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Commentary: How A&M compares to a former heavyweight champion

Junior+F+Henry+Coleman+%2815%29+shoots+a+layup+during+the+game+vs.+Arkansas+on+Friday%2C+March+10%2C+2023+at+Bridgestone+Arena+in+Nashville%2C+Tennessee.
Photo by Ishika Samant

Junior F Henry Coleman (15) shoots a layup during the game vs. Arkansas on Friday, March 10, 2023 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.

Another game, another second half comeback from the Texas A&M men’s basketball team. A&M’s 67-61 victory against Arkansas in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament was the prototypical A&M basketball game.
It seems to take A&M 10-15 minutes of game time to adapt to its opponents style of play. This particularly seems to happen against good teams in the SEC. Every single A&M game against the likes of Arkansas and Alabama always seems to turn into a grind-it-out slugfest. In other words, a heavyweight fight.
The Aggies are reminiscent of the late Joe Frazier. The former heavyweight champion is known for being one of the best boxers ever. Frazier’s three fights against Muhammed Ali is one of the best rivalries in the history of sports.
Much like the maroon and white, Frazier was known for losing the first few rounds of almost every one of his fights. This was particularly the case against Ali. Ali would dance and jab circles around the heavyweight champion in all three of their fights. This is because it would take time for Frazier to find the rhythm of his opponent’s offense. A&M’s defense is the same way.
A&M is especially reliant on half-court defense. Against the Razorbacks, the Aggies struggled early on because they kept allowing easy points in transition. It wasn’t until A&M settled down and cut down on turnovers that it was able to take control of the game. By the halfway point of the second half, the maroon and white were forcing Arkansas to play their style of play. The Aggies did this by doing what they do best: slowing the game down and getting to the free throw line.
In his first match against Ali, Frazier dominated the latter rounds because he forced his opponent to fight his style of fight: a slugfest. Ali wasn’t able to fight that way at the time and ended up losing on points after fifteen rounds.
The Razorbacks were not prepared for the sheer physicality the Aggies played with on the defensive end in the second half. To confuse Arkansas, A&M would alternate between a man and matchup zone defense from possession-to-possession. The maroon and white’s defense helped turn around a 13-point halftime deficit and outscore Arkansas by 19 points in the second half.
Another thing that helps with the maroon and white’s adaptability is the sheer number of lineup variations at coach Buzz Williams’ disposal. In games where physicality is needed, Williams is able to go to a front court of junior forwards Julius Marble and Henry Coleman III. If the Aggies need more effort, Williams can put in junior forward Andersson Garcia and freshman forward Solomon Washington.
Against Arkansas, A&M played a lineup with four guards and another where every player on the floor was taller than 6-foot-4. Even in the SEC Tournament, Williams is always looking for different lineup combinations that play into A&M’s opponent’s weaknesses.
Much like A&M, Frazier was never the flashiest fighter, but he got results by being tougher than his opponent. The former champion was never afraid of getting hit. His greatest moment was knocking down Ali in the final round of their first fight to win the heavyweight championship. The loss was Ali’s first and a shock to many. Frazier only lost to the best. Both Ali and former heavyweight champion George Foreman each defeated the late fighter two times.
If A&M was to continue to grind out victory after victory throughout both the SEC and NCAA Tournament, it would find itself in its version of a championship fight. In this case, that would mean battling on the biggest stage against the best programs college basketball has to offer.
For a team to defeat A&M and end its season, it would have to battle for 40 minutes. Arkansas could only do it for 20 minutes, and then they got knocked out.

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