As the season was in its early stages, Texas A&M looked much like a team destined to miss the NCAA Tournament yet again. A soft non-conference schedule coupled with a heavy underperformance left the Aggies looking from the outside in for another season. Just one offseason removed from nearly winning the NIT and learning some hard lessons about a poor non-conference schedule, and it looked like the Aggies were at it again. They were 6-5 on December 21st following a listless loss to Wofford and 8-5 after the non-conference slate wrapped up. An 8-5 record and 74th in KenPom is a good way to not only miss the tournament, but enough that maybe the Aggie faithful could begin asking if Buzz Williams is going to get it going or not.
Well, Buzz Williams got it going. From December 22nd to the end of the season the Aggies played like the 14th best team in the country. They went 19-5, and only lost to Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Arkansas on the road, then Alabama in the SEC Conference Tournament final, and Penn State in the NCAA Tournament. Going 15-3 in conference play the Aggies showed that the Buzz Williams plan was working, it just got delayed a bit. But now they’re no longer chasing the favorites, they are the favorites. The secret is out, so how will the Aggies hold up?
Previous SEC Previews:
- 2. Tennessee Volunteers
- 3. Kentucky Wildcats
- 4. Arkansas Razorbacks
- 5. Alabama Crimson Tide
- 6. Missouri Tigers
- 7. Mississippi State Bulldogs
- 8. Florida Gators
- 9. Auburn Tigers
- 10. Ole Miss Rebels
- 11. LSU Tigers
- 12. Vanderbilt Commodores
- 13. Georgia Bulldogs
- 14. South Carolina Gamecocks
#1 Texas A&M Aggies
Last Season: 25 - 10 (15-3 in conference) No. 33 KenPom
My Prediction: 24 - 7 (14-4, 1st in conference)
The Masses Prediction: 12.8 - 5.2 (2nd in conference)
SEC Media Prediction: 2nd in conference
KenPom Projection: 18-11 (10-8 in conference) No. 24
HEAD COACH: Buzz Williams | 5th Season, 76-47
I have a love hate relationship with Williams at this point. Unlike some Mizzou fans, I’ve moved past any ill feelings I had about Williams from his time at Marquette, and now I only hate to watch his teams play. For one, Texas A&M has figured out the way to be one of the worst shooting teams in the league from both 2FG and 3FG while still maintaining a very high offensive efficiency. How you do that is by missing a lot of shots but also getting a lot of offensive rebounds. If you get enough offensive rebounds you’ll eventually score, right?
They also shoot a lot of free throws. Like... a lot. There was only one team who shot more free throws than A&M last season, that team was UAB who attempted four more free throws with four additional games to play. It’s ugly, but it works.
And therein lies the Williams way and what his teams are about. They find a way. His teams are a lot like Williams. They’re tough, physical, and aggressive. They play with an intensity only matched by the fluorescent colored lining of Buzz’s sideline suits.
Seat Temp: COLD
Attaining success at Texas A&M has never been a problem. Billie Gillispie, Mark Turgeon, and Billy Kennedy all had different levels of success in College Station. But can Williams take this run and sustain it? Can A&M come close to winning the league this year, and then do it again next year?
After 6 straight NCAA Tournaments starting in 2006 through 2011, the program has made 3 tournaments since then with uneven results around those three season. Even with Buzz Williams, who was brought into establish consistency. But everything got wonky for the program around COVID, which likely stunted the growth of the program and could’ve explained some of the bumpy early season runs.
SO, WHO’S GONE?
There’s no accounting for the impact and the loss of Dexter Dennis after just one season. A four year Wichita State transfer, Dennis was a solid player for the Shockers but never averaged over 10 points a game in any season. Dennis was an okay outside shooter and pretty mediocre offensive player overall, but a tough physical defender who rebounded hard was the perfect fit for Texas A&M. A ready made Buzz Williams type who slotted in as the third leading scorer. He came in and started every game he played while never scoring more than 20 points, and just providing everything Buzz Williams needed from his wing.
Dennis was the only primary player who isn’t back. Williams also lost former Arkansas transfer and 4-star point guard Khalen Robinson who struggled to crack the rotation behind Wade Taylor. Also Javonte Brown, a UConn transfer, who couldn’t wedge his way into the post rotation. Then JUCO transfer Erik Pratt left the program as well after playing in just 9 games.
