In preparation for Thursday's BYU-Texas A&M first-round NCAA Tournament matchup, let's breakdown the specifics:
Texas A&M's Derrick Roland, Donald Sloan, and Josh Carter
BYU's Jackson Emery, Lee Cummard, and Jimmer Fredette
BYU’s trio of Emery, Cummard, and Fredette are all excellent three-point shooters, each shooting over 37 percent from downtown.
A&M's Carter is an excellent long-distance shooter himself, shooting nearly 41 percent, but there is a significant drop-off with Roland and Sloan, who shoot 35 and 25 percent, respectively, from the arc.
Cummard is probably the most versatile and talented player on either team, averaging 17 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game. He also brings nearly one block and steal per game, shoots 52 percent from the field, 38 on three-pointers, and 86.8 from the charity stripe.
Fredette has had a very solid season for the Cougars, leading the team in assists (4.2 APG) and coming in second on the team in points (16.2 PPG).
Carter is A&M’s leading scorer with 14 PPG (he'd only be fourth-best on the BYU squad), but you simply cannot ignore his deadly triple.
Sloan and Roland are both erratic on the offensive end, connecting on only 38.1 and 40.5 percent of their shots, respectively.
Texas A&M's Bryan Davis and Chinemelu Elonu
BYU's Jonathan Tavernari and Chris Miles
These two frontcourt duos have very contrasting styles of play.
While Davis and Elonu are swatting machines, averaging 1.3 and 1.6 blocks per game, respectively (that’s a whole lot of facials in one game), Tavernari is BYU’s most three-point happy player. When he's hot from downtown, which he often is (he shoots 38 percent from beyond the arc), he is BYU’s most explosive scorer, but don’t ask him to block any shots on the defensive end.
Tavernari is actually a great rebounder in addition to his shooting abilities, as he pulls down just over 7 boards per game, but he is no match for A&M’s duo, who collectively pull down nearly 14 per.
Davis (52.7 percent from the field) and Elonu (66.7) are both very effective scorers, but not necessarily of the high-volume variety, as they average just over 20 PPG together.
Tavernari has more of a “live by the three, die by the three” approach to his game, as he's launched 216 on the season, which makes him less efficient but scary in terms of ceiling.
Miles is a fairly efficient scorer and a mediocre rebounder but a horrendous free-throw shooter (52 percent on the season).
B.J. Holmes provides a nice offensive spark off the bench for the Aggies and matches Tavernari in propensity to jack threes.
And why not? He actually shoots better from downtown then he does from the rest of the field (42.5 percent from beyond the arc to 36.8 from the field).
The Cougars don’t rely on their bench as heavily as the Aggies, but have two additional long-range specialists in Lamont Morgan Jr. and Charles Abouo, who are both better than 40 percent from deep this year.
BYU knows what it is going to get from Cummard every game, so I am going with Tavernari and Fredette as the "X-Factors" for the Cougars.
Tavernari, especially, is going to need to bring his "A-game" and knock down some bombs to keep the Aggies' big men honest on defense and take them out of the key, where they are so effective at blocking and altering opponent’s shots. He's also going to have to keep up his solid play to keep some of the pressure off of Cummard.
Josh Carter is my pick for the Aggies' wild card.
It seems that when Carter is playing well and knocking down his shots, the rest of his team feeds off of his energy. He is by far their most explosive scorer, and the Aggies are likely to need all of the points he has to offer, as BYU averages nearly six more per game than the Aggies.
BYU is seeking revenge after their 67-62 loss to the Aggies in the first round of last year’s Tournament and is looking for their first win in the tournament since the 1992-93 season. The Cougars have the advantage over A&M in nearly every statistical category (points, assists, steals, turnovers, shooting percentages), and the categories that the Aggies are statistically better at (rebounds and blocks) are so close that it is essentially a wash.
The Aggies definitely don’t want the game to turn into a free-throw contest late in the game, as they connect on fewer than 70 percent of their shots from the charity stripe.
While I fully expect the Cougars to get their revenge and win the game, A&M has a very good team and has a great chance to knock off BYU if the Cougars aren't on the ball.
Besides, the eight-seed versus nine-seed matchup is always a toss-up, with the "lower" seed actually holding the advantage in overall wins.
If BYU wants to get their first tournament win in what seems like ages, though (and earn a potential matchup against the UConn Huskies), they are going to need great play from their "Big Three" of Cummard, Tavernari, and Fredette, plus solid play from their role players.
Will this be the year that BYU gets the monkey off their back and makes some noise in the tournament, or will the Aggies leave the Cougars hoping for a third grudge match next season? Tune in on Thursday to find out, because if history has taught us anything, it should be a great game!