Let’s get the easy part out of the way: This team is very good. So good, in fact, that in most years they’d be pegged for an easy top-three SEC finish and a cakewalk to the NCAA Tournament.
But this isn’t most years.
First, we’re dealing with a different SEC. This conference, long chided as ‘Kentucky, Florida, and everybody else’ appears to have developed real, actual basketball depth. Second tier SEC teams, often seen as little more than NIT fodder, are now viewed as strong contenders for an NCAA Tournament berth.
Second, we’ve got an insane non-conference schedule. Road games against Arizona (#3), Kansas (#4), and USC (#10) highlight the toughest non-conference slate in program history, and we open our season with a neutral site game against West Virginia (#11). Absolutely brutal.
What does it all mean, you ask? It means this year is going to be a little different. Aggie Hoops fans are used to an unspectacular non-conference run, a somewhat decent holiday tournament, and a conference slate highlighted by two or three big games. That’s not what you’re getting this year.
Instead, you’re getting a nationally televised season-opener, multiple additional non-conference games of national interest, and an SEC slate that won’t provide many opportunities to breathe.
So yes, it might be the toughest overall schedule this program has ever seen. But I’ve got some good news... we’re armed for the battle.
Let’s break it down.
Robert Williams (Sophomore F; 6’10” 241 lbs)
The hype for this season started early, when Robert Williams announced he was forgoing a likely NBA Lottery selection to return for his Sophomore season. Williams can already protect the rim and finish at an NBA level, but he felt he needed to come back because he wasn’t fully ready to turn pro.
"People don't see the bigger picture -- growth," Williams said of his decision. "The NBA is 'No Boys Allowed.' It's not a joke; it's a job. It's how people feed their families. I felt like I wasn't mature enough, on the court and off the court. I felt like I needed to improve."
The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year and Preseason SEC Co-MVP is locked and loaded for a massive sophomore season. And heaven help anyone who dares stand in his way on a fast break.
Note: Unfortunately, Williams will be suspended for the opener against West Virginia due to a violation of team rules.
2016-2017 Average: 25.8 minutes; 11.9 points; 8.2 rebounds; 2.5 blocks; 56% FG
Awards: SEC Preseason Co-MVP; Third Team Preseason All-American; All-SEC First Team
Tyler Davis (Junior C; 6’10” 266 lbs)
Every defensive possession against Texas A&M starts with a single, undeniable truth: If you don’t double team Tyler Davis, he’s going to score. Davis joined the Aggies in 2015 with a dizzying array of ‘you aren’t supposed to do this yet’ post moves, and he has only gotten better since. When you consider his improved conditioning (he dropped 15 pounds over the offseason) and a much deeper stable of guards, all signs point to a truly excellent season from the big man.
2016-2017 Average: 26.2 minutes; 14.1 points; 7.0 rebounds; 62% FG
Awards: Honorable Mention Preseason All-American; Preseason All-SEC Second Team
Admon Gilder (Junior G; 6’4” 199 lbs)
The lack of true point guards on last year’s roster forced Gilder (a natural off-ball scorer) to play out of position, and I have to say he performed pretty admirably. He led the team in minutes by an insane margin and took care of the ball fairly well. His true impact, however, was noted in the 3-5 minutes of rest he would receive... as it was almost comical to see how poorly our offensive sets were run without him.
This year should be a different story. Caldwell and Wilson (with help from Starks and Chandler) can fill the PG role, which will allow Gilder to play off the ball and catch a periodic breather. That last part is key, as we basically ran him into the ground during the latter portion of SEC play.
I am so dang excited to watch Admon Gilder this season.
2016-2017 Average: 34.6 minutes; 13.7 points; 3.9 assists; 1.9 steals; 43% FG
Tonny Trocha-Morelos (Senior C; 6’10” 229 lbs)
Trocha has emerged as the emotional leader of this year’s squad, and I can’t think of anyone better suited for the job. The fiery Columbian hits the glass hard, plays high-energy defense, and isn’t afraid to step out to the three point line in huge moments.
The best version of this team includes a locked in, hot-shooting Morelos. If he shows up at the right time, we can take down anyone on our schedule.
