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Aggie Hoops Roundup: Where has it all gone wrong?

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The basketball crew attempts to diagnose A&M’s almost unthinkable 0-5 start to SEC play

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Melvin Franchione (MF): Since the last time we convened the Good Bull Hunting hoops braintrust things have uh… changed. We’ve lost five in a row, including three games that weren’t particularly close, had four different starters either suspended or injured for multiple games and fallen from number five in the country into a situation where now we’re going to have to put together a good run to even get in the field.

So, with that said, first question… how screwed are we?

Gigthem08 (GT): On a scale from BCG to Melvin Watkins, I’d say we’re about ‘Billy Kennedy’ screwed. We can’t yet abandon all hope, as there are 13 games remaining in the SEC regular season… but this is about as bad of a start as I could have imagined. It’s only the fight at Rupp Arena and the legitimately bad luck against LSU that’s keeping me from punting on the season. You?

MF: Yeah… it’s one of those deals that, in some ways, is complicated. Like, without three starters, we were probably getting blown out by Florida no matter what happened, and we were also probably going to lose to Alabama. And beating Tennessee and Kentucky on the road was always going to be difficult even at full strength. So in some ways those are expected results. But, that doesn’t excuse the way we lost those games and just the general look the team has had the last few weeks.

GT: It’s the ‘general look’ that has bothered me, specifically. We seemed to put juuuuust enough effort into some of our December tune-up games, and that malaise has drifted into the teeth of our toughest stretch of the season.

MF: Yeah, I mean at this point I think it’s fair to question if West Virginia was just a fluke. And if it was, then our overall results aren’t particularly impressive even before this recent skid. Put another way, I think it’s fair to ask if we were extremely overrated based mostly on that one game and a couple of our opponents being overrated in the preseason.

GT: If only we had experience with that concept elsewhere in the athletic department, right? But in regards to the skid itself, what have you seen as the biggest issue?

MF: In some ways this is like asking what the worst thing about the Schlieffen Plan was, but to me it’s gotta be just mental lapses that our team has at times. And the disconcerting thing is that there’s nobody exempt from it except maybe Duane Wilson.

GT: I feel like we’re stumbling on to the problem here, because I truly feel the ‘effort’ lapses have been worse than the mental lapses, but we’re probably both right. Let’s put it this way - my wife is watching The Bachelor right now, and some girl is trying as hard as she can to win this dude over. She’s flying at a thousand miles an hour, ordering private cabanas, over-complimenting, and doing pretty much anything else she can think of. None of it is working, and it’s a high-speed disaster. But it’s not a disaster devoid of effort. Give me that, and save me the garbage I saw in Tennessee.

MF: I think overall effort is definitely the biggest problem, but I was trying to get at is that sometimes it’s actual physical effort and sometimes it’s mental effort. We have way too many guys that just sort of go through the motions on defense, what I like to call doing the ‘floaty dance.’ They’re not really guarding anyone, but they know that’s where they’re supposed to be from doing it in practice.

GT: I feel like the floaty dance is ineffective.

MF: It’s pretty effective at weddings. It’s when you do just enough on the floor that nobody can say you aren’t dancing.

GT: Ah, I’m familiar with that one. It’s a move best executed when the lights are off, which might be something we see at Reed Arena soon to spare the locals if we don’t turn things around.

MF: Yeah, and that maybe brings up our next point because it seems like, at least online, that the tide might really be turning on Billy Kennedy a little bit. How much of this do you put on him?

GT: This is a tricky question, because the early optimism was a direct result of his recruiting efforts. I think any BK discussion has to start there - he’s a plus recruiter. Now… he’s a plus recruiter, but can he manage a roster? We have dealt with constant churn, particularly at the PG position, and the end result has been a lack of continuity that has prevented us from the kind of sustained success we had seen under BCG and Turgeon. In regards to this season specifically? I’m splitting the blame pretty evenly in three directions. Our coaching hasn’t been good enough during the recent stretch, our injury luck has been poor, and our repeated discipline issues have surfaced at the worst possible time.

In short, there’s plenty of blame pie to go around. Also, don’t eat the blame pie.

MF: Blame pie does not sound particularly good, no. On a group text with some friends this weekend, one thing that kept coming up is that we just haven’t been quite as good as we should be. Like, we were probably going to lose to Alabama even with a good effort, but we got massacred. And we probably had no chance against Florida with those guys missing, but we didn’t even really try. And losing at Tennessee is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s not like we played a good game and got beat. We turned it over at an unbelievable rate, and couldn’t get rebounds despite having two of the best rebounding bigs in the SEC. So kind of like I said earlier, even though the results aren’t that surprising, we just look like a mess, and that’s on the coach.

And frankly, the off-court problems are on the coach also. We’ve run so many players off from this program in the last few years, and yet we’ve still got guys getting suspended multiple times in the same season? That’s ridiculous. That’s a leadership problem to me.

