No. 5 Texas A&M has built a really solid resume thus far this season, but it didn’t really have that single marquee win with which to hang its hat on.
Then No. 14 Iowa State came to town.
The host Aggies took down the Cyclones 72-62 on Saturday behind a strong defensive performance that saw Texas A&M (18-3) ultimately pull away late. Danuel House led the way with 20 points, including five emphatic, explosive throw downs that gave the crowd energy and helped get the team some further energy to expend on both ends.
This game was a chess match between two coaches that know each other well and know each other’s tendencies. Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy and Iowa State coach Steve Prohm worked together for over a decade, as Prohm was an assistant for Kennedy for over a decade at various stops including Centenary, Southeastern Louisiana and Murray State. And for the first 38 minutes, it was a back-and-forth battle where neither team stretched the lead out past two possessions’ worth of points. In the end though, Texas A&M’s ability to dictate the pace of the game won out and wore down the Cyclones, especially defensively.
The Aggies held one of the best offenses in the country to only .849 points-per-possession. Iowa State (16-5) also came into this one as one of the most sure-handed teams in the country, ranking 12th in turnover rate, but were unusually careless with the ball in coughing it up 16 times. For the first time this season, only two Cyclones reached double-figures in scoring as Georges Niang and Deonte Burton were really the only two consistent sources of attack. Alex Caruso and Anthony Collins were particularly effective in not allowing Iowa State to get in and out of their normal sets by pressuring the ball on the perimeter and by denying transition opportunities.
Ultimately, this is a much more important win for Texas A&M than it is a loss for Iowa State. Despite possessing what is now the No. 2 defense in the country according to KenPom and an offense predicated on smart team play, the Aggies seem to have been slightly undervalued nationally. In reality, this is a terrific basketball team that has now built a resume that compares with many around the country with this win. The Aggies now have a really strong six top-50 wins and an additional four other top-100 wins.
If Texas A&M can get through this next stretch of four games unscathed (they play at Vanderbilt, a home game against South Carolina, then road games against Alabama and LSU), it’s worth not only discussing them as a potential SEC champion, but also as a legitimate Final Four contender who could get a nice draw and a top-two seed in the NCAA Tournament.