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Texas A&M might have the deepest frontcourt in the SEC, but what about the backcourt?

Previewing the #2 team in the SEC, the Texas A&M Aggies.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Vanderbilt vs Texas A&M Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
TAMU Record

#2 Texas A&M Aggies

Last Season: 16 - 15 (8 - 10 in conference) #64 kenpom

My Prediction: 21 - 10 (12 - 6, 2nd in conference)

The Masses Prediction: 11.1 - 6.9 (3rd in conference)

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Texas A&M Sean Pokorny-USA TODAY Sports

HEAD COACH: Billy Kennedy | seventh season 115-85

If I have a list of head coaches I’m still not quite sure about, Billy Kennedy is probably at or near the top of the list. Kennedy is entering his 7th season at Texas A&M, and his 20th season as a head coach overall. Kennedy started at Centenary, before moving to Southeastern Louisiana and finally taking over Murray State before he got plucked to succeed Mark Turgeon at A&M. From 2004 through 2011, led by Turgeon and Billy Gillispie before him, the Aggies never won fewer than 21 games, and had a run of six straight tournament appearances. Since Kennedy has taken over the Aggies have gotten to the NCAA tournament once and have only eclipsed 20 wins in a season twice in six years. Seven years, six tournaments, going into a seventh year and just one. I don’t know how hot his seat is, but if the Aggies slip and fall this season with the amount of talent on the roster I could very easily see Kennedy in trouble. There were plenty of explanations for the programs step back when he took over, but last year’s disappointment has to be the exception.

Seat Temp: COOL

texas a&m preview 10 year look 2017

As was stated above, from Gillispie through Turgeon the Aggies had a good run. Before Gillispie arrived, the most recent 20 game win season was in 1986 under head coach Shelby Metcalf. What I’m saying is A&M was not remotely considered a basketball school until Gillispie and Turgeon bumped their profile.

SO, WHO’S GONE?

name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
Tyler Davis professional 35 72.56% 19.73% 13.28% 14.83%
D.J. Hogg professional 32 70.49% 13.43% 15.62% 13.36%
Robert Williams professional 30 54.81% 11.80% 9.47% 9.24%
Duane Wilson graduation 22 37.63% 7.48% 12.65% 9.85%
Tonny Trocha-Morelos graduation 35 55.10% 8.96% 8.10% 8.69%
J.J. Caldwell transfer 17 19.24% 1.94% 5.05% 2.58%
61.97% 63.34% 64.17% 58.55%

J.C. Hampton came in with some high expectations, but mostly due to the circumstances. Hampton had played some point guard at Lipscomb but he wasn’t what the Aggies really needed last season, which was a lead point guard who could shoulder about 30 mpg. Instead he played about half the minutes and was a solid but not spectacular enough to get A&M over the hump. Tavario Miller had a solid role player career. He never played more than about a quarter of the minutes, but did what he was asked and provided good minutes. The threesome of Kobie Eubanks, Caleb Smith and Eric Vila transferred due to limited minutes and being recruited over.

AND, WHO’S BACK?

player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
Admon Gilder SR CG 30 68.35% 14.04% 65.23% 15.13%
T.J. Starks SO PG 32 48.47% 12.07% 51.12% 11.87%
Savion Flagg SO WING 30 33.43% 4.67% 55.61% 3.94%
Jay Jay Chandler SO CG 17 26.87% 4.67% 52.00% 4.21%
Chris Collins* SR PG 17 8.55.% 0.99% 38.53% 0.60%
Isaiah Jasey SO POST 15 3.56% 0.23% 32.26% 0.00%
Frank Byers* SR PG 3 0.36% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
Mark French* JR PG 5 0.50% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
Cameron Alo* SO PG 2 0.07% 0.00% 0.00% 0.12%
Josh Nebo R-JR POST TRANSFER
John Walker III R-FR CF REDSHIRT
36.32% 36.67% 62.63% 35.87%
NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Vanderbilt vs Texas A&M Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Davis | JUNIOR | POST

Where Tyler Davis came from as a junior in high school to where he is now as a junior in college is remarkable. He’s reshaped his body to the point where he’s an incredibly chiseled 265 lbs these days and what he’s lost in body fat he has not in his efficiency. As a freshman Davis had a true shooting percentage of 65.6% on 22.3% of possessions. As a sophomore Davis shot a 64.1% true shooting on 26.8% of possessions. What that means is Davis’ usage went up but his efficiency dipped just a bit. Davis has proved himself a highly efficient post player and an all SEC player by making the All-SEC second team last year. If the Aggies can get some semblance of guard play Davis should move up to the first team and lead the Aggies right back to the NCAA tournament.