But Andre Gordon also left the team and truthfully, I didn’t know he had eligibility left. Gordon was one of Williams first recruits he signed after taking the job back in 2019. An underrecruited combo guard, for a few years Gordon made a lot of game saving plays for the Aggies, but he wasn’t ever an efficient offensive player and soon saw his minutes dwindle to the point where last season he averaged only 15.2minutes and 2.2 points. But I think all Aggie fans can look at Gordon as an important building block for the program Williams has now built.
THEN, WHO’S BACK?
|Wade Taylor IV||JR||PG||34||71.69%||22.57%||59.35%||21.97%|
|Henry Coleman III||SR||CF||34||67.57%||12.61%||58.21%||13.95%|
Wade Taylor IV | JUNIOR | POINT GUARD
I’m not sure how many preseason players of the year Texas A&M has had over the years but I’m guessing it’s not many. When the SEC Media gathered in Birmingham, Alabama last month the collective decision was ao annoint Wade Taylor IV as the preseason player of the year.
Last year I said this about Taylor: “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.”
As a freshman Taylor made just 28.3% of his outside attempts from beyond the 3-point arc and struggled with a 93.6 offensive rating. The defense was there, his steal rate is high and his assist rate was good as well. So the framework for Taylor being good was on the floor, but I don’t think anyone envisioned him becoming the player he was last season. Taylor took the sophomore leap, much of his numbers remained the same except for the shooting. His 2FG% jumped from 39.7% to 44.5% and his 3FG% went from 28.3% to 35.6%, and his efficiency jumped to 113.8. He also fell in line with the Buzz Williams way and shot nearly 200 Free Throws last year. He’s the primary ball handler in the pick and rolls, and he’s developed as a spot up shooter. In turn, the offense came around and Taylor is quite good.
When Julius Marble transferred in from Michigan State nobody predicted A&M would be landing the impact player that he was. The Dallas native had improved in his three years at Michigan State but never averaged more than 6.4 points and 14.4 minutes. And while his minutes and production didn’t explode, with an increased role his efficiency didn’t diminish and his 20.8 minutes and 9 points with 4 rebounds were necessary for the starting post. It also allowed Henry Coleman to play more at his natural four spot.
Coleman moved in from Duke and became a fixture in the starting lineup right away. Most of his minutes came in the five spot as a sophomore, and while Coleman can handle the role physically, he’s not a natural low block post and more comfortable in the mid block and facing up. He’s also good around the rim and led A&M in putbacks while converting 72% of his putback attempts. With a 10% offensive rebound rate, that’s a healthy percentage. Both Solomon Washington and Andersson Garcia were interchangeable and perfect fits as a hybrid wing types. Both played a limited role offensively, but did a lot of little things to keep things humming. They only combined to take 25 three pointers, but had a healthy 2 point conversion rate over 50% and a true shooting percentage near 60%.
When A&M needed some three point shooting, Williams turned to Hayden Hefner. He only played about a quarter of the minutes available but averaged a three point attempt every 6 minutes played. A player to keep an eye on who may have some break out potential is Manny Obaseki. A former top 40 player, Obaseki struggled off and on as a freshman. He began to flash at times last season but only saw action in 20 games as he dealt with a fractured hand. Jaelyn Lee redshirted last year but is a big and athletic wing who could challenge for some playing time.
Tyrece Radford | GRAD SENIOR | COMBO GUARD
BOOTS! That’s Tyrece Radford’s nickname, which you could learn by watching any SEC Network broadcast. Radford originally committed to Williams while at Virginia Tech, but some off the court issues forced him into the transfer portal so he had the opportunity to reunite with his original coach. Radford is a very unique player, he’s a bit of an undersized wing at 6’2 but he’s fearless in attacking the rim and rarely took three pointers until two years ago. He doesn’t shoot a very high percentage from distance, but shoots a high percentage from the free throw line where he spends a lot of time.
Radford isn’t flashy, but he’s effective. A 110.4 Offensive Rating led to a career high 13.3 points per game to go with 5.3 rebounds as well, a good rebound rate for a guard. Radford can improve his shooting numbers to better reflect his season two years before when he shot closer to 40% from three, but with his ability to draw contact he’ll be a big impact guy either way.
AND, WHO’S NEW?
|G-SR||Eli Lawrence||6'5||190||TRANSFER||Middle Tennessee||CG|
Like a lot of what A&M does, their incoming class is fairly unheralded. The guy you’ll probably hear the most about is Jace Carter, a wing transfer from Illinois-Chicago. Carter is a smart heady player who tracks similarly to Dexter Dennis in his ability to defend and rebound. He was a little higher usage at UIC than he probably needed to be, but that won’t be the case in College Station. Another contender for a big time immediate impact is Middle Tennessee transfer Eli Lawrence. A 6’5 natural wing with some ball handling capability, Lawrence shoots it well enough from outside and scored over 12 points a game for the Blue Raiders.
