With the college basketball season heating up and more fans starting to tune in, we thought it would be a good time to convene the Good Bull Hunting braintrust
in a secret room underneath the YMCA building to discuss the biggest storylines for the Aggies on the still-young season.
Melvin Franchione (MF): Well, happy December gentlemen, it’s been an interesting start to the season but between the end of football season and Fishermania, I thought it might be a good time to bring the casual fan up to speed on basketball.
Let’s start with a basic question, what’s been the biggest storyline for the Aggies so far this season?
Gigthem08 (08): For me, it’s Duane Wilson. We entered the season with a handful of known quantities, but we really didn’t know what we were going to get from the incoming grad transfer. He’s been fantastic, and he carried the load at the point during the early five game suspension by Caldwell.
DerekAggie06 (DA): Look I didn’t expect the team to be undefeated at this point, and I didn’t expect the team to be winless at this point. I would have bet the damn farm on a minimum of two losses to this point, and I would be without my farm. The Aggies are 8-1 and ranked #9 in the country. That’s pretty damn awesome. Now maybe the teams we have faced aren’t as good as expected in the preseason, but yeah this is now a Top 10 team with some way-too-early projections for the NCAA Tournament having the Aggies as a 2-seed.
MF: An Aggie would never bet his farm. That’s bad for your brand. A couple of weeks ago I’d have said the biggest storyline is that we’ve basically mashed everyone we’ve played, but with the Arizona loss that’s no longer the case. So now I’d say for me it’s probably DJ Hogg’s play. He’s been absolutely lights out this season, and not just because he’s hot from behind the arc. He’s playing a little defense, rebounding the ball well, and not turning it over like he did last season.
DA: Stupid farm bets. Too soon, guys. (Trying not to brag about picking DJ as my preseason team MVP).
MF: When you go home for the holidays and your family is asking you about the Aggie basketball team, what’s the first thing that comes to mind that your everyday fan should know about?
DA: My family knows nothing about college basketball, so this is a good question. This team is Billy Kennedy’s Field of Dreams team. This is the roster he recruited and built around the three starters from Dallas. Robert Williams is a highlight reel player just waiting to dunk on someone’s head at any moment. After three years of no guard play, now the Aggies are spoiled with talented guards. Kennedy built it, and now they just have to win. Or maybe the farm gets bulldozed by that Woodward fella that seems pretty good at buying some badass farms.
08: I certainly see how one could mistake Reed Arena for a farm. That “tan accented by more tan” color palette certainly seems at home at an Ag university.
As for my answer… usually, I just repeat the phrases “we’re good” and “no, seriously, we’re good” until the other person walks away. But on the off chance they stick around for a while, I’ll hit our strength of schedule. I can’t stress this enough… our early wins have come against some dang good opposition. WVU, USC, OSU, and Penn State were all away from home, and they were all games we won by double digits. And it doesn’t end there. We’ve got a truly improved SEC slate that I still don’t think most people are ready for. The good games won’t stop coming, and I think we’re in for a really fun spring.
But mostly, it’s the “hey we’re good” thing.
MF: I felt like I was taking crazy pills all offseason with how much love Robert Williams was getting, not because he doesn’t deserve it, but because I still think this team starts and ends with Tyler Davis and he went overlooked I think. To continue our farming theme, Davis is like the reliable tractor. He’s so fundamentally important to the whole operation, but you don’t spend much time talking about him.
But Derek, you mentioned Williams and I think this is as good a time as any to bring this up. If someone pulls up the season stats, they aren’t going to blown away by Williams’ numbers, and he was supposed to be the big star of this team. Y’all concerned about his play so far?
08: I really struggle with the Robert Williams conundrum. On one hand, he presumably came back to round out his game. But on the other hand… the NBA is increasingly becoming a league of specialists. So I started to wonder, what’s a more valuable use of his time? A sophomore season spent working on floaters and post moves? Or a sophomore season spent perfecting the attributes (protecting the rim, finishing off the pick and roll) he’ll need for a long career in the NBA. It seems like we’re trending towards option #2, which might explain why he isn’t getting that many touches.
