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Clean slate for Texas AM, Providence

Sports Xchange - Wednesday 14th March, 2018

Texas AM and Providence College head to their NCAA Tournament South Region game on Friday with virtually no knowledge of each other, and that might not be a bad thing.

The two teams from two of college basketball's premier conferences square off at 12:15 ET at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C.

"I don't (know their nickname) -- I don't know anything about Providence (or location)," Texas AM center Tyler Davis said on Sunday. "Nope, I have no idea. It just feels great to be recognized and be in the dance, another opportunity to make a run to a national championship."

Before you start with the Aggie jokes, look at what Providence coach Ed Cooley had to say about his opponent.

"I don't know much on them at all," Cooley said. "They play in a great conference so they're going to be battle-tested. It's going to be fun -- enjoy it."

It's the first ever meeting between Texas AM and the Friars. The seventh-seeded Aggies return to the NCAAs for the second time in three years after advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2015-16. In contrast, 10th-seeded Providence has five Sweet 16 appearances and have made it to a pair of Final Fours.

Texas AM (20-12) had its share of ups and downs this season. It started the year 11-1 but then suffered a handful of injuries and suspensions and lost its first five Southeastern Conference games. The Aggies went 9-4 in their final 13 conference games but lost a last-second matchup to Alabama in the second round of the SEC Tournament on March 8.

Texas AM will be making its 14th overall appearance in the NCAA Tourney. Eight of the Aggies' 14 appearances, and eight of their 11 NCAA wins, have come since 2006. Texas AM is 11-14 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.

"We play the same way -- a physical type brand of basketball, defensively oriented, rebounding," Texas AM coach Billy Kennedy said of his team and Providence. "Both like to play that way, so it will be a war I would expect. Your league prepares you for games like this, and our league has been tough this year and we've played some teams that are similar like Missouri and Alabama and Kentucky."

Texas AM is led by a balanced offense of six players who scored at least 9.0 points per game. Davis paced the teams with 14.4 points and 8.8 rebounds per contest and sophomore power forward Robert Williams, a potential lottery pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, contributes 10.3 points and 9 boards per game.

Providence (21-13) finished fifth in the Big East this season with a 10-8 conference record and is coming off a stellar league tournament run where it beat Xavier, who is the West Region's No. 1 seed, and Creighton before losing to Villanova in the championship game, 76-66.

"We're disappointed (in the loss to Villanova) but the fact that we were selected to go to this next tournament, this is what you play for, this is what you coach for," Cooley said. "To get to that magical stage, I can't tell you how excited I am about going."

Providence is making its 20th appearance in the NCAAs and its team-record fifth in a row. The Friars are also making its sixth straight postseason appearance overall in Cooley's seventh season as coach. It is the first time Providence has reached the postseason in six consecutive seasons since David Gavitt's Friars accomplished the feat from 1970-71 to 1977-78 (eight consecutive seasons).

The Friars were 3-5 against AP Top 25 teams and 4-7 away from home.

Providence is well balanced, with three players averaging in double figures, led by 6-foot-8 senior Rodney Bullock at 14 points a game. Alpha Diallo, a 6-7 sophomore guard, averages 13 points and leads the team in rebounding with 6.6 per game. The 5-11 senior Kyron Cartwright scores 11.8 points per game and leads the team with 5.4 assists per contest.

"Everyone was happy," Diallo said of his teammates and making the NCAAs. "We're battle-tested based from these past few games. We can't wait to get down there."

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