Everyone thought last year was going to be the reset year for Texas A&M. They were welcoming a new high-priced coach in Buzz Williams, but one accustomed to building programs. After the up and down nature of the Billy Kennedy era, A&M made a gamble that they could lure Williams and maintain a higher level on a year in year out basis. Williams stepped in and somehow pieced together enough game plans to win 10 conference games. It was a weird performance for sure, but one which makes it harder to get a read on this year’s team. But let’s try.
Previous SEC Previews
- No. 11 Ole Miss Rebels
- No. 12 Georgia Bulldogs
- No. 13 Mississippi State Bulldogs
- No. 14 Vanderbilt Commodores
#10 Texas A&M Aggies
Last Season: 16-14 (10-8 in conference) No. 131 KenPom
My Prediction: 14-16 (8-10, 10th in conference)
SEC Media Prediction: 11th in conference
KenPom Projection: 14-11 (8-10 in conference) No. 68
HEAD COACH: Buzz Williams | Second Season, 16 - 14
Texas A&M and Buzz Williams are a nearly perfect fit. If anything, it’s a wonder it took this long for them to link up. A Texas native nicknamed Buzz, Williams is a relentless worker, and a guy unafraid of the kind of program building needed at a school with money to spend like A&M. His first season was meant to be far rockier than it was, but a lot of his success in league play could be attributed to a down year in the SEC and a beneficial schedule. But one thing to know about any Williams team is they’ll be tough and resilient.
Seat Temp: COLD
Consistency has been an issue in College Station since Mark Turgeon left to take the job at Maryland. Billy Kennedy was a good coach and took A&M to their highest seeding and multiple sweet 16s, but his recruiting was uneven, which caused more fluctuation in the teams’ performances. It also shows in the spikes of numbers, with two really good dips (the dips are good). Under Williams, I’d expect less fluctuation once he has things going.
SO, WHO’S GONE?
The outbreak for A&M last year shouldn’t have been all that surprising. There was more talent on the roster than they were given credit for before the year, starting with Josh Nebo, who was low key one of the better big men in the league last year. Nebo was murderous around the rim on both ends, and will be tough to replace. Wendell Mitchell was also an underrated shotmaker who found the right time and place to make key plays throughout the year. Yavuz Gultekin played sparingly, but Mark French was a walk-on who filled in FAR more than he probably should have; he did so adequately.
THEN, WHO’S BACK?
|Jay Jay Chandler||SR||WING||29||49.21%||9.35%||49.70%||5.77%|
Savion Flagg | SENIOR | COMBO FORWARD
Savion Flagg’s position as a featured player in our annual previews has been cemented, and with good reason. Flagg is skilled power wing who saw his efficiency drop last year after flirting with becoming a fixture as a sophomore. If there’s a key figure on this team and hopes of an accelerated rebuild, it will likely rest on Flagg’s broad shoulders. He’s more than capable at scoring off the bounce and stretching the floor. And if Flagg finally takes that step, he could propel A&M into a different spot.
Buzz will have plenty of options returning to his roster. I expected Andre Gordon to have a little cleaner of a season, but he wasn’t bad; he just really struggled to shoot the ball. But Gordon is a guy who could be very impactful as a sophomore. Quenton Jackson moves into his senior year and fits well on the wing defensively. The problem with the Aggies a year ago is they really struggled to shoot the ball, and Jackson embodied that in a lot of ways. He’s a good athlete and defends really well, but he needs to be more reliable shooting the basketball.
Jay Jay Chandler is one of the few holdovers left from the Billy Kennedy era, and provided solid minutes, but like the rest of the roster, he struggled shooting the ball. Plus, his turnover rate sky rocketed to nearly 30% after being consistent with the ball for his first few years. Jonathan Aku was fine as a reserve, but may be required to play more minutes this year. And I’m looking forward to what Cashius McNeilly can provide after redshirting last year; he was the highest rated recruit a year ago and should be able to step in and help this year in a big way.
Emanuel Miller | SOPHOMORE | WING
There isn’t a real natural fit for the second most important player on the roster, because after Flagg, it’s mostly a lot of 1B type guys. But with Emanuel Miller there’s an ability to generate a fair amount of offense with little to no focus being put on him. He’s supremely athletic and particularly active around the rim. Miller’s ability to generate offense without the ball is a great way to supplement an offense which really struggled to score points last year. There’s no reason to suspect they’ll be that much more effective this year, so Miller becomes even more important.
AND, WHO’S NEW?
|Fr||Kevin Marfo||6'8||245||Grad Transfer||Quinnipiac||POST|
If you can address issues of need in each recruiting class, you’re heading in the right direction. Needing an investment into the point guard position, A&M landed Hassan Diarra from Putnam Science Academy. Diarra isn’t an explosive athlete, but he’s going to be a really good college basketball player. He’s crafty and knows how to use his body, plays with great pace and has a nice mid range game. Jaxson Robinson steps into another area where they can use some shotmaking, at wing, and that’s precisely what Robinson does. He’s got great positional size and is still adding on weight but won’t be pressed to make a huge impact right away.
Hayden Hefner is the next highest rated recruit who brings good size and skill to the wing. LaDamien Bradford is a slight slick shooting guard, but one who probably needs a little seasoning.
