The past few years of Texas A&M basketball have gone through a similar cycle. Several wins string together, glimpses of athleticism and good shooting are put on display. After overpowering inferior opponents, Aggie basketball made a thought start to creep in. Thoughts crept in that perhaps the drought of no NCAA Tournament appearances may be coming to an end. Maybe the team was starting to turn a corner? And that ever-so important question is asked.
Is this team for real?
During the Billy Kennedy era, the basketball team always answered with an emphatic "NO." In 2013, a 40-point performance for the ages from Elston Turner helped Texas A&M stun college basketball for a day and upset the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena. The victory piqued fans' interest and the next game saw a decently filled Reed Arena curious to see if the Ags were legit against #10 Florida. What transpired was a 21-point drubbing by the Gators, followed by three straight losses. A&M failed to pick up any momentum after that stretch and finished the season with a listless 18-15 record and no postseason appearance.
2014, after a rocky 8-4 start in non-conference play, the Ags surprised fans with a 3-0 start to SEC competition, including a buzzer-beater against future Sweet-16 bound Tennessee. As excitement gained momentum, A&M fell in overtime to Mississippi State--a team that finished the year 14-19--and went on a five-game losing skid. Despite it all, the Aggies battled and reached 8-8 in conference play, including another victory over the Vols, with three winnable games left. A&M ended the year on a three-game losing streak, got eliminated in the quarterfinal of a postseason tournament Google has a hard time finding, and endured a nasty breakup with its breakout player.
Last season, after coming seconds away from nearly upsetting #1 and undefeated Kentucky, A&M reeled off five victories in a row, capped off with a victory over Vanderbilt in front of a near-sold out Reed Arena. The schedule had the Ags on a two-game road trip against teams they would be favored against, before a matchup against the tournament-bound Georgia Bulldogs. A&M's resurgence looked to be at hand. Unfortunately a trip up at Ole Miss killed the hype before it could begin, and the Ags subsequently scored 53 points in an underwhelming dud against the Bulldogs. Though the Ags still put themselves in a prime position to get back into the NCAA Tournament, they once again dropped three straight to end the season, including the last two at Reed Arena.
The pattern has been consistently worrisome. A&M has made a frustrating habit of creating intrigue and buzz for their program, only to crush it in the most dispiriting fashion. The Aggies created opportunities to put themselves in the spotlight, but have yet to deliver when given the chance. Now it is year five of Kennedy's tenure and he may be finally bucking the trend.
After winning their first four games by an average margin of nearly 34 points, A&M arrived at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas and the question that's been asked in years past arose again.
Is this team for real?
For first time in Billy Kennedy's A&M career, the answer is finally, "Yessir!"
The biggest hope for fans was to take down Texas and just to see what the team may be made of against Gonzaga. The Aggies did one better and nearly took the tournament title home with them. After winning handily in their Lone Star Showdown, then outlasting the Bulldogs in a slugfest, Texas A&M heads back to Reed Arena for a matchup against Florida Gulf Coast.
While in 2013, the Eagles were a March Madness darling when they made the Sweet-16 as a 15-seed, this team is far from "Dunk City" that took the world by storm. Only one player remains from the squad that upset Georgetown a couple of years ago. This FGCU squad rolls into College Station with a 4-3 record, including a 20-point thumping by the only other Power-5 school they've played this year, Florida.
The Aggies will look to handle the Eagles like the maroon and white handled their first four games before their next litmus test of three straight contests against Arizona State, Kansas State, and a Saturday night matchup at Reed against #25 Baylor.
ESPN's Jay Bilas mentioned during the Battle 4 Atlantis that there is not a team in the country that Texas A&M can't stand toe-to-toe against. The Ags showed Thanksgiving weekend that cannot only hang in with against elite competition, they can take them down. The start to this season has more than generated excitement, but now thoughts are beginning to creep in of what this team is capable of accomplishing.
The competitive schedule will give fans a clear picture by the time conference play begins. The Syracuse game, and even the victories against Texas and Gonzaga, revealed that this team still has some kinks to work out and players that need more games to come into their own. But it is an exciting thing when a team can knock off a top-10 opponent and can say their best basketball has yet to come.
It's a pretty good reason to #GetToReed tonight at 7pm.
Who: Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (4-3)
Where: Reed Arena
TV: SEC Network+ (Available on WatchESPN App)