The Vols would go on to lose four-straight games to Texas A&M after that four-overtime victory, including a 68-65 overtime loss in College Station in 2014. Texas A&M never defeated Tennessee by more than six points in their four-straight wins from 2014 through 2016.

Tennessee finally ended their skid against Texas A&M with a 73-63 win in College Station in late December of 2016. The Vols won last year’s contest between the two teams, handing Texas A&M a 75-62 loss in Knoxville.

Barnes Knows Texas A&M

Before coming to Tennessee, Rick Barnes battled Texas A&M on a yearly basis as head coach of Texas. And he had a lot of success against the Aggies.

At Texas, Barnes compiled a 25-7 record against Texas A&M, and he was 2-0 against Billy Kennedy while the Aggies were still in the Big 12. While at Tennessee, Barnes is 2-1 against the Aggies.

What a Win Would Do

A win on Saturday would set a program record for Tennessee.

Right now, the Vols are riding a 15-game winning streak, which is tied for the longest winning streak in school history. Tennessee last won 15 consecutive games dating back to 1915 through 1917.

Defeating the Aggies would mark UT’s 16th-straight win, the most victories the Vols have ever strung together since they started playing basketball in 1908.

A victory would also give the Vols their eighth-straight win in a true road game, which would be the second-longest road winning streak in school history. It would also give Tennessee their best start in conference play since the 1981-82 season when that team also started off 8-0 in SEC play.



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