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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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A&M prepares for Old Spice Classic

While families sit ‘round Thanksgiving Day tables and the A&M football team faces that school in Austin, the men’s basketball team treks east to further thrust its name into national awareness.
Among Head Coach Mark Turgeon’s priorities upon arriving at A&M was upgrading A&M’s out-of-conference scheduling; he expressed a specific desire to play in the prestigious mid-season tournaments which established programs enter to pit themselves against quality opponents and sharpen up for the conference season.
His strategy has paid dividends. In 2007-2008, A&M won the NIT Season Tip-Off in Madison Square Garden in New York City, beating national programs Washington and Ohio State in its final two games and jump-starting a run to a third straight NCAA tournament. The Aggies, then 3-0, spent the 2009-2010 Thanksgiving Break in Anaheim, Calif. for the 76 Classic tournament. Despite entering with little national fare, the team proved itself against three ranked opponents, defeating No. 16 Minnesota, No. 19 Clemson and playing Final Four-bound West Virginia close for all 40 minutes. At week’s end, after three national television appearances, the Aggies entered the national rankings for the first time.
“We’ve always tried to schedule tough,” Turgeon said. “I think this year, we’ve put together a pretty good schedule. We want to have momentum and we also want to prepare ourselves for [conference play].”
The 2010 Old Spice Classic opens with one team currently ranked in the national top 25 and four that received votes in the poll. A&M, with only one vote in the USA Today/Coaches’ Poll, enters at 3-0, its previous game a dominant 77-46 win over Texas A&M-International. Fouls and sloppiness plagued the Aggies in their first two wins, but behind junior forward David Loubeau’s 18 points and 12 rebounds — the first time in his career he recorded double-digits in both totals — and three other Aggies who scored more than 10 points, the team appeared to have cleaned up against the visiting Dustdevils on Friday night. No Aggie fouled out and only two were charged with more than one personal foul.
Senior forward Nathan Walkup, Loubeau, freshman forward Kourtney Roberson and sophomores Khris Middleton and Naji Hibbert all average double figures in scoring for A&M. All eyes trained on Hibbert during the three-game opening run in which he put up point totals of 10, 12 and 12; his previous career-high was 11.
“Ninety percent of it is confidence with Naji,” Turgeon said. “He’s been much more aggressive in practice for about three weeks and his aggression is finally carrying over to the court. He’s just so much more confident.
“Naji is a really skilled offensive player. He can really pass it, get in the paint and create plays for himself and others. I’m really on him about becoming a better defender, which he has to be for us to be where we want to be.”
Middleton has quietly been a portrait of consistency, scoring in double figures in all three games and going 22 of 22 on free throws, while Roberson has looked polished coming off the bench — the freshman is scoring 10 points and grabbing six rebounds per game in less than 17 minutes on average.
The tournament is designed in a 12-game format that allows all eight teams to play three games. The losers of the opening-day games go to the losers’ bracket, where they play to advance to the fifth-place game; those losers play the seventh-place game. The original four games’ winners advance to the semifinals — after which the semifinal losers play the third-place game — and the two winners from there to the championship final.
The Aggies’ first opponent will be Boston College on Thursday at 12 p.m. The 2-1 Eagles, who run a light trapping defense and a variation of the Princeton offense that involves heavy doses of backdoor cuts and three-point shooting, won their first game comfortably before suffering a surprising eight-point home loss to Yale. They rebounded on Monday night to dust away Holy Cross, winning by 15. Head Coach Steve Donahue leads BC in his first season after leaving Cornell, which he led to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen a year prior.
Potential opponents, should the Aggies advance, include previously ranked Wisconsin in the semifinals and No. 20 Temple in the championship game. Undefeateds Georgia, California and Notre Dame help round out the field with one-loss Manhattan.
A peppy Turgeon forecasted an exciting series of games for his team and said that A&M’s players would come prepared.
“[Sunday] was our best practice of the year,” he said. “And you can already see that our guys are amping up for this weekend.
“It seems like we always have to earn [respect], so we have a bit of a chip on our shoulder.”
The Old Spice Classic Field
First-round matchups:
Boston College vs. Texas A&M
Manhattan vs. Wisconsin
Georgia vs. Notre Dame
California vs. No. 20 Temple
No. 20 Temple | 2-0
29-6 [NCAA 5-seed]
Atlantic-10 [3]
The 2009-2010 Owls visited the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year after winning the A-10 Championship Tournament for the third consecutive time. Unranked in the preseason, the Owls tied for the regular-season title in the traditionally good basketball conference and finished ranked No. 12 in the final (pre-NCAA Tournament) AP poll but unranked in the last Coaches’ Poll after losing to Cornell in the first round. Temple shares a balanced load in which no player averages more than 13 points per game but five average more than eight. The team’s two wins are by six over Seton Hall and 33 over Toledo.
