LSU-Texas A&M Preview
While talent-rich LSU is at last showing signs of living up to all its preseason hype, Texas A&M's under-the-radar program is finally starting to get the nation's attention.
Ranked in the top 10 for the first time in eight years, the No. 10 Aggies aim to extend their eight-game winning streak and maintain sole possession of first place in the SEC in Tuesday night's showdown with the resurgent Tigers.
Texas A&M (15-2) has backed up a strong non-conference showing highlighted by victories over Texas, Gonzaga and Baylor by winning its first five SEC games, its best start in league play since going 7-0 in the Southwest Conference in 1993-94. The Aggies are riding their longest winning streak since a 13-game run in 2010-11 and entered the top 10 for the first time since January 2008 on Monday.
After winning their previous three by a combined eight points, the Aggies raised some eyebrows with Saturday's 79-45 rout of Georgia, the largest road victory over a conference opponent in program history.
LSU (11-6, 4-1) had been labeled an underachiever after splitting its first eight games of a season it began ranked 21st in the AP poll. Boosted by sharp-shooter Keith Hornsby's return from injury and Arizona transfer Craig Victor II becoming eligible, the Tigers have won seven of nine since to sit just off Texas A&M's lead in the conference.
The duo has brought two additional threats to an offense that leads the SEC in field goal percentage (47.5) and ranks second in scoring (82.8 points per game). Hornsby has averaged 14.2 points while making 42.2 percent of his 3-point attempts in 10 games and Victor 13.6 along with 7.1 rebounds over nine.
Victor amassed 16 points and 12 rebounds, the last resulting in a put-back with 4.5 seconds left that gave the Tigers a 76-74 win over Arkansas on Saturday. LSU overcame 5-of-13 shooting from Ben Simmons, though the heralded freshman grabbed 18 rebounds.
“I didn't think we hit on all cylinders, didn't think we played our best, but we were able to get a victory against a very tough opponent,” coach Johnny Jones said. “When that happens that's a great sign of a team growing to be able to win.”
The Tigers now hope their improvements show up on the road, where they're 1-3 and lost to mid-major Charleston in November.
Texas A&M has outscored opponents by an average of 21.9 points in going 10-0 at home and has averaged 85.2 points at Reed Arena. The Aggies return from holding Georgia to 28.3 percent shooting in yielding their lowest scoring total of the season.
“Defensively we couldn't play any better,” coach Billy Kennedy said. “I thought we took away and executed the scouting report as well as we could defensively and when you're making shots, it refuels your defense. We played about as well as we have played all season.”
The Aggies will be challenged to stop Simmons, averaging 21.8 points and 12.8 rebounds in SEC play, but can counter LSU's strong offense with its senior trio of Jalen Jones, Danuel House and Alex Caruso.
Jones is averaging 21.7 points over his last three and Caruso is 11 of 15 on 3-pointers in the Aggies' five league games. House totaled 38 points as Texas A&M swept last year's season series with LSU, scoring 20 in a 68-62 home win on Feb. 17.
The schools have split six meetings since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012-13, with the Tigers losing the last two at Reed Arena.