Remarkable Aggies Among Elite

Texas A&M has the best basketball team in the Big 12.

If you have been following the Big 12 since its inception in 1996, this statement feels like saying something along the lines of, "Vanderbilt has the best football team in the SEC" or "Kansas City has the best baseball team in the majors."

But yet, with an 8-1 record in Big 12 play and a 20-3 overall record, even the biggest of skeptics cannot deny how good the Aggies truly are.

Three seasons ago, Texas A&M suffered the worst season in Big 12 history, going 0-16 in league play and finishing with a 7-21 overall record. None of the Aggies' victories that season came against any team ranked in the top 200 of the RPI.

The most embarrassing part of that season was that A&M lost both meetings to a Baylor team that was coming off of the Dave Bliss scandal and had to be fielded by a team of essentially walk-ons.

Then-coach Melvin Watkins promptly resigned and Texas native Billy Gillispie was brought in.

The turnaround Gillispie made at UTEP was remarkable, as he guided a once-hopeless basketball program into the NCAA tournament in just two seasons. However, the prevailing opinion throughout the state of Texas was that Gillispie was a good coach, but that A&M was even more hopeless of a situation than that of UTEP's.

That is, of course, if you actually looked around long enough to hear or read an opinion on Texas A&M basketball.

Now, no basketball fan in Texas can help but take notice of what the Aggies and Gillispie are doing.

In Gillispie's first season, the Aggies, almost miraculously, won 20 games and got to the NIT quarterfinals.

Last season, A&M went to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 19 years and nearly went to the Sweet 16 before LSU hit a last-second three-pointer in the second round.

The Aggies are currently taking the next step in Gillispie's year-by-year upward progression, a step that may see Texas A&M end up in Atlanta at the end of the season.

Before Saturday, the Aggies were tied with Kansas and Texas atop the Big 12 at 6-1, but only had one true marquee win, a home victory against Oklahoma State. The amount of marquee wins for the Aggies now sits at three just three days later after defeating both of the teams they once shared the Big 12 perch with.

On Saturday, the Aggies became the first team from the Big 12 South (Baylor, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State) to win a game at Kansas with a 69-66 win.

However, the win was indicative of a team that was superbly coached and had even better play in the clutch on both ends of the floor. Kansas fans and viewers likely thought that the game was over when the Jayhawks were up by double-digits with six minutes to go. The athletic and deep cast of Kansas characters was simply outplaying the Aggies, and there was really no reason to think that the game would turn around like it did.

Eventually, it did turn around as Gillispie's team never quit and shut down Kansas in the final five minutes as Acie Law heated up in the clutch, driving to the basket and making seemingly impossible jumpers against a Jayhawk defense that had held the star point guard in check for nearly the whole game. Law made the go-ahead three pointer for Texas A&M with just 20 seconds left.

As monumental as the win in Lawrence was, the Aggies' 100-82 victory at home against Texas may end up being more significant to A&M's success.

A 100-82 score is simply not the kind of game that the Aggies and Gillispie like to play. Texas A&M is far more comfortable playing a 65-54 game with tough defense and an efficient, non-running style of offense.

Gillispie admitted as much in his post game news conference when he said, "If you would have told me that they would score 82, I would thought there would be no way we could win."

The game that the Aggies and Longhorns played early last March in College Station featured a combined 89 points. The same two teams scored 97 points in the second half alone on Monday night. Two important Aggie starters in Dominique Kirk and Joseph Jones were in foul trouble and eventually each fouled out. Seldom-used reserves Brian Davis and Donald Sloan were forced into action and combined for 19 points in 37 minutes.

The best teams in the country find ways to win even when they are forced into a different style of play or when they don't play their best. In the past two games, the Aggies have done each and established themselves as not only not your same old basketball Aggies, but as very legitimate Final Four contenders.

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