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Hoops Preview: Texas A&M is regrouping under Buzz Williams

The Aggies are heavy on juniors and freshmen, and have yet to find their rhythm in year one of the Williams era.

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Remember when Texas A&M and Missouri (metaphorically) held hands and walked quietly out of the then-smoldering wreckage of the Big XII and into the loving arms of the SEC? What a hopeful time that was. Missouri was going to be the feisty basketball school the SEC needed to boost its credentials, while Texas A&M was the football powerhouse?

In the ensuing years those expectations have been... well, not quite inverted, but certainly tilted on their axis a bit. It’s probably not fair to say Missouri has had more success in football, but they’ve won two division titles to Texas A&M’s zero. On the hardwood, however, Mizzou has endured a historic cold streak while the Aggies have been to two Sweet 16s.

As the two kick off their first full decade as members of the Southeastern conference, they find themselves still struggling to grab a foothold within the SEC basketball hierarchy, one that has changed drastically in the seven years since their inauguration.

Texas A&M has turned its fortunes over to Buzz Williams, a universally praised coach who still needs time to fix the instabilities that Billy Kennedy left behind. And Missouri — well, you know that story. Cuonzo Martin’s team has suffered chaotic evil levels of bad injury luck in his three seasons, but the Tigers are still disappointing, especially by their own standards. They’ve been particularly bad in conference play, save one win over Florida that’s starting to feel more and more like an outlier.

Still, not all is lost for the Tigers, who still have ample opportunity to swing their fortunes with a few big wins. The same could be said about the Aggies, though they lack the few resume-building wins that Mizzou has managed to pile up despite its 9-8 record.

For Missouri, Texas A&M offers something of a reset. While the Aggies aren’t to be overlooked, they’re not nearly at the same caliber of teams Missouri has faced in its first few weeks of conference play. If Missouri is the team that want everyone to think they are, there should be no excuse in dropping a home game to Texas A&M. And at this point, the Tigers need to get back to the basics before they start dreaming of March Madness.

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (9-8) Texas A&M (8-8)
Position Missouri (9-8) Texas A&M (8-8)
PG Dru Smith (Rs. Jr., 6'3", 203) Andre Gordon (Fr., 6'2", 185)
CG Mark Smith (Jr., 6'5", 220) Wendell Mitchell (Sr., 6'3", 183)
WING Kobe Brown (Fr., 6'7", 240) Savion Flagg (Jr., 6'7", 223)
PF Mitchell Smith (Jr., 6'10", 221) Emanuel Miller (Fr., 6'7", 213)
POST Reed Nikko (Sr., 6'10", 240) Josh Nebo (Sr., 6'9", 245)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

A lot of these names will sound familiar to anyone who’s been watching SEC basketball for a while. Texas A&M may roster (and sparingly play) up to four freshmen, but this is a junior and senior-laden team. The most notable is Josh Nebo, who is finishing out his two-year career (after a transfer from St. Francis PA) with another quietly strong campaign. Nebo is traditional, athletic big who has a near 70 true-shooting percentage and above-average rebounding numbers. He’s also a block fiend, averaging over 12 per 40 minutes. Wendell Mitchell is the other senior who eats up a good amount of minutes and isn’t afraid to shoot when he does — he leads the team in three-point attempts, but only 22.6 percent. History tells us he’s a better shooter, but it’s hard to shake a 16-game cold streak. Five-foot-eight Mark French gets reserve minutes as an energy guy off the bench, rounding out the Aggies’ senior class.

The junior class is where Texas A&M devotes the bulk of its playing time. Savion Flagg is having a down year by his standards (thanks to an inflated turnover rate and falling efficiency), but is shooting a career best 36.4 percent from deep. Coming off the bench, Jay Jay Chandler represents the Aggies’ biggest slashing threat, though he’s not liable to score much if he doesn’t get fouled (40.2 eFG% vs. 76.1 FT%). Quenton Jackson is another guy who likes to take it to the rim, boasting the second-highest free throw rate on the team aside from Nebo. Neither Chandler nor Jackson are elite shooters, but they’re not afraid to throw it up from deep either.

