College Basketball: Texas A&M at Kansas - Kansas Favored
If Bill Self had never recommended that Texas A&M hire his pal and former assistant Billy Gillispie, maybe the 10th-ranked Aggies would still be a doormat. Maybe they wouldn't have grown quickly into one of the country's best teams and pose a threat to Self's Kansas Jayhawks in the Big 12's marquee game Saturday night.
Oddsmakers have made Kansas -6 point spread favorites
But it's too late now.
``I wanted Billy to be at Texas A&M because I thought he'd be great for the league,'' said Self. ``And it's played out that way.''
It certainly has. Just three years after going 0-16 in the league, the Aggies (18-3 overall, 6-1 Big 12) are tied with No. 6 Kansas and No. 22 Texas for first place in the Big 12.
A little improvement was expected, sure. But nobody would have predicted that by 2007, Gillispie's program would be challenging Kansas (6-1, 19-3) for supremacy in a sport that has been an afterthought at football-crazed Texas A&M.
It's perhaps the best turnaround in college basketball in recent years, beginning to rival the rags-to-riches football story Bill Snyder achieved at Kansas State.
``Over the past three, five years, nobody's done a better job coaching his team than Billy has,'' Self said. ``Taking a team that was 0-16 and now challenging for the top 10 and the league championship, you don't do that unless you've got good people working with you and good players. And there's got to be unbelievable energy and leadership, and he certainly provides those things.''
The two still talk several times a week and Gillispie always refers to Self with the respectful term ``coach.''
``That's probably just a habit,'' Self said with a grin. ``He's a special guy and Texas A&M's lucky to have him, that's for sure.''
The other Big 12 co-leader, Texas, will play earlier in the day against Kansas State's surging Wildcats.
Students began lining up at Allen Fieldhouse for tickets around dawn on Sunday, six days before the game.
The Aggies' turnaround does not include a victory over Kansas. They're 0-11 all-time against the Jayhawks, and 0-5 in Allen Fieldhouse.
Then again, the Big 12 South is a collective 0-31 at Kansas' noisy, tradition-steeped gym.
Kansas is the only Big 12 team the Aggies haven't beaten, but they came close two years ago in Gillispie's only trip to Lawrence before finally falling 65-60.
``They were a little short-handed and we probably caught them at a pretty good time,'' Gillispie said.
``When you go in there, it's definitely one of the best home-court advantages in the country. But if they didn't always have a great team, they'd have a hard time like everyone else.
``They've got a team this year that's capable of winning the whole thing, in my opinion. When you go up there, you have plenty to worry about even before you get to the crowd.''
The Aggies will bring one of the country's toughest defenses into the game. They lead the nation in field-goal percentage defense and are second in scoring defense. No opponent has scored more than 70 against them.
``They take you out of the things you try to do as well as anybody,'' Self said.
by: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us
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