SEC Country offers a round-by-round road map for Texas A&M (3-seed in the West region) reaching the Final Four in nearby Houston, perhaps joining SEC compatriot Kentucky on Semifinal Saturday.
There’s a caveat, though: None of the nuggets below will matter if the Aggies’ 1-2 punch of Danuel House (seasonal averages: 15.5 points, 4.8 rebounds) and Jalen Jones (15.5 points, 7.2 rebounds) aren’t pulling their usual weight. (No pressure.)
ROUND 1: BRING YOUR TRACK SHOES TO THE ARENA
Green Bay (A&M’s Friday opponent) has been a popular sleeper pick for two reasons this week — one plausible and one archaic.
On the plausible front, Green Bay loaded up with Power 5 programs/reputable mid-majors during the non-conference schedule (Stanford, Georgia Tech, Wisconsin, Akron, Toledo). The Phoenix also push the tempo like few other schools, currently ranking sixth nationally in scoring (84.2 points per game).
On the archaic front, some pundits and amateur bracket gurus may be snubbing Texas A&M for its lack of hoops tradition. Or, maybe they don’t think the Aggies can keep pace with the Phoenix in a one-shot deal … since they rank just 111th nationally in scoring (75.9 points).
The above figures, however, are a tad skewed.
For starters, Green Bay maintains only a 19-8 record when scoring 75 points or more. Conversely, A&M boasts a robust 16-2 mark when scoring 75-plus points.
So, who should be worried about a track meet here?
Of Texas A&M’s eight losses to date, the Aggies scored 71 or fewer points six times.
ROUND 2: DON’T LET NORTHERN IOWA OFF THE HOOK WITH REBOUNDING
Northern Iowa currently ranks 345th nationally in rebounding — at just 30.1 per game — or dead-last in that category, when charting only this year’s 68-team field in the NCAA tourney.
This must be a huge advantage for Texas A&M, if/when the programs meet on Sunday. (Note: I have UNI upending 6-seeded Texas on Friday … meaning we wouldn’t get a Longhorns vs. Aggies grudge match over the weekend.)
After all, in its landmark victories over North Carolina and Iowa State this season, Northern Iowa was still outrebounded by an average of 7.5 boards.
Just think of the damage the Panthers could inflict when winning this category.
SWEET 16: DON’T SWEAT THE STRONG LIKELIHOOD OF BUDDY HIELD EXPLODING FOR 30-PLUS POINTS
Everyone remembers Hield’s fractionally late half-court make in the Big 12 semifinals (above), robbing Oklahoma of a hard-earned victory over No. 9 West Virginia.
But it’s also worth noting: Hield tallied a season-low six points, the result of a 1-for-8 shooting slump against the Mountaineers’ stifling defenders.
The odds of Hield (seasonal averages: 25.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists) having another high-profile clunker at this stage are prohibitively long. So, in the case of Texas A&M, embrace the notion of Hield catching fire early and attempting to carry the Sooners to the regional final.
There’s merit to that strategy: Of Oklahoma’s last six defeats, at least two Sooners starters scored six or fewer points five times.
REGIONAL FINAL: RELY ON YOUR ‘KENTUCKY’ TRAINING WHEN APPROACHING A WINNER-TAKE-ALL CLASH WITH OREGON
On paper, opposing teams should fear playing Oregon on the West Coast.
**The Ducks (28-6 overall) cruised to the Pac-12 regular-season and conference tournament titles.
**Citing its current eight-game win streak, Oregon has an average victory margin of 12.2 points.
**The Ducks’ four leading scorers — Dillon Brooks, Elgin Cook, Tyler Dorsey, Chris Boucher — are all averaging 12 points per game. The Ducks also have sublime balance in the rebounding department, with four players collecting five or more boards per outing.
**Oregon holds stellar national rankings in the defensive categories of blocks (fourth — 5.97 per game) and steals (40th — 7.6 per game).
On the flip side, the Ducks bear a strong resemblance to the Wildcats — the SEC champs for the regular season (tied with A&M) and conference tournament:
**Oregon holds averages of 78.8 points per game (46th nationally) but only 13.6 assists per outing (149th nationally). Kentucky ranks 29th and 100th in the same categories, respectively.
**Kentucky currently doesn’t own a top-50 ranking with turnover margin, three-pointers made, free throw attempts, scoring offense, scoring defense, assists per game or rebounds per game.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.