GAME NOTES: The Texas A&M Aggies and the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs will square off to open their respective seasons as part of the CBE Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic at Reed Arena.
Texas A&M is one of four host schools (Kansas, Saint Louis, Washington State) for the event, and those four schools will each play two games on campus before heading to the Sprint Center in Kansas City for the championship rounds on Nov. 19-20.
On the other side of the floor, Louisiana Tech is coming off an 18-16 season, which included a 6-8 mark in the Western Athletic Conference. Coach Michael White did a lot of lineup shuffling last year, and he'll spend the early portion of the 2012-13 campaign trying to sort out his primary rotation.
Texas A&M is playing its first season as a member of the SEC after leaving the Big 12. The Aggies had made six consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances prior to their disastrous 2011-12 campaign when they won just four games in the Big 12 and went 14-18 overall.
Texas A&M holds a 3-2 edge in the head-to-head series. These teams last met in 2006, as the Aggies claimed a 75-59 victory in College Station.
Although quite a few of the names and faces are new to the Bulldogs this season, their style of play figures to look familiar. Coach White will look to utilize his team's speed with smaller lineups and lots of three-point shooting. Sophomore Raheem Appleby will be asked to shoulder much of the scoring load. Appleby, the top scorer from last season with 13.9 ppg, played so well in his first campaign in Ruston he was named Preseason First-Team All- WAC this time around. A 71.4-percent free-throw shooter for an otherwise poor foul shooting team last year, Appleby displayed a knack for drawing contact and getting to the line. Although he shot just 40.6 percent from the floor and 61.4 percent at the line, Cordarius Johnson (9.6 ppg) is still a crucial piece to the offensive puzzle for LaTech moving forward. The same goes for Brandon Gibson (7.7 ppg), who ended up being the only player to start all 14 league bouts for the Bulldogs and averaged 10.7 ppg while doing so. As someone who has a hard time hitting his mark from the field (.348), Gibson has to be more selective this season.
Billy Kennedy did not have the type of success he was looking for in his first season as Texas A&M's head coach, and he and his squad will be looking for a fresh start in the SEC this season. Texas A&M lost a trio of valuable starters in the offseason in Khris Middleton (13.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg), David Loubeau (11.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and Dash Harris (6.0 ppg, 4.1 apg), and replacing that production will not be easy. Still, last year's leading scorer Elston Turner (13.8 ppg) is back for his senior season to help shoulder that responsibility. A pair of consensus four-star recruits join the picture as J'Mychal Reese and Alex Caruso should be one of the conference's best guard tandems for years to come. After having a stellar season as a spot-starter and primary sixth man, Ray Turner (9.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg) should expect to see even more playing time this season for a team lacking size down low.
The Bulldogs may give Texas A&M some matchup problems with their speed and range, but in the end, the Aggies have the superior talent and the homecourt advantage.