DA: This will sound negative, but it’s honest. If Williams was a better scorer he wouldn’t have come back for his sophomore season. If he came back to work on his scoring game in the paint, that was always going to be tough to do with Tyler Davis still around, who’s a really skilled scorer in the paint. Deandre Jordan is making a ridiculous amount of money for being a tall guy that can jump really freaking high and dunk really freaking hard. Robert Williams is only going to get stronger and more athletic, and is a better non-dunk scorer than Jordan. He’ll be okay.
MF: Yeah, one thing I’ve been saying is that if our guards got better, his pure production numbers were always going to go down. For one, they can actually make shots so they’re looking for lobs less and they aren’t missing as many shots that led to offensive rebounds, which is one of the things Williams is best at. I’m not overly concerned about his play to this point except that I’d like to see him ramp up the intensity at times.
DA: I would absolutely love to see him try and force some scoring opportunities for himself more often. I’m sure the NBA scouts attending every game would agree too.
08: It seems like he’s headed for a DeAndre-esque role in the NBA, right? I recall our DeAndre sets at A&M vividly… and I can’t unsee them. They will haunt my nightmares forever. So I’m still unsure how to get him more looks when our guards are playing like this. And I think the NBA scouts will be fine, as long as he continues to submit games like the “4 block, 16 board” performance he had against PVAMU. (the game against Arizona, not so much)
MF: Let’s talk one more thing that may be seen as some as a negative, and that’s the play so far of JJ Caldwell. The way some people, both around the program and in the national media, talked about him I think it gave fans the impression that he was going to change the program the minute he stepped on the court, but that hasn’t been the case so far.
DA: Caldwell was supposed to be the true point guard that saved the Aggie Basketball program. I can only assume all the media and people close to the program got confused by the practice jerseys with no names on the back and got him confused with Duane Wilson. Caldwell is playing with house money this season thanks to Wilson’s strong play so far. All he has to do is come off the bench, keep the tempo where Kennedy wants it, and create some scoring opportunities. TJ Starks has show some flashes this season that should keep Aggie hoops fans excited about guard play moving forward. Now if only the staff could land a high-ranking big man in the next class or two.
MF: Yeah, I agree that Wilson’s strong play means that Caldwell doesn’t have to be a centerpiece on this team, he just has to be strong in his role. Right now that role isn’t anything that’s going to have fans lining up around the block for his autograph, but he sets the table and plays good defense. I actually think he’s played better than most people realize, he’s just not really the kind of player who’s going to accumulate a lot of stats. He’s a table setter, where Wilson is more of an instigator.
08: Agreed on both fronts. And with Caldwell, I think we fell victim to the length of our wait. For 18 months he was nothing more than a pillar of smoke, a practice report, or a highlight reel. At some point, it was going to be almost impossible for the real thing to meet those expectations.
He’s clearly a talented passer, and I expect him to develop further in the latter part of this season once he becomes acclimated with the offense. And with the emergence of Wilson, he can take his time and get ready to (finally) become the point guard of the future.
MF: I agree on the expectations, but in the defense of the fans, those expectations were set by people around the program and in the national media, so it wasn’t just the usual twitter/message board echo chamber hyping up guys that nobody can see.
On that note though let’s talk positive, which freshman has impressed you most so far?
08: I’m a huge fan of TJ Starks. His three minute outburst at USC was one of the more impressive things I’ve seen this season, and it completely swung that game for us. He doesn’t have it every night, but when he’s on he’s a game changer.
MF: I think Starks is the easy pick here, so even though I asked the question I’m going to zag a bit and say that Flagg is the one I’m looking forward to seeing the most over the next month or so. He missed a couple of games with an injury, but he’s the one that I think has the potential to play a bigger role on this year’s team than what we’ve seen from him so far. I think if Starks, Caldwell or Chandler change roles much it would be a little surprising, but I could see a scenario where Flagg earns more minutes than what we’ve seen so far. I’d like to see us experiment with a smaller lineup with Flagg at the four, he seems like he can hold his own in the paint.
DA: What they said. Overall I’ve been really impressed by the group of freshman. We haven’t seen much from Isiah Jasey, but he’s that athletic big man that can play a Williams type role next season when Williams and Trocha aren’t around. Going back to my last response the group of freshman have been very promising to watch, but the staff really needs to lock up some promising big men in the next class.
