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

The Battalion

Texas A&M utility Gavin Grahovac (9) throws the ball during A&Ms game against Georgia on Friday, April 26, 2024, at Olsen Field. (CJ Smith/The Battalion)
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Analysis: Dancing to National Title

Junior+F+Julius+Marble+%2834%29+dunks+the+ball+during+a+game+vs.+Vanderbilt+on+Saturday%2C+March+11%2C+2023+in+Bridgestone+Arena%2C+Nashville%2C+Tennessee.
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Junior F Julius Marble (34) dunks the ball during a game vs. Vanderbilt on Saturday, March 11, 2023 in Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tennessee.

Editor’s note: This magazine was finalized on Friday, Feb. 24, 2023. The statistics compared in this story were from the updated statistics posted by ESPN following A&M basketball’s 28th game of the season and UConn’s full-season statistics.
I’ve spent countless hours — over many days — on my laptop trying to figure out if there was a common thread or pattern among national champions over the last decade.
With the Aggies now in serious contention of punching their ticket to The Big Dance for the first time since 2018, I’ve been trying to figure out if the maroon and white have a realistic chance at making it to the final stage.
I’m asking myself questions, like what Jay Wright’s 2018 Villanova team has in common with the 2023 Texas A&M roster. Is it a coincidence that the 2022 Kansas team had a fifth-year guard who transferred in his last season, just like fifth-year guard Dexter Dennis?
I found that it was unfair, however, to compare a team that has a slim chance to finish as a No. 1 seed in the bracket to the eight No. 1 seeds who two-stepped their way to the final four in the past 10 years.
Back to the drawing board.
I would soon scroll across a sports betting article that “analyzed every Division I men’s NCAA championship team from 2008 to 2021” and claimed to crack the code at figuring out the impossible.
Comparing the checklist to the Aggies, I found similarities such as:
Championship teams come from schools with an enrollment of at least 10,000 students. As of 2022, A&M has over 72,000 students enrolled.
Championship teams rank in the top 25 in adjusted defensive efficiency at KenPom.com. A&M is No. 24 on this list.
Championship teams have great point guards. As of his last game against Tennessee on Feb. 21, sophomore guard Wade Taylor IV is one of only two Division I players in the last 25 years to have a five-game span with the following, according to a tweet from OptaSTATS:
• 100+ points
• 40+ free throws made
• 20+ assists
• 15+ 3-pointers made
• 10+ steals
• 45% 3-point shooting
• 90% free throw shooting
Only four-time NBA champion Stephen Curry had done this before. Al- though it is too soon to label Taylor as “great,” it isn’t too soon to recognize his ability to facilitate this offense and his impact on this team in only his second season.
As I was connecting the dots and drawing the line, I came across one of the last items that bridge the gap between every national champion.
The championship team has been ranked in the top four of ESPN’s College Basketball Power Index. Unfortunately, A&M is listed at No. 19 with a BPI of 12.3.
Back to the drawing board.
While on the verge of giving up, I finally found it.
Not just a team with similar characteristics but a program that walked a path akin to the one A&M is currently walking. A No. 7 seed in the tournament that, nine years ago, made the idea of the maroon and white taking the final bow plausible rather than impossible.
A national championship team that was snubbed from the NCAA Tournament the year before with a .667 winning percentage, just .010 behind the Aggies’ winning percentage at the end of the 2021–22 regular season.
2013-14 UConn Basketball
The first similarity between the two teams was not on the court but rather on the bench, holding a clipboard.
After 13 seasons in the NBA, Kevin Ollie joined his former coach Jim Calhoun as an assistant coach and just two years later, he was named the head coach of UConn’s basketball program.
Ollie had a unique coaching style. The Dallas native was known for his quirky motivational quotes that soon became known as “Ollieism” around the locker room.
“Ollie uses more motivational phrases than almost any other guy I’ve ever been around in my life,” Calhoun told ESPN.
A&M also has someone on the sidelines who is just as much of a “quodophile” as Ollie was. Someone born less than an hour away from Ollie, head coach Buzz Williams has built a culture around his pro- gram with motivational quotes. Enough quotes to make t-shirts with, if you will.