Maybe the biggest impact guy in the class is graduate transfer Kevin Marfo, a consistent double-double post from Quinnipiac, Marfo should step into the role vacated by Josh Nebo. He’s not as explosive as Nebo but should be able to be a good off the ball roll man at the five spot.
|(1) Point Guard||Hassan Diarra||Andre Gordon|
|(2) Combo Guard||Cashius McNeilly||Jay Jay Chandler||LaDamien Bradford|
|(3) Wing||Savion Flagg||Jaxson Robinson||Hayden Hefner|
|(4) Combo Forward||Emanuel Miller||Quenton Jackson|
|(5) Post||Kevin Marfo||Jonathan Aku|
The depth chart is a very curious thing here for Buzz Williams. He’s improved the depth significantly in the last two classes, but it’s still a young roster. I’ve got Diarra starting at point guard because there isn’t a real point guard on the roster. Gordon, McNeilly, and Chandler are all more combo guards. Buzz Williams seemed to feel more comfortable with Savion Flagg on the wing, than in the combo forward spot, so it would make sense he might split minutes there with Jackson and Miller. This lineup shifts younger than last years group, but it’s still one where you start to see Williams imprint.
My Projected Record: 14-12 | KenPom Projected Record: 14-11
**Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the schedule is subject to (and likely to) change**
|Nov 25||Neutral||West Virginia||8||L|
|Nov 26||Neutral||St. Mary's / Memphis||71 / 39||W|
|Dec 2||Home||Tarleton State||335||W|
|Dec 6||Home||UT-Rio Grand Valley||237||W|
|Dec 15||Home||SE Louisiana||322||W|
|Jan 30||away||Kansas State||113||W|
Opening with a team like West Virginia can be a blessing and curse. WVU projects to be one of the best teams in the Big 12, and a top 10 or 15 team in the nation. We’ll learn a lot about A&M and soon. They also get TCU and Kansas State as other high major non-conference opponents, so nothing they couldn’t potentially run the table on with a break or two.
|Jan 6||Away||South Carolina||L|
|Jan 13||Away||Mississippi State||L|
|Jan 23||Away||Ole Miss||L|
|Mar 3||Home||Mississippi State||W|
It’s easy to like how A&M’s conference schedule plays out. Their home-and-home opponents are two teams projected behind them and two within striking distance, and then LSU. Only the LSU Tigers are projected towards the top of the league and LSU struggled with A&M last season and needed overtime to beat them in College Station. So there’s no reason to think A&M couldn't force a split. Their toughest opponent, Kentucky, is on the road, with Tennessee coming in. The first seven games are kind of where things happen, I think if A&M can improve on my picks here they can really make a move up the standings, because there are a lot of winnable games in that stretch.
Somehow, Texas A&M won 10 conference games in the league last year. They were atrocious offensively, and better, but not great, defensively, but still found ways to win. They didn’t take down any giants, mostly because the SEC was a pretty average league last year, but they were able to win games. And win games on the road.
How? It’s honestly hard to say. Williams and his staff worked to develop the necessary game plan and crafted wins as best they could. Coming into SEC play they were rated 171st in KenPom, so perhaps there was a fair amount of underestimating that happened. They improved 40 spots which is good... but also not great.
Going into season two, what can you expect? A step back or more evidence that A&M made the right hire with Williams? A little of both, probably.
I don’t think there is any question at this stage that A&M has the right guy. Williams continues to build through recruiting, and the roster is very nearly all his own after just a year and a half on the job. The only question is how that impacts this season.
Progress is typically measured in wins and losses, but it seems more likely that A&M will have fewer wins than they did last year. So while the Aggies may have more losses than they did a year ago, I think they’ll be a better team. There’s a season of cohesion together and a talented new class.
Having to face the season ahead without the crutch of veterans like Josh Nebo and Wendell Mitchell will be a challenge. They’re going to rely heavily on the experience of Savion Flagg, who has quietly been one of the better players in the league the last few years, Kevin Marfo (a transfer into the program), and Quenton Jackson. If Flagg, Marfo, and Jackson excel and provide the kind of output and leadership the Aggies got last year, then it’s easy to see them bump past the meager expectations.
It will likely come down to those first seven games. Last year A&M started 4-3 in the league, winning a few games nobody expected. Repeat that performance and another 10-8 kind of finish is in the cards.
Reasons to be OPTIMISTIC
If you’re an Aggie fan, there is no reason not to be optimistic about the direction of the program. Williams is a legit head coach who can recruit and get his team to play with effort. It’s only a matter of when, not if, for a breakthrough. For this year, there’s good reason to think the Aggies can surpass expectations. Flagg had a down year last year, and a young roster got another year older. Flipping a couple games in league play is entirely possible, and that could land A&M in the NCAA tournament conversation.
Reasons to be PESSIMISTIC
The offense a year ago was bad, and there was no real clear offseason addition which says it should be better. You can play with as much effort as you want, but someone has to score, and unless the Aggies get a renewed effort from Flagg and some offensive output from Kevin Marfo, they’re likely to have offensive struggles again. That should be enough to stall any progress in year two.
About the preview: In past years we’ve had a single Google Form where a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one pick of the entire league schedule game by game. Because the Coronavirus has impacted just about everything, the schedule came out so late we were unable to run through this process. I worked with Matt Harris to get as much of a consensus between our two outcomes of picks (they are still game by game) but in the end these are all MY picks. I’ve tried to include the SEC Media’s predictions and KenPom’s preseason ratings into the preview to set some kind of balance.
* - 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.