Mike Strange: Suddenly, beating Texas A&M is a big deal

Mike Strange
Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin yells to his players in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Vanderbilt on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin yells to his players in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Vanderbilt on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Vols learn to accept changing roles on team

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For the first 100 years or so of their respective histories, Tennessee and Texas A&M had a casual, infrequent relationship in men’s basketball.

Between 1951 and 2003, there were several occasions to toss a jump ball in the air and see what’s what. Whether the Aggies or Vols prevailed, it wasn’t going to make or break either’s season.

All that changes Saturday.

There’s nothing casual about Tennessee’s visit to Reed Arena in College Station. This is SEC business. And as is often the case in late February, it’s important SEC business.

A four-game winning streak has added urgency to Tennessee’s agenda. A road win over the Aggies would keep NCAA tournament hopes progressive.

UT coach Cuonzo Martin probably would rather test the resilience of his team’s recent surge somewhere other than unfamiliar turf in the middle of Texas. But here the Vols are.

It was football demographics that added College Station and Columbia, Mo., to the SEC itinerary. Hoops and every other sport are merely along for the ride.

Since UT and A&M did not meet in football last fall, Saturday is the Vols’ first excursion into Aggie World as SEC brethren in a major sport. The Lady Vols and A&M women are on a collision course for Thursday night in Knoxville that could decide the SEC regular-season race.

But there’s no getting around the fact that the Vols have to manifest a sense of instant rivalry Saturday. The Aggies might seem like virtual strangers, akin to Virginia or Xavier, but that’s out of date. In the new world order, they matter as much as Vanderbilt or Kentucky.

Toward that end, here’s a primer to get you up to speed on who the Aggies are and where they come from.

There is some common ground — beyond sharing UTK chancellor Dr. Jimmy Cheek. He earned his undergrad and doctoral degrees at A&M.

Oddly enough, each program’s best player was named Bernard King. Tennessee’s King played at a higher level than A&M’s version, but the Aggie King did leave school in 2003 as the Big 12 Conference’s all-time leading scorer.

Both schools mustered six consecutive NCAA tournament runs from 2006-2011. The man who cranked up the Aggies was Billy Gillispie, who left in 2007 for Kentucky. You know how that turned out.

Both schools hired new coaches in 2011, Martin in UT’s case, Billy Kennedy for A&M.

Texas A&M’s version of Ray Mears is Shelby Metcalf, who arrived in 1963, a year after Mears got to Knoxville, and turned the Aggies into a consistent winner.

The series history amounts to only five games, the first in 1951. Tennessee won four, including two games three weeks apart in December 1985. One was in Stokely Athletics Center, the other in the Sugar Bowl Classic title game in New Orleans, the week of the storied football win over Miami.

That was it until Buzz Peterson scheduled a home-and-home. The Aggies won in College Station in 2002; the Vols returned the favor in 2003.

What would have been the most memorable meeting never happened. On March 22, 2007, UT lost to Ohio State 85-84 in San Antonio. On that same Sweet 16 card in the Alamo Dome, Texas A&M lost to Memphis 65-64. An Elite Eight showdown was sabotaged by two last-second possessions.

But all that’s past and, frankly, unimportant. Saturday, a rivalry is reborn in a whole new context.

Now, it matters.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at strangemike44.

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Comments » 43

usnavyvolfan__times_free_press_can_shove_it writes:

Just keep doin' what you're doin', and we'll be fine. GBO!!

CoverOrange writes:

That last second loss to Ohio State in 2007 is still etched in my head.

cloudodust writes:

Beating all-comers is kinda what it's all about. Be that as it may, would be a great road win as all road games are forever hanging in the balance prior to tip. GBO

KDOG1973 writes:

Just play Tennessee Basketball, relax, have fun, and should be another win for the Big Orange.

SouthPaVol writes:

I like where we are; I like what we're doing; and I like our chances on Saturday. Go Vols!

That_One_Fellar writes:

Gah, could you imagine what Manziel woulda done to our 3-4 defense??? That woulda been a record settin day for Manziel that he probably never woulda been able to top...

ronburgundy (Inactive) writes:

A&M has some nice wins but some nasty loses as well. Should be interesting.

mlynn1 writes:

Georgia beat them in Texas, so can Tennessee. Attack, attack, attack on offense and defense.

mlynn1 writes:

in response to 9willbesofine:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

KNS staff, if ya'll would police this site and forbid comments like this on a Tennessee site, it would be much better and your readership would definately go up.Real fans don't come here much because of phooey like this posted at an alarming rate, true fans just stay away from such foolishness. One would think this would have already been figured out!

kyvol98 writes:

in response to mlynn1:

KNS staff, if ya'll would police this site and forbid comments like this on a Tennessee site, it would be much better and your readership would definately go up.Real fans don't come here much because of phooey like this posted at an alarming rate, true fans just stay away from such foolishness. One would think this would have already been figured out!

I don't mind 9 posting their drivel here. Good to start the day with a chuckle. Truly, what they are saying is true. Of course, their beloved gators have shown they are not the juggernaut everyone thought they would be.