MF: I think we’ve made it almost 1500 words without saying the name Admon Gilder, which is probably a disservice to his play so far this season. I admit that he’s not someone that I’ve always been as high on as other people, but he’s having an incredible season so far.
08: It’s a disservice, but it also speaks to our depth. The whole, “we’re good” thing and all.
DA: It’s what happens when your farm has two reliable tractors in Davis and Gilder. He’s averaging 12 and 5 on the season shooting almost 50% from the field and like 85% from the FT line. I’ve always been a big fan of Gilder, and it’s really good to see him in the role he’s able to play this season where we can move without the ball and take some chances defensively to create for himself.
MF: So you have two tractors but no farm?
DA: LOOK I MADE A BAD BET ON OUR 9 GAME RECORD AND LOST THE FARM!
08: I thought we had a stable of guards.
MF: Wait this farm has stables too? This is a nice farm. Okay, rapid fire time. Answer with as few words as possible.
Before we play Alabama on December 30th, you’d like to see… for me it’s intensity
DA: 30+ point victory over Northern Kentucky.
08: Three more wins
MF: Billy Kennedy’s coaching this year has been…
08: [answer interrupted by a brilliant inbounds play for an easy layup]
DA: Reply hazy ask again later.
MF: Put me down for ‘better than expected.’
If you had to guess our SEC record… I said 12-6 before the season, I’ll go up to 14-4.
DA: 14-4, wait...screw it 16-2 I don’t have a farm to bet anymore.
08: I’ll go with 13-5, but I think that’s a nod to the SEC rather than a slight on us
MF: Okay, this one doesn’t have to be a rapid fire, but we’ll end with this. If people like this we’ll do another one early on in conference play, but for now, if you had to re-bet DA’s farm, what seed does this team get in March, and what will be the biggest single key to them doing it?
DA: If the Aggies win the SEC they are a 2-seed at worst. If they don’t win the league outright but win the conference tournament they are a 2-seed at worst, so that has to be the ceiling. Given my track record of farm betting, I’m going with one dollar, Bob. If I was betting real money I’d go with a 3-seed. It’s already there for them, they just have to play with intensity each and every game and break this trend of playing down to lesser competition so often. That’s going to trap them if they keep it up.
08: I also think we’re headed for a 2-seed. I know I dropped a 13-5 regular season prediction, but I’m calling it now: This team is going to win the SEC Tournament. That finish, and that schedule will be enough to vault them to the two-line ahead of whoever happens to stumble on conference tourney weekend. The key? The health of our bigs. We can’t absorb a significant injury to Davis or Williams… we just don’t have the horses down low. Derek’s farm has a stable of guards, specifically.
MF: I’m not trying to be negative (he said, already knowing what the comments would say…) but I think it’s the fact that we’ve never been better than a three seed that brings me back to thinking that at some point we’re going to have a stretch where we don’t play well which could knock us back a seed line or two.
So for me, that’s the key. When this team struggles, what does Kennedy do? Does he try to ride it out, or does he mix things up. Sort of a microcosm of this happened in the game against Arizona, where we probably should have tried something different, but we kind of went ride-or-die with the upperclassmen. But this team has the depth that if someone isn’t playing well, we can put them on the bench, and hopefully we have the players and the leadership for guys to not get their feelings hurt when that happens.
Anything else you guys want to add before we wrap this one up? Maybe next time we can have people send in questions, this is one the site where I break my cardinal rule of internetting to ‘Never read the comments.’
DA: I love the hoops questions from Ags that don’t follow college basketball much or just tune in after football season to root for the Aggies. Question from readers would be great!
08: Sounds good to me. I think we’re headed for a really fun spring.
MF: Agreed, and as a BCS townie, I do love some holiday hoops. Good chance to see the younger guys get a lot of minutes. Plus no lines at restaurants, it really is the best time of the year to live in B/CS.
Until next time, we’ll see y’all in the comments!
How are you feeling about the Aggie Hoops season so far?
This poll is closed
We’re clearly good, but that loss at Arizona kinda bothered me
[chugs 55 gallon drum of maroon kool-aid]