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November 11, 2010

Loubeau, Middleton keys to A&M's success

No longer will the A&M basketball team have the infectious screams and hustle of one Bryan Davis. However, if all goes according to plan, they may have the most depth of any frontcourt in the entire Big 12. In recent years, this team has seemingly fought an uphill battle at the three, four and five positions. But with the conference losing Dexter Pittman, Ekpe Udoh and Cole Aldrich, this youthful Aggie bunch has an opportunity to turn what was once a liability into an asset.

We continue our AggieYell season preview with a look at who should contribute.

Small Forward:

Khris Middleton

Going into his freshman campaign, Khris Middleton wasn't expected to be a main contributor. However, by season's end, he had started in 22 games and emerged as one of the conference's best young players. Middleton has a silky-smooth jumper, as we all know. When he gets going, he can hit almost every shot on the court. In his last five games of 2009, he shot over 53 percent from the field, including 54 percent from behind the three-point strip and 100 percent from the free throw line.

Going into 2010, Middleton is going to have to take over as one of the primary scorers on this team. That is obvious. But it is in the other facets of the game that Middleton has made some drastic improvements. During the offseason, he improved his ability to put the ball on the floor and create for himself and for his teammates. So much so, in fact, that Mark Turgeon believes Middleton should challenge Dash Harris for the assists lead on the team.

Middleton's rebounding has improved as he has begun playing more physical down low. At 6-feet-8-inches and with an outlandish wingspan, there is no excuse for Middleton to not be a top-three rebounder on this team.

In my opinion, Middleton will make the biggest leap on this team. I can see him putting together a 12-6-4 kind of season which would be enormous from the small forward position.

Nathan Walkup

The oft-maligned senior goes into his final season in Aggieland with multiple goals in mind. One of which is to improve his shooting from the outside. Walkup, a perceived long-distance threat, shot a meager 26 percent from behind the 3-point line. And when his shot wasn't falling, his game tended to take a hit as well.

Without much experience in the frontcourt, Walkup is going to have to be a factor on the glass and in post defense - regardless of whether or not his shot is falling.

Thus far in camp, he has been hitting bottoms from outside. His shot has been consistent and he has shown an ability to get to the rack. Turgeon said he will use him at both the three and the four. If that's the case, Walkup is going to have to play with a physicality he has yet to show consistently during his time at A&M.

Power Forward/Center:

David Loubeau

When pundits discuss the Big 12 conference, many are overlooking the player who is going to breakout the most. That would be No. 10 in maroon. David Loubeau is on the brink of what is going to be one of the better seasons for an A&M post-man in recent memory.
Just watch him on Friday. His post game - with both hands - has improved. He has put on some weight, looks stronger and looks quicker. When he gets the ball deep - which he tends to do given his strength - he is near impossible to stop.

This Aggie half-court offense looks to run through No. 10. Because of that, Loubeau must take that step as a basketball player. We all saw glimpses of it during his sophomore season - most specifically during the KU game at Reed.

He must improve on the defensive end, both on and off the ball. His rebounding has to stay consistent. And, more than anything, he must improve when passing out of double teams - something that has plagued him thus far in his career.

For this season, A&M doesn't have a go-to scorer in the backcourt. However, down low, Loubeau has a chance to take off and put up a 15 and eight kind of season. If he can do anything close to that, then this team will surprise some folks.

Ray Turner

He is far and away the most talented player on this basketball team. He can run like a gazelle and can jump out of the building. Oh, he is also 6'8'' and weighs in over 220 pounds. Yes, Ray Turner - RFT to some - is capable of doing most anything on the basketball court.

However, as Turgeon said during the first press conference, Turner is sometimes an "athlete" and sometimes a "basketball player." If he is to reach that potential, Turner must consistently earn the moniker of "basketball player."

Turner is an asset to this team, for the most part, on the fast break. In transition, he can outrun other bigs and can finish with the best of them. The problem comes in the half-court. Turner tends to be apprehensive to pass the basketball. It is something in his game that he must improve. He has seemingly developed a turn-around jumper and can still hit the mid-range jumper.

Defensively, Turner is best when coming off the ball. He can go up and get some shots that nobody else on this team couldn't dream of. When he wants to, he can rebound very well. It's usually about positioning with him.

Turner is almost an enigma for this squad. He is coping with the loss of his best friend -- Tobi Oyedeji - and in the process trying to turn from "project" into "basketball player."

Kourtney Roberson

When searching for the freshman who will contribute most to the 2010 A&M squad, look no further than Kourtney Roberson. Due to his extra year to mature physically, Roberson looks ready and able to contribute at the Big 12 level.

Roberson is not much of an offensive threat, but the Aggies don't necessarily need him to do so. He'll be able to finish when he gets it down low and on the break. He is also a natural passer, according to the head coach.

He will be the most help defensively and in the motion offense. Because of his big body - and make no mistake about it, he is the biggest player on the team - he will be good to have setting back screens and such. Defensively, he should be able to match up with other bigs rather routinely. He is a good rebounder and has good timing with his jumps.

Look for Roberson to be the seventh or eighth man in the Aggie rotation and look for him to be a major help come conference time.

Keith Davis

The freshman from DeSoto is second to Turner as the most athletic player on the court. His arms are freakishly long, he can run and he can jump out of the building. Make no mistake though, he is very raw. He should get minutes this year due to his enormous potential - a la Turner last year. He surprised me the most in the times I've watched him play.


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