6972 writes:

in response to mlynn1:

KNS staff, if ya'll would police this site and forbid comments like this on a Tennessee site, it would be much better and your readership would definately go up.Real fans don't come here much because of phooey like this posted at an alarming rate, true fans just stay away from such foolishness. One would think this would have already been figured out!

I want to know where he bought his crystal ball. So prophetic! I am impressed.

underthehill writes:

in response to 6972:

I want to know where he bought his crystal ball. So prophetic! I am impressed.

I am always willing to gain knowledge that I don't have..what does definately mean..thanks..

SevenT writes:

I would not be a bit surprised if Tennessee didn't win another game all season

volfan2002 writes:

This is a game where we'll either continue our march toward and NCAA birth or we can shut up about it. A big game today.

orangevagabond writes:

Why must I leave knoxnews and go to ESPN to find out the start time? Couldn't they just add that bit of info in the column or am I missing something about "trending" of electronic meda?

johnlg00 writes:

in response to SevenT:

I would not be a bit surprised if Tennessee didn't win another game all season

I would be REALLY surprised if you ever posted anything remotely useful or intelligent on here!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to volfan2002:

This is a game where we'll either continue our march toward and NCAA birth or we can shut up about it. A big game today.

Yep, that's pretty much the deal and has been for the last few weeks. We will see if this team has the fortitude to surmount what should be a stiff challenge on the road. No margin for error now. Hit the boards, get those 50-50 balls on the floor, run to score, no silly fouls, and nail your own free-throws. Do all that and we will all be smiling Saturday night. The NCAA dream stays alive for a few more days. YOU CAN DO IT, VOLS! Make yourselves and us proud! GBO!!!

Noogaorange writes:

in response to 9willbesofine:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Stupid! GBO VFL17

Tennfan4075 writes:

in response to mlynn1:

KNS staff, if ya'll would police this site and forbid comments like this on a Tennessee site, it would be much better and your readership would definately go up.Real fans don't come here much because of phooey like this posted at an alarming rate, true fans just stay away from such foolishness. One would think this would have already been figured out!

I guess since you have decided to read and comment on this site identifies you as not a real UT fan.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to ronburgundy:

A&M has some nice wins but some nasty loses as well. Should be interesting.

Correct Ron..A&M are the Jekyll and Hyde of the SEC.They have won 2 big games only to follow up with losses to GA and Vandy..

orangecountyvols writes:

in response to Tennfan4075:

I guess since you have decided to read and comment on this site identifies you as not a real UT fan.

I disagree. Since the KNS staff doesn't seem to be inclined to deal with the trolls here, and then we have several people who say just "ignore the trolls and they will go away" there is nothing wrong with mlynn and others who realize idiots such as "9 is fine to be a troll".........aren't going to 'go away.'

The staff has allowed trolls to be here for a long time, along with clowns such as J Flowers who has defamed several Tennessee football players, ( Kremser and Glenn Ford ) so from time to time Vol fans have said enough is enough. I know it's wrong to address these idiots, it simply gets tiresome just seeing them here with their warped purpose.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Yep, that's pretty much the deal and has been for the last few weeks. We will see if this team has the fortitude to surmount what should be a stiff challenge on the road. No margin for error now. Hit the boards, get those 50-50 balls on the floor, run to score, no silly fouls, and nail your own free-throws. Do all that and we will all be smiling Saturday night. The NCAA dream stays alive for a few more days. YOU CAN DO IT, VOLS! Make yourselves and us proud! GBO!!!

Good post John..With so many good teams with way more wins and far better records than us we are a huge long shot to go to the tourney but we have gone from the SEC cellar to SEC respectability...Another road win here would be huge..Frankly Iam not getting a warm and fuzzy feeling in this game..We have been shooting lights out lately and McRae and Golden have been on a terror but like any other team on a winning streak bad shooting nights can be a killer..Do you know if A&M have good post players???If Stokes faces two 6' 10" guys it will be a problem..NO turnovers is a must..Iam really hoping McRae and Golden have another big 50% shooting game..Like I said before this is a huge opportunity to make a statement on the road and continue our rise up the SEC standings..GO VOLS

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to SevenT:

I would not be a bit surprised if Tennessee didn't win another game all season

Well, only if UT draws tucky in the SEC tourney will another guaranteed win exist.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to volfan2002:

This is a game where we'll either continue our march toward and NCAA birth or we can shut up about it. A big game today.

It's a big game, but a winning record in SEC play (hopefully a win over FU) plus wins in the SEC tourney might do the trick. The only way UT can really improve their RPI will have to include wins over FU&Mizzou..

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

It's a big game, but a winning record in SEC play (hopefully a win over FU) plus wins in the SEC tourney might do the trick. The only way UT can really improve their RPI will have to include wins over FU&Mizzou..

golly I was just hoping to beat A&M!!

