NCAA Tournament Preview
1st Round Edition
#3 Texas A&M vs. #14 Pennsylvania
Thursday, March 15th
Rupp Arena - Lexington, Kentucky
Line: Texas A&M -13.5
OK – My immediate reaction to the Aggies’ draw in the South Regional was disappointment in the potential second round game against Louisville.
It is only 76.3 miles from the campus in Louisville to Rupp Arena in Lexington.
Anyone telling you that it will be a neutral site match-up is out of their mind. That game will be no more of a neutral site game than was the Aggies’ loss to Oklahoma State at the Ford Center on Friday evening last week. (In case you were wondering, it is only 66.2 miles from OSU to the Ford Center).
The good news is that if you can get out of Lexington, you will play the next round of games at the Alamodome in San Antonio, which should be the exact opposite situation, as it will be a huge advantage for the Aggies.
I know this much, if I am Ohio State, Memphis or Virginia, I want no part of the Aggies playing right down the road in San Antonio.
(I am sure you are wondering; it is 181 miles from campus in College Station to the Alamodome.)
Now that I am WAY too far ahead of myself, let’s get back to what matters and that is the next game on the schedule.
The Aggies take on the Penn Quakers on Thursday in Lexington at a time to be determined.
Getting to know Penn
According to InsideRPI on ESPN.com, Penn played the 177th toughest schedule in the nation. They are also the 88th overall RPI rated team.
Their overall record is 23-8, and they went 13-1 in winning the Ivy League. Their record against the top 100 RPI teams is 1-4 with their only win coming against RPI-39 Drexel.
The Quakers have won 10 in a row and 16 of their last 18 games.
The brand-name teams they played early in the season were as follows:
- at UTEP Loss 66-69 Nov. 10
- at Syracuse Loss 60-78 Nov. 11
- vs Drexel Win 68-49 Nov. 21
- vs Villanova Loss 89-99 Dec. 02
- at Navy Win 79-58 Dec. 07
- at Seaton Hall Loss 85-94 Dec. 23
- at North Carolina Loss 102-64 Jan. 03
The Penn roster features a group that goes 9 deep with 8 of those guys averaging double digit minutes.
The Quakers are lead by 6’7” senior forward Mark Zoller who averages 18 points and 7.5 boards per game. Zoller’s best game of the season came on March 2nd in a win over Yale where he posted 22 points and 17 rebounds. Zoller has good range and has actually taken more three pointers than any other guy on the roster. Zoller is shooting 56% overall and 38% from downtown, both very impressive percentages.
The top guard for Penn is 6’2” senior Ibrahim Jaaber. Jaaber is averaging 16 points and 5.3 assists per game. His best game of the year was back on December 23rd in their loss to Seaton Hall where he scored 32 points. Jaaber is a 53% shooter overall and is 2nd on the team from deep in shooting 30% from behind the arc. Jaaber will be responsible for the primary ball handling duties for Penn.
The third guy for the Quakers that averages double-digits is 6’4” junior guard Brian Grandieri. Gandieri is a solid role player who averages 12 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Grandieri is not a high-caliber guy that can light up the scoreboard, but he is a sold shooter who shoots just over 51% from the field.
Joining Zoller in the Penn frontcourt is 6’8” senior Steve Danley. Danley is a defensive specialist who only shoots the ball just over 5 times per game. Danley leads the Quakers with 28 blocks on the season.
Rounding out the usual starting lineup is Darren Smith. Smith is a 6’4” combo-guard who has really come on late in this, his freshman season. Smith scored 17 points on February 23rd in the Quakers’ win at Harvard. Smith is actually better from three point land (49%) than he is overall from the field (43%).
Coming off the bench are:
Tommy McMahon (6’7” sophomore forward - - 5 points, 2 rebounds)
Michael Kach (6’4” junior guard - - 4 points, 2 rebounds)
Kevin Egee (6’3” sophomore guard - - 4 points, 1 rebound)
Brennan Votel (6’7” sophomore forward - - 2 points, 1 rebound)
The head coach at Penn is Glen Miller who is in his first season on the job.
Miller was the head coach at Brown University the previous 7 seasons where he compiled an underwhelming 93-99 record. He replaced long time Penn head coach Fran Dunphy who left after 17 years to take the head coaching job at Temple.
While at Brown, Miller only led his team to post-season play one time - - The NIT after the 2002-2003 season.
I am sure most of you have in your mind that Penn is going to be a slow-it-down, grind-it-out game, but that does not appear to be the case with this year’s team.
Penn is actually averaging nearly 75 points per game while shooting 49% overall from the field. They are also holding their opponents to 68 points on average. The Quakers have scored 80 or more points in 11 of their 30 games.
Their most painful (and by ‘painful’ I mean most difficult to watch) game of the season had to have been a 45-38 win over Princeton on February 13th.
Last year in the NCAA tournament, Penn gave our friends from Austin all they wanted in the first round as the #2 seed Texas actually trailed the #15 seed Quakers by a score of 23-22 at halftime. UT failed to pull away in the second half and held on for a 60-52 win.
Ibrahim Jaaber led the way for Penn in the loss to UT with 15 points while Mark Zoller added 13 points.
The bottom line is this. We all need to be very glad that this is not a thinking competition or an intellectual battle of any kind. If it were, I think this game would be short and sweet, and the Aggies would not stand a chance.
The good news is that it is a basketball game. The Aggies are simply a much better basketball team than Penn, and this game too should not be very close.
The three closest things the Quakers would have seen this season to the Aggies were Syracuse (18 point loss), Villanova (10 point loss) and North Carolina (38 point loss).
I simply do not think that playing a full slate of games and dominating in the Ivy League would get Penn ready to compete at the same level as teams the caliber of Texas A&M.
That being said, anything can happen in an individual game, and that should never be more evident than when Penn nearly upset Texas as we discussed above.
I think the Aggies will bounce back nicely from their loss to Oklahoma State on Friday and come out very focused and ready to play.
If the Aggies get past Penn, they will play the winner of the (#6) Louisville vs. (#11) Stanford game. The second round game will be on Saturday at a time TBD.
The Aggie Hoops Report’s Game Outcome Prediction -
Pennsylvania Quakers - 61
Texas A&M Aggies – 80