If there was ever an illustration of what a Jeckyl & Hyde basketball team might look like, you could do a lot worse than the 2021-22 Texas A&M Aggies as an example. The Aggies started 15-2 with only a couple losses to top 40 KenPom teams (Wisconsin and TCU), then proceeded to go into the tank where they lost 8 straight games, and 9 out of 10. Two of those losses came at home to South Carolina and Missouri, who finished 99th and 137th in KenPom.com respectively. But they finished 10-2 and made the NIT finals before losing to Xavier by a point. The only other game they lost in that stretch was to Tennessee, a top 10 team, after playing in their 4th game in four days.
That sort of finish is what most Texas A&M fans had in mind when Buzz Williams was hired in 2019. Does he have more in store for 2023?
Previous SEC Previews
- 9. Missouri Tigers
- 10. Ole Miss Rebels
- 11. Vanderbilt Commodores
- 12. Georgia Bulldogs
- 13. South Carolina Gamecocks
- 14. Mississippi State Bullldogs
#8 Texas A&M Aggies
Last Season: 27 - 13 (9-9 in conference) No. 33 KenPom
My Prediction: 19 - 11 (9-9, 8th in conference)
The Masses Prediction: 8.2 - 9.8 (8th in conference)
SEC Media Prediction: 6th in conference
KenPom Projection: 17 - 12 (8-10 in conference) No. 45
HEAD COACH: Buzz Williams | 4th Season, 51-37
As Buzz Williams enters year four of his rebuild of Texas A&M, the fans have seen a level of hope following the NIT run to finish the year last year. But whether or not A&M fans expected the rebuild to take as long, it’s also worth pointing out the amount of a reset the roster had to go through last offseason. After going hard after young players his first few years, he reset through the transfer portal.
He watched as seven players left the program and brought back only four on scholarship. The rest he imported. And despite the flurry at the end of the season, A&M was mostly just okay after all these changes. Williams is a very good basketball coach. He won at Marquette, he won at Virginia Tech, and A&M was proving to be a difficult until late February when the switch flipped for his team. A few lineup tweaks and Williams team went on a run, narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament, and nearly won the NIT.
Williams thrives on being a culture guy, and building that type of culture is more difficult these days now that the portal is so important. But getting through a culture rebuild, COVID, and an eight game losing streak in the middle of the season... Williams and his players have seen a lot. The only question remaining is when is Williams going to lead this team back to the NCAA Tournament?
Seat Temp: ROOM TEMP
If you watch the trend lines it’s nearly impossible to pin down A&M as a trend. For all his overall struggles with consistency, Billy Kennedy was actually pretty good overall, but he wasn’t as consistent as the end of Billy Gillespie and into the Mark Turgeon era in College Station. Williams has also overseen the two worst seasons for A&M since Melvin Watkins.
SO, WHO’S GONE?
The strong finish to A&M’s season was largely driven by talented wing Quenton Jackson. Finishing up a Super Senior season, Jackson averaged almost 15 points per game and helped turn the season when Williams stopped being stubborn and put his best player in the starting lineup. Down the stretch, he had five of his nine MVP performances, and was only held below double-digit scoring once when he had nine points in the SEC Tournament Championship game... on his fourth game in four days. His play and leadership is a big loss.
Hassan Diarra came in with higher expectations, but he never seemed to fully settle in. The talented point guard prospect never broke into the starting lineup, and his playing time yo-yo’d all season long. But when he was in the lineup and defended hard, the offense never quite rounded into shape and he transferred to UConn.
Former Mountain West Freshman of the Year and Wyoming transfer Marcus Williams never quite got on track offensively, averaging just 7.9 ppg with an 83.9 offensive rating before taking a leave of absence from the team. Despite starting 24 of the 26 games before he left, he opted to enter the transfer portal where he ended up at San Francisco. Aaron Cash, or Aaron Johnson-Cash if you prefer, averaged just 11.8 minutes and 2.4 points but did see action in 36 of 39 games opted to transfer to Texas-Arlington.
Aaron Janecek, Zach Walker, and Everett Vaughn all graduated after walking onto the team.