Like A&M in its 2021–22 season, UConn was rejected from the NCAA Tournament the season previous to its tournament run.
The Huskies were banned from the 2012-13 tournament because the program lacked the required Academic Progress Rate, or APR, benchmark during the 2010-11 season. Despite the scenarios being different, the uniqueness of the circumstances was not. According to Business Insider, they are the only major Division program to be banned due to not meeting the APR requirements.
“We were banned from the NCAA tournament, but we weren’t banned from loving each other; we weren’t banned from making each other better,” Ollie told ESPN about missing out on the tournament.
As far as the people on the court, where do I even begin?
A&M is a team that prides itself on being gritty and scrappy. Well, so did the UCo- nn Huskies in 2014. Under Ollie, UConn held opponents to 63.4 points per game and forced seven steals per game.
The Aggies?
Through 28 games, they have allowed just one bucket more per game than the Huskies and have forced just 0.1 fewer steals.
Let’s talk about charity.
UConn prided itself on taking advantage of free points when given the chance, as they were fourth in the nation in free throw percentage at 78%. A&M is just behind them at 76%.
As far as the rest of the statistics go, let’s let the numbers speak for themselves.
When it comes to player personnel, Williams said he lets assistant coach Steve Roccaforte handle it. If it’s cool with him, I’m going to take charge of it for the time being.
A&M isn’t known for its size in the paint, as its tallest starter is junior forward Julius Marble at 6-foot-9; however, neither was UConn. Starting forward Phillip Nolan stood at 6-foot-9, and its next tallest starter was forward DeAndre Daniels, who stood at 6-foot-8.
The Aggies’ next tallest starter is junior forward Henry Coleman III, who also stands at 6-foot-8.
UConn did have a 7-foot center that came off the bench named Amida Brimah. However, we’re talking starters.
Now I understand that size isn’t every- thing when it comes to basketball, and it definitely doesn’t determine the athlete’s
playing style. Nonetheless, there is one similarity between the two players whose sizes shaped them into the type of players they are or were.
Standing at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, Shabazz Napier was one of the most dominant guards in college basketball in 2014. He averaged 18 points, 4.9 assists and 1.8 steals per game, and he led his team in all three categories.
In the opposite corner, at 6-foot and 185 pounds, Taylor leads his team in the same three categories with 15.9 points, 4.1 assists and the same amount of steals per game as Napier.
How could you miss this?
As far as being a threat on both sides of the court, each team shares a similar embodiment.
Ryan Boatright was one of the most ex- plosive guards for the Huskies in 2014. His ability to finish at the rim and draw the foul was incomparable.
Until 1999, when this senior guard was born.
Tyrece Radford’s ability to finish at the rim, find the open lane and draw the foul is what makes him so dangerous on the offensive end. What makes him so versa- tile is his willingness to guard the best ball handler week in and week out.
Boatright was as well.
Despite having 12 fewer steals than Napier, Boatright guarded the best player on the court and made him earn every bucket. He was scrappy and tough as boots, too.
Sound familiar?
The last similarity between the two teams was their eagerness to go find a play- er in the transfer portal who would make an immediate impact on the team with his athleticism and experience.
In A&M’s case, this was Dennis, who spent his first four years at Wichita State, made the journey to College Station and has been a starter since Game 1.
In UConn’s case, this was Lasan Kromah, who spent the majority of his collegiate career at George Washington University before making the trip to Storrs, Connecticut, to chase a ring.
Kromah played in all 40 games and, despite not being a starter, played the fifth most minutes on the team with 22.4 minutes per game and averaged 6.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.
In the end, I could just be grasping straws out of a hat that just isn’t there. But the connections between the two teams are just too strong to ignore. Hopefully, Williams’ coaching career has a happier ending than Ollie’s and hopefully, A&M won’t have to run into Montrezl Harrell in the conference championship.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the Spring Sports Maroon Life published by The Battalion.

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