|Win streaks on line for Texas A&M, Missouri|
After a month and a half absence from the Associated Press Top 25, Texas A&M jumped back into the rankings this week at No. 21 on the strength of a four-game win streak.
But the Aggies have a whole new slew of issues to deal with in their run-up to their key Southeast Conference battle at Missouri on Tuesday at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Missouri, that could affect their chances to stay in the rankings and continue to make some noise as the league season heads into its final stretch.
But first the good news for Texas A&M -- the Aggies (17-8, 6-6 in SEC play) head to the Show Me State on the heels of a definitive 85-74 home victory over No. 24 Kentucky on Saturday that handed them their sixth win in their past seven SEC games.
All five Aggies' starters scored in double figures in the win over Kentucky, the sixth time that's been achieved by the team this season.
The win also allowed Texas A&M to even its conference record after beginning the campaign with five straight losses, improved its record to 4-3 against ranked teams.
Texas A&M junior forward DJ Hogg said afterward that the biggest difference in the last couple of weeks is the Aggies' positive attitude.
"We've just been sticking together and listening to the game plan and following what Coach (Billy Kennedy) says," Hogg said. "He is a positive man and in turn helps us stay positive. We just feed off each other's energy."
Given that win and the streak that the Aggies have enjoyed in February, you'd think they would be flying high. But there's a fly in the ointment -- on Sunday, the team announced that two of its freshman players, had been suspended for violations of Texas A&M policy. JJ Caldwell has been dismissed from the team and Jay Jay Chandler has been suspended indefinitely.
Then on Monday evening Texas A&M officials said graduate transfer guard Duane Wilson would be lost for the remainder of the season and that his career for the Aggies had come to an end.
Wilson initially suffered a knee injury on Dec. 30 at Alabama, missing three games before returning Jan. 13 at Tennessee. He played in each of the Aggies' last nine games before injuring the knee again during Saturday's victory over No. 24 Kentucky.
Missouri (17-8, 7-5 in SEC play) has also won four games in a row, the most recent on Saturday at home in overtime over Mississippi State 89-85. That streak is the Tigers' longest in conference play since they won five straight in the Big 12 in the 2011-12 season.
"Good win. We made it a lot tougher down the stretch than we would have liked, but it's all about growth," Mizzou coach Cuonzo Martin said afterward. "Our guys maintained composure, focus and fight. Great team effort, I'm happy for our guys. It's basketball. Do the things necessary to win the game."
Tuesday's game is crucial for both teams' hopes at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Martin was asked after the win over Mississippi State if Mizzou is an NCAA tourney team.
"I've never debated on us being an NCAA tournament team," he said. "If you say there's 64 teams, we're one of the 64 without question. That's not a debate. Are we one of the better teams in the country? That's not a debate. We are one of those teams. The focus is not to win a game so we can make the tournament. I'm not talking about that. We're already that."
Missouri lists the all-time series as 18-14 in favor of Texas A&M as the school was forced to vacate all of its wins (including two over the Aggies) during the 2013-14 season. The Tigers will be seeking to snap a seven-game Texas A&M winning streak in the series and avenge a 60-49 loss to the Aggies in College Station on Jan. 20.