Tonight, Aggie Hoops quietly begins their SEC title defense with a home game against Tennessee (6:00pm, FYI). Before we fly into conference play, let’s see what we’ve learned about the 2016-2017 squad over the first six weeks of the season.
1) What's your overall reaction to our non-conference resume? Is the game at WV now a "must-win?"
JDMyatt: My reaction depends on if I'm having a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty type of today. Glass-half-full says our only three losses are to teams currently ranked in the RPI Top-25, all by single digits. If a couple of possessions go the other, we're looking at still being undefeated with a victory over the hottest team in basketball in UCLA. Glass-half-empty tells me each loss greatly exposed the roster's depth issues and made me wonder if this year's squad has enough to not just compete but win these high-profile match-ups.
At this point, I would not consider the WV game a "must-win" but the stakes have certainly been raised. According to Joe Lunardi, the Aggies would still be an 8-seed in the big dance and have a victory over a potential tournament team in Virginia Tech. The Ags should be okay if they take care of business in conference play, but the window of opportunity is closing with each close loss.
gigthem08: I guess it depends on your opinion of the term "quality loss." Sure, they're nice... but if you grab too many, you run the risk of becoming an average team with a penchant for tough scheduling. So far, we're 1-3 in our games against legitimate opposition. A win at WV bumps that non-con mark to 2-3 with an impressive performance in a de facto road game against UCLA. You can work with that. A loss at WV sends us plummeting to 1-4 and looking to rely solely on the strength of our conference run. With the SEC looking like a three bid league yet again, that leaves very little room for error.
DerekAggie06: The loss to USC was painful the night it happened, and it is only more painful now. The Aggies simply gave that game away down the stretch due to some abysmal late-game management by the staff. The 1-3 record against likely tournament teams so far makes the WV game an absolute must-win. The SEC simply isn't going to be strong enough to get teams in this season that are on the fringe, especially teams that might have gone 1-4 in non-conference games against teams in The Dance.
2) What went wrong in our three early-season losses?
JDMyatt: USC and UCLA were both inability to close out games. Against USC, the Ags continuously looked like they were putting the game away only to leave the door open just a tad for the Trojans only for it to cost them in the end.
UCLA was on the ropes unlike any other time this season against A&M, but a brief lapse in the final 2 minutes cost the Aggies the ultimate signature win over a Final Four contender.
Arizona was a bit of a dumpster fire for around 35 minutes until the Ags made a last-ditch effort at the end. This team still seems to be working on finding its rhythm within the game. When it clicks, you get the squad that took UCLA to the brink. When it doesn't, you get the team that was getting run out of its own building by Arizona until some last-minute heroics.
gigthem08: We've had a "prevent offense + fail to protect a lead" loss (USC), a "punch above our weight but eventually fall short" loss (UCLA), and a "show up late and try to furiously rally" loss (Arizona). I have to hand it to us - at least each one has been unique.
My main takeaway? We probably shouldn't join the PAC 12.
DerekAggie06: Pick your poison. If there was a way to lose a game they could have won, the Aggies have done it this year. A collapse, a furious comeback attempt, and a feel good about keeping it close loss. We know the issue at the PG position has been plaguing the Aggies, but the bigger issue that's still around is the rotations Kennedy will use that leads to long scoring droughts. This roster simply isn't deep enough with scorers to withstand long droughts and then have a chance to win the game (see the Arizona game).
3) Okay, Robert-Williams is amazing. What non-Williams development has surprised you the most so far?
JDMyatt: Admon Gilder is all we have in the backcourt.
We knew JJ Caldwell's absence would create problems, but it has turned into a gaping hole in the rotation. JC Hampton tries his best but is a complete non-factor much of the time against heightened competition (against USC-VA Tech-UCLA-Arizona, he's scored a whopping 7 points total. That's not a misprint). It gets even starker when you go to the bench where Chris Collins is now the backup PG and Kobie Eubanks is either hurt or simply not ready to see meaningful minutes.
Gilder has stepped up a great deal considering the load he's carrying in the backcourt. His minutes now see him basically never leave the court because it would simply be too costly. Here's to hoping it doesn't lead to wear and tear or worse an injury.
gigthem08: We're thin. Real thin. You can still win with this little depth, especially with a top end lineup as good as ours, but the margin for error goes wayyyy down. And if we lose any of our top five for an extended period of time, the twice-a-week conference grind will sink us.
DerekAggie06: For about a week and a half, Trocha looked to have turned the corner in a big way. Since then the increased minutes from Williams seems to have done something with Trocha's mentality causing a bit of a regression. DJ Hogg has had some really strong outings, and I'm glad to see he's been given a constant green light to help break out of slumps. That is a lot of words so far to essentially say there hasn't really been much else I would call surprising.
4) We've had a couple of individual standouts this season. Will we see Davis and/or Williams beyond this year?
JDMyatt: I'm predicting a Davis return but sadly a 1-and-done with Williams. The freshman continues to shoot up scouts' draft boards with every thunderous dunk or block he sends into the bleachers. It might be possible he stays in order to become a lottery pick after his sophomore season, but I would start accepting that this may be the only time we get to enjoy Robert Williams in an Aggie uniform.
gigthem08: I love the expanded game that Davis brought this year, but I still don't think he'll leave. Not quite yet. The obvious, lazy comparison to his game/build is Big Baby Davis from LSU. He was able to bully SEC opponents on the block at will, but still stayed in college for three years. Why? To develop his outside shot, because life is tough for a big guy in the NBA if you don't have hops. It's much, much tougher to get by on pure muscle, so if you can't elevate, you need to be able to stick an 18 footer with regularity. I think Tyler can (and will) get there, but it might take one more year.
Williams, on the other hand, has no such problems with elevation. He’s gone.
DerekAggie06: Let's call the easy one first. Cherish Robert Williams in an Aggie uniform during this conference slate of games, because that's the last time we'll see him in the maroon and white. Freak athleticism, aggressive rebounder, talented shot blocker, oh and he has a decent mid-range game? Yeah, go make that money young fella. Tyler Davis is a different animal all together. He's gotten quicker when he gets the ball in the post, which was a very necessary step for him to add to his arsenal on the path to the NBA. I still think he has work to do before entering the draft. Expanding the mid-range game would be icing on the cake. In all fairness, we don't ask him to play in the 10-18 foot range with our roster and style, so maybe it's already there. I think the Aggies get one more season from Davis.
5) Call your shot - what's our conference record this year? Do we make the dance?
JDMyatt: The team is not perfect and has much to fix, but this is still #SECBasketballFever we're talking about here. This squad is still more than capable at being a top-3 team in the conference.
I'll go with the Ags achieving a 12-6 conference record and snagging the 8-9 seed in the dance.
gigthem08: We run the risk of compiling a "beat everyone they're supposed to beat" resume this year, and the committee tends to frown on those. If you beat everyone except the tournament-level teams, they don't let you in the tournament.
I still think we can do it, but our games against Kentucky are going to be absolutely massive. Put me down for 11-7 with a win over Kentucky at home, a win at West Virginideep conference tournament run, and a bid to the First Four in Dayton.
We're headed for a really nervous Selection Sunday.
DerekAggie06: 10-8, and needing a trip to at least the semis of the conference tournament to make the last four in of the NCAA Tournament. I think 12-6 is the ceiling, but the floor is probably 9-9. It's just difficult to see a lot of range with this team this season.