D.J. Hogg had to evolve a lot last year. The Aggies lack of depth in the backcourt forced a guy who creates a lot of matchup problems at the combo forward spot, out to the guard position and he struggled at times. But make no mistake on Hoggs talent, he’ll be as important as anyone on his roster this season. One of my favorite returnees is Admon Gilder, the sleek wing can do a lot of things and did last season for Kennedy and the Aggs. He improved his shooting and could take a big step up as a scorer this season. Tonny Trocha-Morelos has turned into a nice role guy, he’s the type of player who is important. Someone who can come off the bench, defend and shoot the three a little bit. Chris Collins is a walk-on who was pressed into some heavy minutes last year and held up fairly well. If he’s playing as many minutes as he did last year A&M might be in trouble. But I doubt he will because J.J. Caldwell is finally able to play after sitting out last year as a partial qualifier. Caldwell should challenge for the starting job and could be the key to a big turnaround in College Station.

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Texas A&M Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Williams | SOPHOMORE | POST

Turning down a boatload of money is no small thing for anyone at anytime, and that’s what Robert Williams did when he decided not to enter the NBA draft. Williams was projected as a certain first round pick in the draft, and he turned it down to spend more time in College Station. Williams was a breakout performer in some ways, but it was his tantalizing combination of size, athleticism and quickness which led many to project him to be so highly coveted. Williams wasn’t polished, as evidenced by his 57% true shooting with only 18 three point attempts. There’s still a lot of room to grow, and if he does, you combine his freakishness with Tyler Davis and D.J. Hogg and you have what could be the best front court in the league.

THEN, WHO’S NEW?

class player ht wt rating ranking pos
class player ht wt rating ranking pos
So Brandon Mahan 6'5 200 - - WING
Jr Wendell Mitchell 6'3 185 ★★★ 5 CG
Sr Christian Mekowulu 6'8 245 - - POST

An interesting class for sure, Savion Flagg has a world of talent and would likely start for most A&M teams of the past, but he won’t need to do as much as a freshman. Flagg is going to be an important role guy instead which shows the difference in depth from just a year ago. Duane Wilson was a big get for A&M due to their lack of reliable depth at lead guard. He’s had an up and down career so far but if Wilson can find consistency this year he can elevate Texas A&M to a new height. T.J. Starks is a quick, explosive point guard who will have an opportunity to grow into a role as he’ll likely play backup to both Caldwell and WIlson. I’ve very intrigued by Jay Jay Chandler, who is a long rangy guard who was very highly ranked but took a tumble last year from the 50s down a hundred spots. The talent is still there and he certainly has All Conference talent if he can put it all together. I wouldn’t expect much from Isaiah Jasey early on but mostly because he’s got a few decent bigs ahead of him. And John Walker III is a super under the radar kid who could develop into the perfect college stretch four man.

DEPTH CHART

position starter backup third
position starter backup third
(1) Point Guard T.J. Starks Jay Jay Chandler
(2) Combo Guard Admon Gilder Wendell Mitchell
(3) Wing Savion Flagg Brandon Mahan
(4) Combo Forward Isaiah Jasey John Walker III
(5) Post Christian Mekowulu Josh Nebo

There are a lot of interesting lineups Billy Kennedy can use with his four versatile big men. Davis, Williams, Trocha-Morelos, and Hogg are all capable of playing with any combination of the other, and if Hogg is used more as a combo forward that could provide chances for the talented Flagg and the other freshman to make an impact. I’m a fan of the potential of Caldwell as a starter giving Gilder, Wilson, Flagg and Hogg to patrol the wings.

SCHEDULE

My Projected Record: 21 - 10 | KenPom Projected Record: 20 - 10

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Arizona vs Saint Mary's Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

NON-CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Nov 7 Home Savannah State 345 W
Nov 9 Home UC Irvine 97 W
Nov 15 Away Gonzaga 9 L
Nov 18 Neutral Minnesota 60 W
Nov 20 Neutral Washington 46 L
Nov 23 Home South Alabama 174 W
Dec 3 Home Northwestern State 340 W
Dec 8 Home Boston College 66 L
Dec 15 Neutral Oregon State 90 L
Dec 19 Home Valparaiso 131 W
Dec 22 Home Marshall 95 W
Dec 29 Home Texas Southern 277 W
Jan 26 Home Kansas State 12 L
avg 134

The Aggies non-conference schedule is an interesting mix of very big challenges and some super easy cupcakes. Five games against opponents in the 200+ in KenPom, including four of those at 280 or higher. Those are likely to be awful games. But they open with West Virginia, which could prove an awful matchup for A&M with their biggest issue being guards. They also take on USC on the road, and the Trojans are considered a dark horse for a National Championship. If that wasn’t enough, the also scheduled Arizona, though the Wildcats are dealing with some unrest due to the FBI investigation. Still, they’ll be a top 10 team (at least) and this is a virtual road game. They also take on Oklahoma State and either Pitt or Penn State in the Legends Classic, though I imagine the Aggies will be favored there all the way through. Oh, and as part of the SEC-Big12 Challenge, A&M travels to Kansas to play the Jayhawks.

CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Jan 5 Home Arkansas 64 W
Jan 8 Away Kentucky 7 L
Jan 12 Away Alabama 51 L
Jan 16 Home Auburn 17 L
Jan 19 Home Missouri 43 W
Jan 22 Away Florida 19 L
Jan 30 Home LSU 50 L
Feb 2 Home Tennessee 11 L
Feb 6 Away Ole Miss 94 L
Feb 9 Away Missouri 43 L
Feb 12 Home Georgia 101 W
Feb 16 Away South Carolina 42 L
Feb 19 Home Alabama 51 L
Feb 23 Away Arkansas 64 L
Feb 26 Away LSU 50 L
Mar 2 Home Vanderbilt 69 W
Mar 5 Home South Carolina 42 L
Mar 9 Away Mississippi State 23 L
avg 46.72

Kentucky twice, along with Alabama, Missouri and Arkansas. The Aggies catch a break with LSU twice, and their game against Florida is at home. But road contests against Vanderbilt (always a tough place to play), and Auburn (the Tigers are very tough to beat at home), could show the difference between the Aggies getting to 12-6 or just toiling in the 9-9 or 10-8 range.

OVERVIEW

I guess I just don’t quite trust Billy Kennedy because I’m very apprehensive about this #2 ranking. The Aggies are talented and they have a very deep and very strong front line, but they did last year and it wasn’t enough. The imports at guard were not enough to prove reliable for Kennedy and the Aggies to get over the hump and they largely looked hapless against pressure. So when it comes to this upcoming season we really are throwing our weight behind a few guards who either haven’t played a minute of college basketball, or they haven’t proven they can lead a team consistently.

I don’t want to take anything away from Admon Gilder, who I think is a terrific player. But the Aggies need more and they need someone to step up as a reliable ball handler. The person tasked with a huge amount of this pressure is likely to be J.J. Caldwell. Caldwell is already stuck with a five game suspension for a violation of university policy, so we’ll see what Duane Wilson has in store right off the bat, with virtually no backup against one of the toughest presses in the country in West Virginia. After Wilson the Aggies will turn to freshmen T.J. Starks and Jay Jay Chandler. So will that be enough?

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M vs Arizona Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard not to look at the front court and be wowed, but after Gilder somebody has to get the ball up the court and into the hands of the Aggies talented front line. Tyler Davis is as reliable around the basket as you can get, Robert Williams is an athletic freak show and D.J. Hogg is the prototype stretch four. Then you can add in Tonny Trocha-Morelos and you’ve got a lot of guys who can grab boards and even some guys who can step out and make shots from deep. The Wildcard in there is Savion Flagg, who is a super talented freshmen with the advantage of being brought along slowly. If Flagg and the Aggies are patient he’s a guy who can really help them come conference play.

If Duane Wilson can play the point early with some consistency he’s going to alleviate a lot of potential headaches for A&M fans in the non-conference. That is likely going to be the difference between the Aggies being a let down or them being an SEC conference contender. It’s easy for me to see this going either way. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see a virtual repeat of the Aggies season a year ago when they disappointed everyone and limped to a 16-15 record. I’m sort of hedging that isn’t going to happen because I think this years crop of guards is just better than they were last year. The actually recruited some depth which should go a long way, but in the end we’re likely pointing at Caldwell and Wilson and seeing if that’s enough.

The experts all tell you the Aggies are going to be good so they obviously have to be, right? The question then becomes, how much do you trust Billy Kennedy? Kennedy has had one top 50 finish at A&M, that was two years ago with a loaded roster. This roster isn’t as loaded, though it’s still very good. Do we trust Billy Kennedy to get them into the top 20 again? I guess I’m buying in. Even if it’s a little reluctantly.


About the preview: a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one pick the entire league schedule game by game. Because these are game by game picks, they often tend to be a bit of a rosier picture of each teams potential. Each rep’s picks are reflected in the record prediction for the site listed at the top of the page, and within “the Masses” picks as well. Included in “the Masses” are various SEC media members who made picks at my request also.

If you’d like to submit your picks, click here for the Google Form we used.


GLOSSARY

* - an asterisk denotes a walk-on player

GP - Games Played

%min - percentage of total available minutes played, does not account for time missed due to injury

%ov - offensive team value, simple formula of (%points + %rebounds) - %turnovers/*100, similar to Offensive Rating but places more value on performance to the team

%poss - percentage of team possessions the player is responsible for ending a possession, whether by making a shot, missing a shot not rebounded by the offense or committing a turnover.

%pts - percentage of teams points scored

ts% - true shooting percentage, basically points scored divided by 2x fga +0.44*fta.