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Aggies Face Tough Test Against Penn State To Open March Madness

By Cole Thompson,


The Aggies will have a dreaded pathway to NRG Stadium in the NCAA Tournament, and it starts with the red-hot Nittany Lions.

There are times when the committee gets it wrong.

That may be the case with the Texas A&M Aggies men's basketball seeding after another deep run in the SEC Tournament.

The Aggies won 15 conference games, their most since 1923 when they called the Southwest Conference home. They won over then-No. 11 Tennessee and No. 1 Alabama at Reed Arena, capping off the season on a bit of a run.

And after garnering the No. 2-seed in the conference tournament, A&M handled business against Arkansas and Vanderbilt before coming up short against the top-ranked Crimson Tide in Nashville Sunday afternoon.

Even still, the Aggies did more than enough to earn a top-five seed in the NCAA Tournament, especially with Tennessee and Kentucky earning No. 4 and No. 6 seeds despite being ranked lower in the SEC standings. Instead, A&M will have a difficult road to make it to NRG Stadium for this year's Final Four as a No. 7-seed .

And it starts off against one of the hottest teams on the hardwood.

“The seeding doesn’t matter when we get on the court,” guard Wade Taylor IV said Sunday.

Maybe seeding doesn't matter. Opponents, however, do. A&M will be tasked with trying to find a way to stop No. 10-seed Penn State in the first round of the tournament on Thursday night in Des Moines, Iowa .

The Nittany Lions (22-13, 10-10 Big Ten) aren't just a feel-good roster. They're a consistent program that knows how to shoot at the right time to force comebacks regardless of the point differential.

That was evident in the Big Ten tournament as Penn State mounted a pair of rallies over Illinois and Indiana to make it to the conference finals.

A few more minutes at the United Center in Chicago, and perhaps the Nittany Lions would be riding high into March Madness as the conference champions. After being down by as much as 18, Penn State forced a close one against Purdue to only lose by two points.

“We (get) down, but we’re never out in any game (with) the way we shoot the ball and the way we defend,” Penn State guard Myles Dread said Sunday afternoon following a 67-65 loss to the Boilermakers.

The level of competition between the Big Ten and the SEC isn't that different. Eight of the 68 representatives in this year's tournament hail from the SEC. Another eight come from Big Ten country.

And in a sense, both the No. 17 Aggies (25-9, 15-3 SEC) and Nittany Lions both hit their strides at the right time. A&M won 10 of its last 12 games after struggling against non-conference opponents. Penn State won eight of its last 10 after a sluggish start in conference play.

"It's a group that's easy to root for," second-year Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry said of his roster Sunday afternoon. "These guys play really hard. We have a team with over a 3.0 GPA coming out of the fall semester, so we have serious students...we're going to play really hard and we're trying to represent Penn State the right way."

A&M will have its hands full on the backcourt defending All-Big Ten guard Jalen Pickett. After leading the Nittany Lions in both scoring (17.9 points per game) and rebounds (7.3 per game), Pickett went on a tear against the Hoosiers Saturday afternoon, scoring 28 points and finishing with eight rebounds.

The Nittany Lions also feature two playmaking guards in Seth Lundy and Andrew Funk. Lundy ranks second in scoring (14.4 points per game) and rebounds (6.3 rebounds per game), while Funk ranks third (12.1 points per game) and currently is averaging 43.3 percent from the field.

Make no mistake, the Aggies have talent, headlined by Taylor, who earned All-SEC honors after averaging a team-high 16.5 points per game. Still, it'll be up to defensive stalwarts like forward Julius Marble and Dexter Dennis to limit the shot from inside the paint.

Even if the Aggies make it past the red-hot Nittany Lions, the pathway to Houston comes with even more twists and turns. A victory likely sets up a Saturday showdown at second-seeded Texas in the Round of 32. The Longhorns won the Big 12 title for the first time since 2021 with a 76-56 win over No. 1-seed Kansas under the direction of interim coach Rodney Terry.

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