basketball Edit

Preview: Cavaliers to host No. 14 Texas A&M tomorrow night

Henry Coleman's availability and overall health could be big for UVa on the defensive glass.
Henry Coleman's availability and overall health could be big for UVa on the defensive glass. (USATSI)

ACC/SEC Challenge

No. 14 Texas A&M (6-1) at UVa (5-1)

7:15 p.m., ESPN2

Following a week off, UVa returns to Charlottesville for its toughest test of the still young season tomorrow night when the Hoos host No.14 Texas A&M in the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge.

The SEC, of course, replaces the Big Ten in the challenge this year after the latter moved its TV rights away from ESPN. Despite the change, the challenge should still afford plenty of intriguing matchups like this one between A&M and UVa.

The Aggies come to JPJ following their early-season tournament over the weekend. While A&M fans were likely dialed into their football coaching search over the past two weeks, the basketball team is off to an impressive start. Texas A&M started the year 5-0 before falling to a very good Florida Atlantic team on Black Friday 96-89 in Orlando. The Aggies bounced back with a good win over a solid Iowa State team, already their third opponent this season in the top 26 of the KenPom rankings, with all of those games away from home.

Wednesday’s contest will also reunite Tony Bennett with Aggies coach Buzz Williams, after the two squared off as in-state rivals when Williams was at Virginia Tech. During his stint in Blacksburg, Williams went 3-7 against the Hoos, though he did lead Tech to a big upset win in 2017-18, only UVa’s second loss of that season, just two days before they ascended to No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25.

Texas A&M entered the season with high expectations following an early exit from last year’s NCAA Tournament. In the media preseason poll, the Aggies were picked to finish second behind Tennessee in a competitive SEC.

The Numbers


The Aggies have been efficient throughout their first seven games of the season, and rank No. 18 in KenPom heading into tomorrow night’s game. That makes A&M the highest-ranked team the Hoos have played (No. 24 Wisconsin the next highest), and the third-highest ranked team on UVa’s schedule overall, behind No. 12 Duke and No. 13 UNC.

Texas A&M has had one of the most efficient offenses in the nation, ranking fifth in adjusted offensive efficiency. One stat that could spell doom for the Hoos is that the Aggies are first nationally in offensive rebound rate, which could be trouble for a UVa defense that has allowed far too many second-chance opportunities in the first six contests. A&M also ranks 24th nationally in turnover rate, and shoot 51.7 percent on twos but make just 28.8 percent of their 3-point attempts. Most of their points, 55.5 percent, have come on two-point field goals, which ranks 88th most in the nation. The Aggies don’t play as slow as Virginia, but they are more of a halfcourt team, ranking 295th nationally in tempo.

On defense, Texas A&M ranks 78th overall. The Aggies aren’t in the top-100 of any major defensive category, though they rank 105th in block rate and 121st in two-point field goal defense, allowing opponents to make just 47.7 percent of those attempts. A&M’s opponents have shot a good number of 3s, with 45 percent of their field-goal attempts defended coming from beyond the arc. The Aggies don’t create many turnovers, either, ranking 263rd nationally in that category on a per-possession basis.

The Matchups

Wade Taylor IV, Guard

The Aggies’ top scorer so far this season, the junior guard is averaging 20 points per contest. Taylor was a very good scorer last year, too, averaging 16.3 per game, but if he can continue on his current pace for this season, he’ll be an SEC Player of the Year contender. He scored 35 points in Friday’s loss to FAU, and has scored at least 14 points in each game. Taylor is the team’s top distributor, too, averaging 4.4 assists per contest. The Dallas native will need to take better care of the basketball on Wednesday night against UVa coming off of an eight-turnover performance against Iowa State on Sunday.

Tyrese Radford, Guard

The next two players listed are critical pieces for the Aggies but both missed Sunday’s game against Iowa State. The guard they “Boots” should be a familiar foe for the Wahoos, having started his career in Blacksburg after signing to play for Williams. He is one of the top players in the SEC, averaging 13 points and 4.8 rebounds per game this year following a very solid 2022-23 season. Radford decided to return for a fifth year but his status for tomorrow is unclear at this time. Williams said that Radford was having trouble breathing in Orlando over the weekend and appeared to be dealing with some sort of respiratory illness. He was pulled after playing just 18 minutes and scoring just two points against FAU, and missed the following game too. His status for Wednesday’s game could certainly swing it one way or the other, though the Aggies did just get a big win without him.

Henry Coleman, Forward

Here’s another Aggie that should be familiar to Cavalier fans, and another that missed Sunday’s win over the Cyclones. A Richmond native with UVa roots, Coleman began his career at Duke before landing with Williams and A&M, where he’s had a nice career. He is averaging 14.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game and is a big part of A&M’s success on the offensive glass. Earlier in the season, Coleman recorded three consecutive double-doubles, against Ohio State, SMU, and Oral Roberts. He also had a big game offensively against Penn State, going for 24 points on Thanksgiving Day. He rolled his ankle in Friday’s loss to FAU and missed the next game. Williams didn’t divulge many details about Coleman’s long-term availability.

Hayden Hefner, Guard

A 6-foot-6 senior guard, Hefner is a solid role player for the Aggies playing alongside Radford and Taylor in the backcourt. He is a four-year player at Texas A&M, averaging 8.9 points per game, a big jump up from 3.4 per contest last year. Hefner is a dangerous outside shooter, making 41.4 percent of his attempts this season; he went 4-for-9 from beyond the arc against FAU last week.

The Outlook

This should be a tough test for the Wahoos, who at least will have home-court advantage on their side. The health of Texas A&M will be a big question heading into this game, unless we get an update from Williams beforehand. But the Aggies proved on Sunday night that they can beat a quality team without both Coleman and Radford, something that bodes well for them in a long season.

Virginia can win this game, but the Cavaliers are going to have to find a way to neutralize Texas A&M’s best strength, the offensive glass, which is also perhaps UVa’s biggest achilles heel. Blake Buchanan and the rest of the UVa frontcourt are going to need to step up in a big way, and hopefully the time off has allowed the coaching staff to have the team ready to hit the glass or at least try to make second-chance points less common. This could also be a game where UVa has to shoot its way to victory. A&M is a good team on both ends of the floor, and do a good job cutting off drives and preventing easy buckets. If Isaac McKneely and others come out shooting the ball well, the Wahoos have a shot.

We’re going with Texas A&M in this one, as the Aggies have accomplished more to this point and seem to have a recipe for success that UVa may struggle to counter. This could be a great win for whichever team gets it, but it could be an uphill climb for the Cavaliers.

The Pick

No. 14 Texas A&M: 64

UVa: 60