Wildens Leveque also transferred in from UMass after following Frank Martin from South Carolina. He’s a bit of a lumbering big man who’ll likely be used for depth behind Coleman and Marble.
The three man freshman class isn’t going to wow anyone right now, but they’re all the kinds of recruits Williams has had success with in the past. The highest ranked is Rob Dockery, a 4-star wing out of Washington DC who reclassified from the 2024 class to join Texas A&M early. Dockery’s ball skills are advanced for a wing his size due to the fact he was a point guard up until a big growth spurt a few years ago.
Brandon White was rated as the 180th best prospect in his class and is listed at 6’10 and 245 pounds. Like a lot of young bigs he’s looking to get to his left shoulder for a short jump hook, and White has good athleticism for his size with solid timing on his rim protection. Bryce Lindsay is a combo guard out of the DC area also. He’s got a quick release on his jumper and handles the ball well enough to project as a point guard with some development. There isn’t much out there on Tyler Ringgold other than he’s on the roster as a freshman and listed with good size. The one highlight video of him shows a player with good athleticism, and it looks like he was previously committed to USF.
|(1) Point Guard||Wade Taylor IV||Eli Lawrence||Bryce Lindsay|
|(2) Combo Guard||Tyrece Radford||Jace Carter||Jaelyn Lee|
|(3) Wing||Manny Obaseki||Andersson Garcia||Hayden Hefner|
|(4) Combo Forward||Henry Coleman III||Solomon Washington||Tyler Ringgold|
|(5) Post||Julius Marble||Wildens Leveque||Brandon White|
This is a crowded depth chart. Considering Texas A&M returns four of the five starters from last years team it should be easy to project the starting five... or at least four of the five. The wing spot is up for grabs, and it should come down to Manny Obaseki, Jace Carter, or Eli Lawrence. Andersson Garcia and Solomon Washington could also contend for the spot there, but they were both more effective in lineups when they were playing a small ball four instead of the true wing. Plus neither provides the floor spacing to help create driving lanes for Wade Taylor or Tyrece Radford to get to the rim. But there’s your most likely playing rotation. Then you get spot minutes to give out to either Leveque or White, and see if a freshman can crack the lineup at all.
My Projected Record: 24-7 | KenPom Projected Record: 21-8
|Nov 6||Home||Texas A&M- Commerce||283||W|
|Nov 10||Away||Ohio State||35||L|
|Nov 17||Home||Oral Roberts||194||W|
|Nov 23||Neutral||Penn State||85||W|
|Nov 24||Neutral||FAU / Butler||37 / 96||W|
|Dec 22||Home||Houston Christian||360||W|
|Dec 30||Home||Prairie View A&M||335||W|
Well what do you know Buzz Williams is capable of putting together a solid non-conference schedule. Last year he leaned back heavy into the same approach which kept him from the NCAA Tournament two years ago and it hurt him again as they Aggies were likely under seeded by a few spots thanks to a weak non-con record, despite how well they played in conference.
Right now there are 7 projected top 100 teams on the schedule. Last year A&M played 3, with only Colorado from a power conference. This year 5 of those top 100 teams are from power conferences led by Houston in the Big 12 now, and a robust 3rd ranking in KenPom. Plus Ohio State who is looking for a bounce back season, SMU who is... hopefully not terrible, Memphis, and DePaul. In the new ACC-SEC Challenge the Aggies get Virginia who’ve quite stingy under Tony Bennett. They’ve been down a bit the last few years, but he’s still one of the best coaches in college basketball and a top 35 team.
The Aggies MTE is the ESPN Events Invitational which looks like a good, but not elite, field of teams. A&M might arguably be the headliner and they play Penn State in round one, then either Florida Atlantic or Butler. Iowa State, VCU, Boise State, and Virginia Tech all linger on the other side of the bracket. So that’s three teams in the 30s in the preseason, a top 5 team, and a couple lingering towards the 100 line, and the entire flip side of the MTE bracket is in the top 100 between 31 (Iowa State) and 86 (VCU). Last year Williams deserved criticism, this year he deserves credit.
|Jan 27||Home||Ole Miss||82||W|
|Feb 28||Home||South Carolina||66||W|
|Mar 6||Home||Mississippi State||27||W|
|Mar 9||Away||Ole Miss||82||W|
Opening with a home game against a rival like LSU, but a very beatable rival, is a good way for A&M to kick off their quest to win the league. But then a road trip to Auburn could be tricky, Auburn Arena is a tough place to play and Bruce Pearl usually puts a tough team on the floor. It’s still a game last years Aggies would have won and probably a game they need early on. Getting Kentucky early helps as well, better to play them early and on your home floor than late and on theirs.