THEN, WHO’S BACK?
|Wade Taylor IV||SO||PG||40||43.33%||11.31%||46.70%||8.15%|
Henry Coleman III | JUNIOR | COMBO FORWARD
After transferring from Duke, Henry Coleman was predicted to be an impact player for Buzz Williams. At a sturdy 240 pounds and standing 6’8, the Texas native stepped into the starting lineup and provided an immediate upgrade on the interior defense. He also helped the Aggies around the rim offensively, posting a 1.307 points per possession at the rim per Synergy Stats. And if you want to talk about a player who knows what he does well and tends to stick with it, Coleman attempted 285 shots from the field last year. Of those, just three were behind the 3-point arc, and just 17 were classified as jump shots. Which mathematically works out to 94% of his shot attempts were at or around the rim.
In fact, I’ve only listed Coleman as a combo forward here because he did play a lot of the 4-spot for the Aggies last year. But towards the end of the season, during A&M’s run, Coleman was very much playing the 5. If the lineup is smaller, Coleman is sturdy enough in the middle to hold up. If Coleman is playing the 4, he’ll need to work on expanding that skill set a little bit to be more of a threat from outside 5 feet. But inside that arc, he’s a tough guy and perfect for a Buzz Williams team.
Progress isn’t always linear, and such was the case for former top 40 recruit Manny Obaseki. After a bit of a rocky start, Obaseki worked his way through the bumps to find some more consistent minutes down the stretch. On the season he only averaged around 13.1 minutes per contest, but over the last 13 games that number was 20.2. As the season wore on, Williams learned to trust his talented freshman more, and he could be the key to a breakout this season. Wade Taylor was inserted into the starting lineup right as A&Ms winning streak started, and despite poor shooting, didn’t turn the ball over as much. He’s a smaller point guard with good quickness and defensive instincts. If the offensive shooting comes around he could be quite good.
Andre Gordon has been a program guy for Williams, coming in with his first recruiting class and sticking with the Aggies through a fluctuating role and changing minutes. He’s a capable combo guard and a solid creator, but he had his best season last year when he was moved off the ball for more stretches.
Ethan Henderson started at times and came off the bench at times, but the Arkansas native was always the same player. He’s a high energy defender with a limited offensive scope. Javonte Brown is a bit of the same, but bigger. Neither provide much offense but their size helps with interior defense. Hayden Hefner is a Texas native who played sparingly as a sophomore, but flashed the ability to be a shot maker and energy defender off the bench.
Tyrece Radford | SENIOR | COMBO GUARD
When Tyrece Radford transferred to Texas A&M from Virginia Tech, Buzz Williams knew exactly what type of player he was getting. Radford is tough and physical defender with a terrific mid-range game. He’s a rebounding guard who excels off the ball. and most of his production came that way. And then last season he added another piece to the arsenal, the 3-point shot.
Prior to last year Radford had only attempted 36 threes, making 8 of them for a 22.2% rate. Not exactly the percentage of a guy you want taking a lot of outside shots. But last year Radford began attempting nearly three per game and did so at a 40% clip. That improvement from the outside arc changed the dynamics of his offensive game. Overall his usage stayed the same, it was just another part of the puzzle of creating a more dynamic player.
AND, WHO’S NEW?
|JR||Andersson Garcia||6'7||210||TRANSFER||Mississippi State||WING|
|JR||Julius Marble||6'9||245||TRANSFER||Michigan State||POST|
|G-SR||Dexter Dennis||6'5||210||TRANSFER||Wichita State||WING|
Williams’ incoming class is an interesting mix of middle of the road 3-star recruits and transfers. One of their early signings was talented JUCO wing Erik Pratt, one of the top 10 JUCO recruits in the country as a smooth shooting lefty.
Soloman Washington is an athletic combo forward out of the New Orleans area with the body to play multiple positions defensively right away. Right now Washington relies more on his strength and athleticism than skill, but still looks like a good positional prospect. He’s joined in the freshmen class by Jordan Williams, a sturdy 6’3 215 pound combo guard out of Houston. He’s built a bit more like a football player, but shows good instincts with the ball and has excellent lateral movement, making him a contender for minutes if he can defend.
For the rest of his incoming class, Buzz Williams turned to the transfer portal where he assembled a pretty interesting transfer class led by Wichita State graduate Dexter Dennis. Dennis was a consistent performer over his four years for the Shockers, never averaging less than 8.4 points per game, though never scoring more than 9.6. Dennis has never been a primary offensive weapon, but he is a top notch defender and good enough offensively not to hurt you. He rebounds well at the guard position, and doesn’t turn the ball over.
