The 20th-ranked Texas A&M Aggies get 12 season underway this evening when they play host to the Liberty Flames as part of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.
Dale Layer is in his third season at the helm at Liberty and the Flames are coming off a highly successful 2010-11 campaign in which they finished 19-13 overall and a second-place finish in the Big South. The 13 league wins were the most in school history.
Texas A&M is under new management, as Billy Kennedy has taken over the reins for the departed Mark Turgeon. The Aggies have been a powerhouse on the national level for a few years now. A defensively-tough squad, A&M enters the new year off a season in which the team went 24-9 overall and 10-6 in the Big 12.
This marks the first-ever meeting between these two programs.
A defensive-minded team in their own right, the Flames placed second in the Big South, allowing just 65.6 ppg last season. Injuries have already taken their toll on the Flames, who will be without the services of both senior guard John Brown (11.3 ppg, 10.8 rpg) and sophomore forward Sommy Ogukwe. Last year's Big South Player of the Year, Jesse Sanders (11.3 ppg, 5.7 apg) will have to pick up even more of the burden for the Flames. Sanders, who earned All-American recognition in 2010-11, is both a solid scorer and deft distributor, leading the Big South in assists. Senior guard David Minaya (10.7 ppg) is also an offensive threat who will need to step up his play this season.
The Aggies have made six straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, including last year. Mark Turgeon has moved on to Maryland, leaving the job in College Station to Kennedy. Don't expect much to change, as A&M is sure to be tough defensively and disciplined at the offensive end. The leader in the backcourt is senior Dash Harris. The 6-1 veteran isn't much of a scorer, but is a steady performer. Junior Naji Hibbert (5.2 ppg) will be called upon to provide depth, after serving primarily as a reserve last year. Washington transfer Elston Turner could be a perimeter factor as well. The frontcourt boasts of the team's top player in 6-7 junior Khris Middleton, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Senior forward David Loubeau (11.8 ppg) bolsters the frontline and was a Third-Team All-Big 12 selection last season.