In one of the best matchups in the SEC non-conference slate, No. 9 Texas A&M, off to its best start since the 2007-2008 season, takes on Arizona at the Valley of the Sun Showcase.
The Wildcats have struggled this season under head coach Sean Miller, who has led Arizona to six NCAA tournament appearances in eight seasons, including two Sweet 16 appearances and three Elite Eight appearances.
Miller’s squad for his ninth season is one of his most talented, featuring future NBA draft picks in center DeAndre Ayton and guards Rawle Alkins and Alonzo Trier, with Alkins still out due to injury.
The Wildcats have a 5-3 record, with wins over Northern Arizona, UMBC, Cal State-Bakersfield, Long Beach State, and UNLV. They were embarrassingly swept at the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament, losing all three games they played to North Carolina State, SMU, and Purdue.
The Aggies, led by Billy Kennedy in his seventh season, have run out to a 7-0 start, with wins over West Virginia in Germany, UC-Santa Barbara, Oklahoma State, Penn State, Pepperdine, then No. 10 USC, and UT-Rio Grande Valley.
Texas A&M has been led by Robert Williams and Tyler Davis, its dynamic frontcourt duo, as well as D.J. Hogg and Admon Gilder in the backcourt, and has played one of the best non-conference schedules in the country.
Let’s look at the matchup to watch, the keys to victory, and a prediction for this marquee game.
Matchup to Watch
Robert Williams (A&M) vs. DeAndre Ayton (UA)
Two projected top 10 NBA draft picks, Williams and Ayton will be the two best players on the floor in terms of talent and potential.
Ayton has all of the physical talent in the world, and has shown how he is able to use that talent to produce at a high level, averaging 20.4 points and 11.4 rebounds per game on solid efficiency on both offense and defense, where he averages 1.4 blocks per game.
On the other side of this matchup, William, is no slouch in his own right, averaging 8.8 points and 9.8 rebounds, as well as 2.4 blocks per game, which is good for third in the SEC behind Auburn’s Anfernee McLemore and Alabama’s Donta Hall.
The matchup of the two 7-footers in the post is the most important to either team’s success, so look for Williams and Ayton to go at it down low in a potential preview of an NBA matchup down the road.
How Texas A&M Can Win
Alonzo Trier is one of the most dynamic scorers in the country, so finding someone to check him on a possession by possession basis will be very important for the Aggies’ success in this game.
Trier is averaging 23.9 points per game, which ranks him 7th in the nation, on a very solid level of shooting efficiency.
Trier will likely be guarded by Marquette transfer Duane Wilson, who is having a career defensive season as the lone senior in the projected starting lineup.
Wilson locking down Trier to even half of his normal output would be a huge success for the Aggies in the grand scheme of the game.
How Arizona Can Win
The Arizona scoring load has been taken on by Trier and Ayton.
So, if the Wildcats can find scoring from other players, such as Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Dusan Ristic, and Brandon Randolph, they will pose problems for the Aggies defense that who are one of the best defensive teams in the country based on opposing shooting percentages.
Jackson-Cartwright is the best shooter on this team and Ristic can score on the block very efficiently, so getting them going early and often will be important for the Wildcats’ scoring punch.
This matchup of two super-talented teams is one of the best of the non-conference slate across college basketball.
Look for both teams to come out firing on all cylinders and to make early mistakes given the scope and scale of the game in the landscape of college basketball.
Texas A&M is playing as well as any team in the country, so I’ll give them a slight edge in this game, even with Arizona’s elite talent likely to provide a huge test.
Prediction: Texas A&M 77, Arizona 72