Buzz went all in on defense by adding Andersson Garcia, one of Mississippi State’s best defenders last year. He’s a lengthy wing with limited offensive range, and prone to turnovers. But he can get to the free throw line, attempting nearly as many free throws (69) as field goals (74) last season. Also coming in is Khalen “KK” Robinson, a lightly used backup point guard from Arkansas. Robinson is a former top-75 recruit who dealt with injuries early in his career and was never able to really break into the rotation in Fayetteville.
Last is Julius Mable, a Texas native who transferred back to A&M after three seasons at Michigan State. The bulky 6’9 forward had earned a larger role with each season, but was still only playing around 15 minutes a night for the Spartans. He moved back to be a little closer to home, but also in search of a larger role.
|(1) Point Guard||Wade Taylor IV||Khalen Robinson||Jordan Williams|
|(2) Combo Guard||Tyrece Radford||Andre Gordon||Erik Pratt|
|(3) Wing||Dexter Dennis||Andersson Garcia||Hayden Hefner|
|(4) Combo Forward||Manny Obaseki||Ethan Henderson||Soloman Washington|
|(5) Post||Henry Coleman||Julius Marble||Javonte Brown|
I’m not sure how he did it, but I’m counting 15 scholarship players here for the Aggies. With the COVID season, Ethan Henderson doesn’t count against the scholarship limit since he played for the Aggies last year. I thought to get the extra year and not count against the limit you had to play at least the previous year at the same school, but the only explanation here would be that Dexter Dennis doesn’t count as well. Either that or it’s possible Jordan Williams is a walk on, as a Texas native. Or maybe Julius Marble.
Regardless, there are 15 guys vying for minutes here. Some of this depth chart depends on someone like Manny Obaseki taking another step forward, along with how much Buzz Williams wants to play Henry Coleman at the five spot. Radford is going to play a lot, and Taylor likely carries over some of his minutes at Point Guard, but Robinson could press him there. But there should be plenty of wing minutes available for Dennis, Garcia, Hefner, Pratt, and even Washington to battle it out.
My Projected Record: 19 - 11 | KenPom Projected Record: 17 - 12
|Nov 11||Home||Abilene Christian||112||W|
|Nov 17||Neutral||Murray State||129||W|
|Nov 18||Neutral||Colorado / Massachusetts||61 / 154||W|
|Dec 3||Neutral||Boise State||87||W|
|Dec 11||Home||Oregon State||228||W|
|Dec 27||Home||Northwestern State||353||W|
|Dec 30||Home||Prairie View A&M||312||W|
Last season, when Texas A&M missed out on an NCAA Tournament by a hair. the problem was a soft non-conference slate where the Aggies could ony boast about one win over an NCAA Tournament team, Notre Dame, who barely squeaked into the tournament themselves. They played three NCAA Tournament teams total, losing to TCU and Wisconsin in neutral site games.
It would appear Buzz Williams didn’t learn the lesson the NCAA selection committee sent last spring, as there are no surefire tournament teams on the schedule. Playing in the Myrtle Beach Classic MTE doesn’t boost the profile much, as a round one matchup against a Murray State program decimated by offseason turnover and a coaching change is a contest that might normally seem like a tough one. But a second round matchup against UMass or Colorado should be tougher since the Minutemen are coached by Frank Martin, and Tad Boyle has made the Buffalos a tough out more often than not. On the other side of the bracket is Boise State, Charlotte, Loyola, and Tulsa.