Last season A&M went 9-1 against their home and home opponents beating Missouri, Auburn, LSU and Florida twice, and splitting with Arkansas. This year they’re dropping Florida and Auburn and picking up Tennessee and Ole Miss. Ole Miss should be greatly improved, and Tennessee should be the biggest competition for A&M in the title race. Then Arkansas, LSU and Missouri should all be better. Is it possible for A&M to be just as good as last season and get tripped up 3-4 times with this group of five? Plus road games against Alabama and Vanderbilt are never easy. But at least they do get that UK game at home.
The question for Texas A&M to answer was which version of the Aggies was the abberation? The team that started 6-5 and lost at home to Wofford? Or the team that beat up the SEC and cruised to a 15-3 record?
We’re certainly going to find out. A&M’s game plan was a bit of a cheat code last season, elite levels of offensive rebounds and free throw attempts isn’t something you usually think of as easy to replicate. That’s not even been a calling card for Buzz Williams teams in the past. His second Virginia Tech team was great at getting to the free throw line, and his first Marquette team. He had one good offensive rebounding team at Marquette, and some awful ones at Tech.
But with Williams it comes down more to feel than style. He’s been a head coach for 17 seasons, he’s had a team play with top 15 pace, and a team play with bottom 15 pace. He’s had top 10 offenses and very below average offenses. There have been respectable defenses and elite ones. This group that Williams has now is not glamourous or flashy. But they’re gritty, physical, and tough as nails.
Usually when you prepare previews like I do with this SEC series you deconstruct rosters and break down film on individual players, and who you like tends to come down to who has the most talent? Well, the most talented team is not the Texas A&M Aggies. From a pure talent standpoint there are probably 6 or maybe 7 teams I would take ahead of Buzz Williams crew. I’m not sure if there’s a single NBA player on the roster right now. The closest may be Wade Taylor, but he’s so undersized at point guard it’s hard to project him sticking very long if he does make it.
Having NBA talent isn’t a recipe for winning in college basketball these days, but having elite talent usually helps. Arkansas is a good example of a team last season with NBA talent that didn’t win enough games.
Last years team wasn’t great at most of the main areas of the game that we think about like shooting, ball handling. They were average or below average in most of those kinds of categories. But how do you quantify toughness?
It just felt like the Aggies had figured out what sort of team they were and leaned hard into that style. I’m usually very leery of teams who bring back everyone and expect the same or better results. Turnover is healthy for a basketball team. You want to keep a core together year over year, but being able to turnover a key piece here or there, allow for some growth from other positions or roster spots is a way to develop a truly healthy program. It’s difficult to do year over year, which is why we so rarely have the same top 20. Good to great coaches even put up a stinker of a season every so often.
This looks like it’s Buzz Williams best team, and his best chance to go where he hasn’t yet gone. And also where Texas A&M hasn’t yet gone. To the Final Four. But taking that step is much different than where A&M was a year ago. They can’t rely as much on manufactured offense. They can’t bet on forcing their opponent to take and miss a lot of threes (it works in the SEC, but less so against other teams). The Aggies early exit in last year’s tournament is a prime example of what works in the SEC may not translate outside the league and they got burned by Penn State, a solid 10 seed.
So if the goal is to compete for a league title, I think the Aggies have everything they need in place right now. If the goal is what lies beyond that, there is a lot of room for growth.
Reasons to be OPTIMISTIC
Wade Taylor is back and preseason player of the year, Boots Radford is back, Julius Marble is back, Henry Coleman is back, and Manny Obaseki is finally healthy. This is the core of a team that went 15-3 in one of the best leagues in the country a year ago. Why wouldn’t you be optimistic?
Reasons to be PESSIMISTIC
Go back and re-read the last couple paragraphs of the overview. The only reason you might be pessimistic is because no team should have the sole goal of just winning a conference title. The conference championship shouldn’t be diminished at all, but that’s part of the goal within a good season. The end goal is the Aggies want to hang a tournament banner of some kind. Not just making the tournament, but doing damage in it. There are some valid concerns the playing style will translate to a single elimination tournament.
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.