The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt heads to College Station to take on Texas A&M in a primetime clash

The Commodores will take on the Aggies, hoping to return to .500 in conference play.
Malik+Dia+looks+to+score+against+the+Kentucky+Wildcats+in+Memorial+Gymnasium+on+Jan.+24%2C+2022+%28Nikita+Rohila%2FHustler+Multimedia%29.
Nikita Rohila
Malik Dia looks to score against the Kentucky Wildcats in Memorial Gymnasium on Jan. 24, 2022 (Nikita Rohila/Hustler Multimedia).

After a brutal home loss against Kentucky, Vanderbilt (10-10, 3-4 SEC) will hit the road to take on Texas A&M (14-6, 6-1 SEC) on Saturday, Jan. 28. The Aggies  enter the game with a full head of steam, coming off of a massive upset on the road against No. 15 Auburn this week. Despite losing leading scorer Quenton Jackson to the NBA and being projected to finish at No. 6 in the SEC by the preseason media poll, Texas A&M has stormed out of the gates in SEC play. 

After starting the season 6-5, including back-to-back losses against Memphis on the road and Wofford at home, the Aggies have captured victories in eight of their last nine games and ― unfortunately for Vanderbilt ― are playing the best basketball of their season. So, what should the Commodore faithful look out for in this game? The Vanderbilt Hustler takes a deeper look at Texas A&M to better understand what makes it tick. 

Ascending Aggies 

Head coach Buzz Williams and Co. have caught fire in the past few weeks, with excellent play on both sides of the ball. They check in at No. 3 and No. 4 in offensive and defensive efficiency in the SEC (KenPom), respectively. 

Much of this newfound success can be attributed, in large part, to the Aggies finding and sticking to their team identity. The identity? Hard-nosed, strong, physical play. The Aggies score 24.7 percent of their points at the free throw line, which ranks at No. 3 in the entire country (KenPom). Not only does A&M get to the line, but it converts at a rate of 75.3-percent, which ranks second in the SEC. The Aggies also boast an offensive rebound percentage of 36.2 (KenPom), which ranks at No. 2 in the SEC and No. 11 in the country. 

Which players have spearheaded this recent gelling on both sides of the ball? The answer is a simple, yet unignorable one: The starting five. 

Wade Taylor IV has led the scoring wave with 14.8 points and 3.8 assists per game. The sophomore point guard has been invaluable while running the Aggie offense, as his assist rate of 31.8 ranks among the top-50 of every player in the country (KenPom). Taylor IV has also provided a defensive spark, averaging 1.8 steals per game. After him, Tyrece Radford has been a major contributor. The senior has improved every season as an Aggie and is scoring 13.6 points per game while also contributing on the glass with 5.4 rebounds per game — an impressive number considering he checks in at just 6’2”. Julius Marble has been excellent as well. While the 6’9 forward has only averaged 10 points per game through the entire season, he has completely elevated his game in the SEC, averaging 14.1 against conference foes. Rounding out the starting five are Henry Coleman III and Dexter Dennis, who are averaging 5.8 and 5.7 rebounds per game, respectively. The Aggies have those two to thank for much of their success on the glass. 

An Achilles for the Aggies 

Like the alliteration? Despite all of its strengths and well-roundedness, Texas A&M has a glaring weakness. It comes in the form of the 3-pointer. The Aggies are shooting a poor 31.7% from beyond the arc this season, which checks in at No. 287 in the country (KenPom). Williams’ team takes just 19.6 deep shots per game, the second-lowest number in the SEC. Granted, if it was converting at an effective rate, this Achilles’ heel would be non-existent, but the fact remains that the Aggies rank towards the bottom of the nation in this metric. 

For all of its defensive woes — and there have been many — Vanderbilt’s defense against the 3-ball has been reputable all season. The Commodores check in at No. 64 for 3-point percentage allowed (KenPom), and have held opponents to just 31.3% from downtown on the year. 

The 3-point struggles don’t exist merely on offense for the Aggies, though. Texas A&M allows opponents to shoot 33.7% from 3-point range, which slots them in at No. 11 in the SEC in that statistic. Vanderbilt has been fantastic shooting the 3-pointer in SEC play, ranking third in the league since conference play began just over three weeks ago. 

What to watch for

As previously mentioned, it will be interesting to see how both teams approach the ever-intriguing 3-point shot. Vanderbilt has taken the third-most shots from downtown in the league at 24.5 attempts per game. Myles Stute, despite inconsistencies this season, is always a threat from downtown. Trey Thomas, Paul Lewis and Noah Shelby are all quick guards who can devastate a team with their catch-and-shoot abilities. Malik Dia has shot the ball effectively all season — including a 4-4 performance on Tuesday against Kentucky —, and even Jordan Wright forces teams to respect his 3-point shot. The Commodores have lived and died by the 3-pointer all season; Expect them to do much of the same against the Aggies middling perimeter defense this weekend.

Another trend worth noting is turnovers. Behind head coach Jerry Stackhouse, the Commodores have turned the ball over at the lowest rate in conference play thus far at 13.8% (KenPom). Opposing teams come away with steals on just 6.2% of possessions (KenPom), which also ranks No. 1 in the league. Oppositely, Texas A&M’s defense has forced turnovers at a high rate through seven SEC games. It ranks fourth in KenPom’s turnovers forced percentage. 

The Aggies will look to expose the Commodores’ interior defense as they continue to find their footing without Liam Robbins and Lee Dort to protect the paint. The onus will be on Quentin Millora-Brown and Malik Dia to hold it down in their absence. 

[Its] all about being physical early against bigs,” said Millora-Brown, when he met with the media on Thursday. “Need to make sure I work early to keep [Marble] from getting to his sweet spots.”

Vanderbilt will look to clamp down on defense after underwhelming performances in each of their last two games against Georgia and Kentucky. It should be a fun one down in College Station, as Vanderbilt won a close one in Memorial Gymnasium last season. The teams will tip off on SEC Network Jan. 28 at 7:30 CST.

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About the Contributors
Aiden Rutman, Senior Staff Writer
Aiden Rutman (‘25) is a student in Peabody College majoring in human and organizational development and minoring in communication studies. He formerly produced The Hustler’s sports podcast, Live from West End. In addition to writing and podcasting, Aiden is an avid New York sports fan, and he loves playing sports, spending time outdoors and trying new foods. You can reach him at [email protected].
Nikita Rohila, Deputy Social Media Director
Nikita Rohila ('25) is from a small town in Arkansas and is majoring in psychology and medicine, health and society in the College of Arts and Science. During her free time, she enjoys roaming around the city and getting cinematic-style shots for her photography account! You can reach her at [email protected].
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