A road trip to DePaul could prove to be a difficult matchup in a sneaky way. Dana Stubblefield in in year two with the Blue Demons and were just outside the top 100 in KenPom in year one, and he’s recruited well. Memphis and Anfernee Hardaway have a team full of experience and SMU transfer Kendric Davis should help power that offense. But the rest of the schedule is lacking in a big way.
|Jan 14||Away||South Carolina||78||L|
|Feb 25||Away||Mississippi State||53||W|
|Feb 28||Away||Ole Miss||49||L|
The annual home and home matchup this year against Arkansas is a good measuring stick. The Aggies also play LSU and Missouri in their annual series, and this season added Florirda and Auburn. Not exactly an easy draw. Missouri is the only team I’ve currently projected below the Aggies in the standings. But with challenge also comes possibility, and Florida and LSU are certainly teams where you can pick up another win on the road if you get a few breaks. There aren’t many teams who can count in a win going into Auburn Arena, or Bud Walton, per se, but picking off either the Tigers or Razorbacks at home would be huge wins. I also think it’s beneficial to get Kentucky on the road, because that means you get a game you’re probably not going to win off your home slate. Instead, the Aggies have Vanderbilt, Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama. Of those games they really should go 3-1. And Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and South Carolina all provide road games where the Aggies could pick up wins.
The Aggies were ranked 76th at KenPom.com with two regular season games to play, and ended up finishing 33rd. It’s the benefit of playing longer; the more games you play late in the season the more your rating goes up as the teams you’re playing are usually pretty good. So while A&M finished the season on a high note and finished 33rd overall in efficiency, it’s easy to forget they were very mediocre for a large portion of the season.
So the question about them becomes, if they can turn the late season hot streak into a catapult for the 2022-23 campaign, or are they much closer to the team who had just five top 100 wins — and just one inside the top 20 — before the SEC Tournament started?
In the SEC Tournament, Florida hit five of 24 3-point attempts, Auburn hit nine of 36, and Arkansas hit just three of 18. That’s a paltry 17-of-78, or 21.8%. Meanwhile, the Aggies shot 25 of 48, or 52%. If you follow this blog often we talk about whether or not you made our threes... and Texas A&M did make their threes.
On the season, A&M was a 32.4% shooting team from outside all season, but the bulk of their argument for inclusion on the fringes of an NCAA Tournament berth were centered around beating some bad teams and shooting well at the right time. In the SEC Tournament, if they shoot their season average from 3, they lose. If they shoot 32.4% (or close) against Auburn in round 2, they lose. The pertinent question again becomes: Which is the real Texas A&M?
The 0-8 or 1-9 stretch in the middle of SEC play was a tough one, wrought with some of the league’s top teams. But the Aggies also dropped home games to South Carolina and Missouri, and a road game to Vanderbilt.
I’m a big believer in young teams who figure it out down the stretch, but the Aggies weren’t a young team. They were lead by a 5th year senior in Quenton Jackson, while their second and third leading scorers were a junior (Tyrece Radford) and a sophomore (Henry Coleman). When Jackson took off, he was surrounded by two consistent players in Radford and Coleman, and that balanced out the Aggies’ scoring, which gave them the boost they needed. Without Jackson around this season, Buzz Williams needs to find his guy.
The most obvious player to answer that call may be Manny Obaseki. The talent is there, the athleticism, the pro potential. If Obaseki can start putting the missing parts of his game together he’s the one on the talent to do it. Only attempting 27 three pointers while only converting 59.3% of his free throw attempts speaks to a questionable shooting touch. He doesn’t need to be an elite shooter to be effective, but he needs to be able to consistently knock down that shot in order to open up what he’s really good at, which is driving the basketball towards the rim.
If Obaseki takes a step it’s easy to envision how this roster and team can move past the middle of the pack in the SEC and put itself into the top 5 or 6 range. If Obaseki is only marginally improved over what he was a year ago then it’s easy to see this roster at A&M for what it is. It’s full of good players, but few great ones. And there’s a lot of good players in the SEC already.
Reasons to be OPTIMISTIC
In Year 4 under Buzz Williams at Marquette, the Golden Eagles were a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. In Year 4 for Williams at Virginia Tech, the Hokies were an eight seed and won 21 games. Without much roster turnover and an import of good rotational pieces, the Aggies’ expectations should be to make the NCAA Tournament at a minimum. At a maximum, the program can build off their NIT run last year and set the table for what A&M can be under Buzz Williams’ leadership.
Reasons to be PESSIMISTIC
After going on a run facing some mediocre teams, the Aggies lost their best player to graduation, and did not import anyone who averaged more than 10 points per game. Without a proven lead scorer it was tough for A&M to win games last year, and without consistent outside shooting they were still a middle of the pack team. It’s hard to see where they’ll be more than that this season.
About the preview: a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one pick for 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 Masses” picks. 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.
* - 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.