Wisconsin | 2-1
24-9 [NCAA 4-seed]
Big Ten [5]
The Badgers began the year at No. 25 and won easily over Prairie View A&M and North Dakota but lost a three-point game on the road to 3-0 UNLV. The previous year, Wisconsin finished fourth in a rugged Big Ten, advanced to the second round before being upset by Cornell and earned a No. 24 final ranking. Head Coach Bo Ryan, in his tenth year at UW, continues to field a team whose identity is founded on tough, blue-collar defense. Forwards Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor both average more than 16 points, 50% shooting and 86% free throw shooting per game.
Texas A&M | 3-0
24-10 [NCAA 5-seed]
Big 12 [7]
A&M tied for second in the 2009-2010 version of the Big 12 — the nation’s toughest conference as ranked by RPI — after being picked to finish sixth. Guard Donald Sloan averaged 18 points per game and garnered All-Conference honors, then graduated. Filling the hole he left is a spread-out scoring, rebounding and playmaking attack aided by the deepest bench in the team’s recent memory. The Aggies’ opening schedule featured easy wins at home against Alcorn State and A&M-International and a 21-point road victory against A&M-Corpus Christi.
California | 2-0
24-11 [NCAA 8-seed]
Pacific-10 [2]
Cal won the regular-season title in a down Pac-10 and lost to eventual national champion Duke in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Do-everything guard Jerome Randle, along with three other starters, is gone, but the Bears began the season with blowout wins over Cal State-Northridge and 2-1 New Mexico behind the leadership of juniors Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp. The Golden Bears shoot only 61% from the free throw line. Three players average at least three assists per game.
Georgia | 3-0
14-17
Southeastern [4]
A year removed from its miracle run to the SEC tournament championship, Georgia fell back to Earth, finishing last in the East division. None of the Bulldogs’ three wins have come by double digits — the team beat 0-3 Mississippi Valley State by two at home and Saint Louis by two on the road. Georgia’s issue has been depth — four of its starters average 30 or more minutes (out of 40) per game. The most-played bench reserve averages 16 minutes per game and only two others have at least twelve. Guards Travis Leslie and Gerald Robinson and forward Jeremy Price each average at least 16 points per game.
Manhattan | 2-1
11-20
Mid-Atlantic Athletic [1]
Only six players see consistent minutes for the Jaspsers, who are trying to replace departed all-conference guard Rico Pickett. Manhattan endured an up-and-down season in the MAAC in 2009-2010, sitting ahead of only 1-29 Marist in the conference standings at season’s end. The team earned a pair of five-point wins, on the road over NJIT and home against Pennsylvania, and dropped an 11-point decision to Long Island. Sophomore center Kevin Laue gets little minutes off the bench but made national headlines for earning a scholarship despite having only one hand.
Notre Dame | 4-0
23-12 [NCAA 6-seed]
Big East [8]
Head Coach Mike Brey led Notre Dame to a blazing finish in 2009-2010 to secure the program’s third NCAA Tournament trip in the past four years. Once there, 11-seed Old Dominion upset the Fighting Irish. The team enters the Old Spice Classic with the most wins and games played of the eight participants — each of its victories have come by 21 points or more, over Georgia Southern, Liberty, Chicago State and Maine. Notre Dame ranks fifth nationally in points and assists per game, 11th in rebounds and shoots 77% from the free throw line. As many as nine players make up the rotation, led by guard Ben Hansbrough.
Boston College | 2-1
15-16
Atlantic Coast [6]
Steve Donahue took over as head coach of the Eagles prior to the season after putting Ivy League champion Cornell in the Sweet Sixteen in 2009-2010. Though BC finished with a disappointing record the past season, it has become a mainstay in the NCAA Tournament, reaching the Big Dance in seven of the past 10 seasons. The Eagles put up breezy wins against St. Francis (NY) and Holy Cross but dropped a surprising game at home to 1-2 Yale. Donahue plays a deep rotation; his team is shooting a ghastly 25% on three-pointers but 79% from the free-throw line. Guard Reggie Jackson scored 30 points in the loss to Yale and leads the Eagles with 18 points per game.

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