2016-2017 Average: 26.9 minutes; 8.1 points; 5.2 rebounds; 1.0 blocks
DJ Hogg (Junior F; 6’9” 215 lbs)
Hogg has become a bit of an enigma. After a stellar freshman season, DJ had a frustrating sophomore campaign... culminating with an injury that forced him to miss the back half of the SEC season. He’s still our best pure shooter and he’s liable to explode on any given night, but those explosions have started to come less and less often. If the cold nights (21 minutes, 0 points against Texas) start to linger, there’s a hungry, talented freshman class waiting in the wings.
- 2016-2017 Average: 29.6 minutes; 12.0 points; 5.1 rebounds; 37% 3PT
Chris Collins (Junior G; 6’2” 181 lbs)
Collins won last year’s battle for the backup point guard position, earning a solid rotation spot and occasionally getting big minutes due to injury trouble. He’s a calm, steady influence on the offense, and he has the ability to stick an open three... but I struggle to see him holding off the incoming crop of guards.
- 2016-2017 Average: 13.7 minutes; 1.4 assists
Jay Jay Chandler (Freshman G; 6’4” 180 lbs) - Chandler endeared himself to the A&M faithful with a strong performance (and no shortage of trash talk) against Texas. He goes to the rim hard, and he’s extremely aggressive on defense... but it appears the outside shot might need a little work. I like him, but he’s got a fight on his hands for rotation minutes.
TJ Starks (Freshman G; 6’4” 199 lbs) - The other half of the ‘freshman fight for guard minutes,’ Starks brings a more all-around game to the table. Like Chandler, he has shown a solid ability to finish at the rim, but his style is more “finish with grace” and less “bull in a china shop.” His on-ball defense in solid, but I think it’s his outside shot that will ultimately give him the last spot in the rotation.
JJ Caldwell (Freshman G; 6’1” 195 lbs) - Mannnnn have we been waiting for this guy. Caldwell is the pass-first point guard this roster desperately needed last year, but he was ruled ineligible by the NCAA. He’s clear to play this year... but he already notched a five game suspension from the program for a violation of team rules.
The wait, at least for the next couple of weeks, continues.
Savion Flagg (Freshman G/F; 6’7” 217 lbs) - Last year, we occasionally had to play Morelos at SF, particularly after the Hogg injury. While there were certain advantages to having three 6’10” guys on the floor at the same time, fluid ball movement was not one of them, and it’s not a lineup we want to see again. Flagg should fix that, as he can serve as a natural backup to Hogg. He appears to have the raw athleticism needed to guard SEC wings, and he’ll allow us to use Morelos as a stretch four - giving Davis and/or Williams a rest.
Duane Wilson (Senior G; 6’3” 175 lbs) - Billy Kennedy’s roster management is pretty heavily dependent on the ‘grad student transfer market,’ and Duane Wilson is this year’s pick. He’s not a pure scorer, and he’s not a pure point guard, but he’s a great on-ball defender who has logged some serious D1 minutes.
Something tells me we’re going to want this guy on the floor during crunch time.
Isiah Jasey (Freshman F; 6’10” 248 lbs) - Jasey is exactly what we need him to be: a big, tough dude capable of providing relief minutes in the paint. He won’t set the world on fire on offense, but he’s tough on the boards and can certainly steady the ship on the defensive side of the ball. In a world where two fouls can sit a starter for an entire half, it’s important to have guys like this.
The 2017-2018 Schedule
(by Melvin Franchione)
You ever size up a room and try to figure out who you definitely could, maybe could, and definitely could not beat in a fight just in case? Well Aggie basketball’s non-conference schedule is like being locked in a room with sick five-year olds and professional UFC fighters.
A&M will play teams ranked 3 (Arizona), 4 (Kansas), 10 (USC) and 11 (West Virginia) in the AP Preseason poll, all away from Reed Arena. Kansas is this year’s SEC/Big 12 Challenge opponent, so that game isn’t until late January.
The early highlight is West Virginia, which is one of the very first games of college basketball season because of the midnight local time (5 PM central) start in Germany at Ramstein Air Force Base.