UT 75 Tex A&M 70.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Good post John..With so many good teams with way more wins and far better records than us we are a huge long shot to go to the tourney but we have gone from the SEC cellar to SEC respectability...Another road win here would be huge..Frankly Iam not getting a warm and fuzzy feeling in this game..We have been shooting lights out lately and McRae and Golden have been on a terror but like any other team on a winning streak bad shooting nights can be a killer..Do you know if A&M have good post players???If Stokes faces two 6' 10" guys it will be a problem..NO turnovers is a must..Iam really hoping McRae and Golden have another big 50% shooting game..Like I said before this is a huge opportunity to make a statement on the road and continue our rise up the SEC standings..GO VOLS

All I really know about A&M besides Elston Turner is that they were good enough to beat UK at Rupp when they still had Noel, which the Vols obviously didn't do. They have had their ups and downs like most teams this year, but clearly their "ups" can beat UT's "downs". Nobody can count on their shots going down every night, especially on the road, but if they just keep TRYING to do the things they have been doing lately, I'll take my chances. That is where the mental/emotional aspect comes in. If they can keep their heads enough to do what they know works by now, they will have a good shot.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

golly I was just hoping to beat A&M!!

UT 75 Tex A&M 70.

I hear ya..But like any road trip in the SEC, the road team must play better bb than the home team to compensate for officiating/crowd noise/familiarity with the arena..I am interested to see how well prepared UT will be to play in a hostile environment..GBO!!

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to 9willbesofine:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Naw!!! It'll be UT over state by 5 you dummy.

jmaples54 writes:

in response to orangecountyvols:

I disagree. Since the KNS staff doesn't seem to be inclined to deal with the trolls here, and then we have several people who say just "ignore the trolls and they will go away" there is nothing wrong with mlynn and others who realize idiots such as "9 is fine to be a troll".........aren't going to 'go away.'

The staff has allowed trolls to be here for a long time, along with clowns such as J Flowers who has defamed several Tennessee football players, ( Kremser and Glenn Ford ) so from time to time Vol fans have said enough is enough. I know it's wrong to address these idiots, it simply gets tiresome just seeing them here with their warped purpose.

you know what? it really doesn't matter.
some of these negatrolls vent about opposing fans, some vent about adams, and some vent about negatrolls (i'm one of those).
this is why we like sports. we can vent-- and it doesn't really matter.
so enjoy your sports and your venting.
don't know who's going to win, but it will be a 1 or 2 point game. gbo

murrayvol writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

That last second loss to Ohio State in 2007 is still etched in my head.

Now that's a vivid thought.

murrayvol writes:

in response to SevenT:

I would not be a bit surprised if Tennessee didn't win another game all season

If that's all you've got, you need to find another line of work.

murrayvol writes:

The Vol roundballers have developed a nasty habit of digging a deep hole re the NCAA Tourney and then staging a last gasp revival to "almost" get in.

Maybe it'll work this year. Maybe not. At least there's no home loss to APSU on the resume.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to murrayvol:

The Vol roundballers have developed a nasty habit of digging a deep hole re the NCAA Tourney and then staging a last gasp revival to "almost" get in.

Maybe it'll work this year. Maybe not. At least there's no home loss to APSU on the resume.

Or Oakland..

usnavyvolfan__times_free_press_can_shove_it writes:

in response to 9willbesofine:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Mizzou!!!!!!!!!

jt45 writes:

Good lord why on earth is CCM playing McBee on Turner, thats just ridiculous. McBee looks like he is standing still every time Turner puts a move on him. I hope this gets changed during halftime or this game is done.

usnavyvolfan__times_free_press_can_shove_it writes:

YES! YES! YES!! YES!! What an effort by the Vols! HUUUUUGE win on the road. 4OTs! And NOT ONE UT player fouled out of the game! TG with 32 pts! AWESOME!!!!!!!

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to usnavyvolfan__times_free_press_can_shove_it:

YES! YES! YES!! YES!! What an effort by the Vols! HUUUUUGE win on the road. 4OTs! And NOT ONE UT player fouled out of the game! TG with 32 pts! AWESOME!!!!!!!

I concur..

VolGrad writes:

in response to SevenT:

I would not be a bit surprised if Tennessee didn't win another game all season

Sorry we couldn't accommodate you. NOT.

Great, grind it out, 4 OT victory on the road today for the men in ORANGE! Go Vols!!!

utvolfan1955 writes:

in response to SevenT:

I would not be a bit surprised if Tennessee didn't win another game all season

your predictions have been wrong lately d bag

utvolfan1955 writes:

in response to 9willbesofine:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

wrong, little useless zz

Tru138 writes:

in response to SevenT:

I would not be a bit surprised if Tennessee didn't win another game all season

A regular sage you are.

decades_vol (Inactive) writes:

The trolls that like to goad,
carry such a mental load.
Instead of moving down the road,
They remain, croaking, like toads.

Names, with numbers and letters,
And one of them, a wannabe "better".
Grandmas' basements they haunt,
There they deliver their taunts,
Sad lives, that won't get any better.

justafan4ut writes:

in response to decades_vol:

The trolls that like to goad,
carry such a mental load.
Instead of moving down the road,
They remain, croaking, like toads.

Names, with numbers and letters,
And one of them, a wannabe "better".
Grandmas' basements they haunt,
There they deliver their taunts,
Sad lives, that won't get any better.

Poet and didn't noet!

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