Of the four freshmen, both Andre Gordon and Emanuel Miller get starts and regular run within the eight-man rotation. Gordon seems to have found a role as a defensive guy who is typically loose with the ball and struggling to find his jump shot (22.2 percent from deep.) Miller has proven himself an adept rebounder in his short time as an Aggie, and stands out as one of the three players in the regular rotation who stands at 6’7” or taller. He’s not a great shooter, but takes a fair amount of looks from inside the arc. Nigerian Jonathan Aku and Turkish Yavuz Gultekin both get mop-up minutes down low, where Aku has proven himself a capable rebounder with iffy offensive game, whereas Gultekin has been able to find more rhythm in the flow of the offense. Neither plays more than 19 percent of available minutes.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. Texas A&M Defense

Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Missouri 104.7 (107) 17.8 (232) 48.9 (198) 21.3 (291) 30.5 (97) 32.1 (176) 31.2 (259) 50.4 (127) 75.7 (41) 11.2 (316) 8.5 (112)
Texas A&M 95.7 (77) 18.2 (321) 46.4 (74) 21.7 (60) 31.5 (303) 23.6 (24) 30.4 (63) 47.3 (120) 71.8 (239) 12.2 (50) 9.7 (113)
NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Alabama
Reed Nikko will need to lead the way if the Missouri Tigers are to avoid losing the rebounding battle for their sixth straight game.
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Get back on the rebounding train

Want to wager a guess as to when Missouri last won the rebounding battle in any of their games? You’d have to go back to the end of non-conference play against Chicago State. That’s right, folks — a Cuonzo Martin team has been out-rebounded in five straight games. It should be no surprise, then, that the Tigers have sputtered to a 1-4 start, with their only win coming in a historically great shooting performance. The Tigers have proven over and over that their shooting is spotty at best, and they need to grab rebounds to get second chances. This is easier said than done with their best offensive rebounder still sidelined, but if the Tigers can get back to the fundamentals on the offensive glass, they should be primed for a bounce back. It helps that Texas A&M is 303rd in the country on the defensive glass.

When Texas A&M has the ball...

Texas A&M Offense vs. Missouri Defense

Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Texas A&M 96.3 (278) 18.6 (304) 44.9 (330) 21.4 (293) 28.7 (151) 40.2 (30) 25.5 (350) 49.3 (160) 67.7 (250) 8.6 (151) 10 (266)
Missouri 94.5 (65) 18.1 (307) 45.2 (38) 23.2 (28) 26.5 (102) 38.9 (300) 29.7 (41) 45.5 (67) 77.4 (350) 9.3 (141) 11.5 (41)
NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Alabama
Missouri’s three-point defense has fallen off a cliff in SEC play. Will a date with the cold-shooting Aggies offer them a chance to regroup?
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Avoid another three-point letdown

Missouri is still, by KenPom’s metrics, one of the best three-point defenses in the country. But you’d be forgiven for not thinking so based on conference play. Over five games, the Tigers rank dead last in guarding the arc, with opponents shooting an eye-popping 37.4 percent from deep. It hasn’t mattered who’s shooting — when Missouri is in the house, they’re falling. Texas A&M is one of the worst shooting teams in the country (350th at 25.5 percent), but playing Missouri seems to act as a magical cure for that particular woe. Missouri needs to avoid another torching from deep if they want to triumph over the Aggies.

KenPom predicts...

Missouri 64, Texas A&M 55 | I mentioned it in the links this morning (as did Souichi Terada in the Kansas City Star), but this game is going to be...

Both of these teams are bad on offense, better on defense and grind it out at a below average pace. Oh, and they miss a lot of shots. Now who’s ready for some SEC Basketball??

Aesthetics notwithstanding, Tuesday night’s game against the Aggies offers Missouri somewhat of a reset before they head to West Virginia for their last chance at a great non-conference win. If the Tigers want to fix their shooting woes, reset their cold defense and find a way to get back to basics, it’d be a boon to do so against a squad that’s rebuilding under Buzz Williams.