Following that is the tournament-you- can’t-name- but-sounds- familiar of the year for A&M, the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, where A&M will face Oklahoma State and then either Pitt or Penn State. Oklahoma State lost good head coach Brad Underwood to Illinois after just one season and replaced him with someone, presumably, we’re not sure. Keiton Page? The Cowboys were picked to finish last by the Big 12’s coaches (almost unanimously, one coach picked them next-to-last.) So while the name Oklahoma State sounds good on the schedule, they aren’t a team A&M should lose to.
Quick question, what conference is Pittsburgh in? You didn’t know did you? Well they’re in the ACC, where they’re also picked to finish last. And Penn State hasn’t been in the tournament since 2011 and unless they upset some people and make it this year they’re going to fire their coach. But great news, they weren’t picked last because the Big 10 doesn’t do a preseason poll.
So, even though those three are all power five teams, A&M will be a heavy favorite to win the tournament even without Caldwell.
Meanwhile, in a home slate that can at best be described as uninspiring, the Aggies will play five teams that ended last season ranked ranked 300 or worse in KenPom.com’s rankings: 331 (UC Santa Barbara), 303 (Pepperdine), 300 (UT Rio Grande Valley), 313 (Prairie View) and 317 (Savannah State.) The only other home games are against Buffalo and Northern Kentucky, who ended last year ranked a respectable-but- not-spectacular 122 and 138 respectively by KenPom.
It’s a great non-conference schedule for TV is what we’re saying. But because of the imbalance in the schedule, if A&M doesn’t knock off one of the big teams on the slate, there’s a good chance that we still won’t have a good grasp of whether this team is a bubble quality team or a potential top-four seed quality team until conference play begins.
Record prediction (Overall; SEC): 21-10; 12-6
Postseason Prediction: 6 seed, loss in the round of 32
Team MVP: Tyler Davis
Overall thoughts: This season all comes down to whether or not the guards are good enough to take the pressure off of Williams and Davis. That's not a novel thought or anything, but it really is that simple. No team in the country has as good a duo as Williams and Davis, so the Aggies will be as good as the backcourt allows those two to be.
Record prediction (Overall; SEC): 22-9; 12-6
Postseason Prediction: 4 seed, loss in the Sweet 16
Team MVP: Robert Williams
Overall thoughts: Suspensions and some aggressive scheduling are going to require a little patience early in the season, but I believe this squad is capable of ripping off a huge winning streak at full strength. If our fans can weather the early storm, we could be headed for a really entertaining conference run at Reed Arena.
Record prediction (Overall; SEC): 21-9, 13-5
Postseason Prediction: I'm already on record as saying so I have to continue to say it. Anything less than a Sweet 16 trip with the most talented roster in Aggie Hoops history would be some next level managing expectations type of stuff.
Team MVP: Most valuable cannot be anyone other than Robert Williams since he's almost certainly a lock to be a lottery pick. That's the easy one. This season I'll say that DJ Hogg will be the barometer for the team. If he can play at the level many have been expecting him to this season the Aggies will destroy some teams.
Overall thoughts: While I'm excited about the tough games to start the season, I really wish the Aggies were going to have JJ Caldwell for those games. I'm not sure yet if you can say there will be any significant drop from him to a guy like Starks since we haven't seen JJ in any meaningful minutes as an Aggie yet, but a established starting five for those games would be nice to see. The Aggies are going to have to show up to prove they're deserving of that preseason Top 25 ranking against West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Arizona, and USC. That's a really stout OOC lineup. As far as conference play goes the SEC should be a bit stronger overall this season, but the talent level alone on the Aggies roster should carry them to a second or third place visit at worst in the league. There's that much talent on the roster top to bottom this year. I want to be optimistic about the coaching...I really, really want to be optimistic about the coaching.
Final note: The Aggies open the 2017-2018 season today in Germany against #11 West Virginia (5pm; ESPN). We’ll have a game preview up later today.
BTHO West Virginia
How do you feel about Texas A&M Basketball this season?
This poll is closed
[chugs maroon kool-aid, smashes glass on the floor]
We look real solid, this should be fun
I’m dipping my toes into the basketball water because the latest football cut was the deepest.
[wakes up from football nap] "Hey where’d the grass go?"