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Penn State vs Texas A&M Preview: 2017 Legends Classic Championship

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Pat Chambers and Co. face their toughest test of the year.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - West Regional - Texas A&M v Oklahoma Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Texas A&M and Penn State each made quick work of their opponents yesterday, leaving little doubt about the outcome after the first 20 minutes. The Aggies will look to continue their dominant streak this evening against the Nittany Lions, who will be facing their toughest test by far this season. How will the teams respond to playing their second game in as many days on a neutral court?

This is an opponent that Penn State needed to play for the Strength of Schedule boost alone. Coming off an impressive win over Pitt, the team should have plenty of confidence. They’ll need to come out shooting hot again in this one to make sure it stays within reach.

Opponent Summary

Who When: Where: TV: KenPom Rank: Record: Vegas Line:
Who When: Where: TV: KenPom Rank: Record: Vegas Line:
Texas A&M Aggies Tueday, November 21, 6:00 PM Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY ESPN2 6 3-0, 0-0 SEC Texas A&M -6

Scouting the Opposition:

Texas A&M came into the season favored to finish third in a talented field in the SEC. They started out with a dominant 88-65 win over West Virginia as star forward Robert Williams watched from the bench, proving that there is a talented cast of characters supporting the SEC Co-Preseason Player of the Year and future first round draft pick.

Junior wing DJ Hogg played outstanding in Williams’ absence, and continued to play well last night with 18 points and 7 rebounds. At 6’9” Hogg can do a bit of everything, and will be a difficult match-up for Lamar Stevens. He’s responded well after struggling during his sophomore season before it was completely derailed by an injury. Penn State will need to keep his 3-point shooting to a minimum, but that will only do so much to contain the Aggies’ offense.

Undoubtedly the deepest team Penn State has played this year, Texas A&M has no shortage of size, length, and skill. Robert Williams will be one of the best forwards that Mike Watkins plays this year, and is joined in the front court by Tyler Davis and Tonny Trocha-Morelos. Williams and Davis are skilled defenders and adept at scoring inside the paint, while Trocha-Morelos can be a threat from 3-pt range (3-8 this year). It will take consistent team defense to limit easy baskets, and rebounding will be crucial. With the ease at which Texas A&M scored against WVU’s vaunted defense, it’s going to take an all-around effort from Penn State’s starters and bench players.

The biggest question for Texas A&M are their guards, with junior Admon Gilder sharing duties with graduate transfer Duane Wilson. Gilder is best-suited to play off-ball, but was forced into the point guard role last year. The depth behind him last year was an issue, but it shouldn’t be this year with the arrival of Duane Wilson from Marquette. True-freshman JJ Caldwell is expected to push for time as well, but is currently serving a five game suspension. If there’s a potential match-up for Penn State to take advantage I’d put my money on Tony Carr against Wilson and Gilder.

What to Watch For

- Will fatigue play a role? Playing the late game, Chambers made an effort to limit the wear on his starters when Penn State was leading late in the second half. Garner, Carr and Stevens each logged 26 minutes of playing time. Billy Kennedy and the Aggies made less of an effort to save something in the tank with Admon Gilder and DJ Hogg playing 36 and 34 minutes respectively. This early in the year fatigue shouldn’t be a major issue, but it’s something to watch for in the waning minutes of the game.

- Bench support. Given the size of the Aggies and the ability to score inside, I can easily see the Nittany Lions dealing with foul trouble at some point in the game. If Watkins gets into foul trouble either Julian Moore or Satchel Pierce will be called upon, and they need to answer. Having their size on the bench provides little insurance if they’re unable to defend and rebound against a talented front court like they’ll see tonight.

- Mike Watkins vs. Robert Williams: This has the potential to be a fantastic matchup. Watkins and Williams each put up strong performances yesterday looking to be in top form after missing games early in the year. Aside from not fouling, Watkins needs to attack Williams and stay involved offensively. The two are prolific shot-blockers, and any extra energy they have to spend guarding each other should help open up the game for the rest of the team.

Prediction

This game is the test we’ve been waiting for to better gauge where Penn State stacks up against tournament-caliber teams in a year where the postseason is seemingly within reach. I think Penn State has what it takes to give Texas A&M a scare, especially if they avoid a cold start. Ultimately, the Aggies have greater depth at the positions that matter most. They were able to bludgeon West Virginia without the services of Robert Williams, while Penn State is clearly not the same without Mike Watkins on the court. At some point in the game each team will have to play without their star forward on the court, and I think Texas A&M uses those opportunities to pull away.

Texas A&M 85, Penn State 72