GT: Can’t argue anything, there. And oh, to be a fly on the wall during the first film session after Tennessee. Some of those defensive possessions, particularly those where we chose to not block out or close down their 60% three point shooter, can’t look good under the microscope.

MF: Since we’re on the Kennedy subject, do you agree that if we do actually manage to miss the tournament he needs to be gone?

GT: 100%

Earlier this season, I said this team had more raw talent than even Acie’s Senior season, and I think I still stand by that. Missing the tournament with this roster is an immediately fireable offense. But I have a different question - how would you feel about the program if we barely made the tourney and were immediately bounced?

MF: That’s probably worst case scenario right? Again that would go back to “Not quite good enough: The Billy Kennedy Story.” Someone posted this on twitter this weekend and I thought it was a pretty fascinating thought experiment, there was so much talk at the end of football season about ‘If we fire Sumlin, we better have someone better to replace him.’ The general idea being that a lot of the names that were being tossed around on the coaching carousel weren’t definite upgrades.

Is anyone really afraid of that being the case in basketball? No to put it too bluntly, but does anyone have any doubt that a basketball coaching search would end with an upgrade over what we’ve experienced the last seven seasons?

GT: First of all, I can’t believe we let Mike White leave the building when he brought La Tech here and killed us three years ago. I was willing to do anything short of “re-enacting the full plot of Celtic Pride” to make that hire happen.

As to your actual question? No, there’s no doubt that a process led by Scott Woodward would yield an upgrade. I’m not exactly sure how the existing power dynamic works for basketball, but I’m guessing he could get the job done if we were to move on.

Which brings us to our next question… what’s the way forward, in your opinion? Is this season salvageable?

MF: Yeah, it definitely is. There’s still a way out of the darkness, but we’re up against it now. The grind of conference basketball is extremely difficult, even when you’re a really good team. You go through stretches where you don’t play well or you catch opponents on the wrong night, and losses happen.

Now we don’t have any room for any of that. To even make the field, we probably have to go 9-4 the rest of the way (not including the Kansas game.) And once you’re in the field, anything can happen.

Any sort of dreams of being a high seed playing in Dallas are out the window. The goals we talked about last time we did this are basically toast unless we win out or something, and we’re now in desperation mode.

That’s maybe my biggest problem with the Tennessee game. We should have been in desperation mode in that game, but we definitely didn’t look it. And that’s not to say we should be taking dumb shots or committing dumb fouls because we’re panicking, but I’d have liked to see more of a sense of desperation, because we are desperate! Let’s play like it.

GT: That’s the part I can’t get over. When you finally have all of the pieces back, you can’t submit that effort. You’ve got to be better. As to the larger question, I also agree that this season is salvageable. We’re about to hit a stretch of five conference games where our only road trip is to Baton Rouge, and it wouldn’t be out of the question to string together a 4-1 over that time to build a little momentum. Unfortunately, Tennessee completely re-calibrated the floor of this team for me, so it’s also not out of the question (particularly in the ‘tougher than normal’ SEC) to go 2-3 or 1-4 and completely crater.

The cumulative effect of the last six weeks is that I can’t automatically give us a W anywhere. Quite a stark contrast from early December, when I wasn’t willing to drop an L anywhere on the future schedule.

Sports are dumb, is what I’m saying.

MF: Tomorrow will give us some insight at least into the team’s mindset. We should be able to completely overmatch Ole Miss, so we’ll see if the team comes together.

GT: Right. Quick question, they don’t allow five wins for one game, do they?

MF: Winning at Kansas might count as five wins?

GT: Perhaps that’s our destiny, then. To win at Kansas, secure our hypothetical Big XII Title, and scrape the SEC floor to prove conference dominance. The ultimate long con.

MF: Talk about long con, this A&M team’s roster combined with how the season has gone so far is like a blueprint for the kind of team that wins the SEC Tournament to backdoor into the tournament.

GT: Are we destined to embrace our brand and become the most dangerous 12 seed of all time?

MF: To somehow end up in Dallas as a 12 seed and upset a 5 like TCU or something? Absolutely. We’re going to ‘Rob Childress’ this basketball season, not that he knows how to beat TCU but at least he’s good at finding new ways to silence the haters.

GT: I like the timeline where we play in Dallas and defeat TCU, and I prefer to stay there in lieu of the one where we’re currently 0-5 and dead-ass last in the SEC.

MF: Well, let’s end on a positive note, the last time I remember the first day of spring classes getting cancelled for an ice storm was in 2007 and that year turned out alright.

GT: And the last time we lost five conference games in a row, we messed around and won the dang SEC. Perhaps there’s a method to this madness, after all.

MF: Kennedy just has a nice respect for history and a flair for the dramatic. It’s all about ratings.

GT: Texas A&M Basketball. It’s all about ratings. Coming to a billboard near you.

Let’s get things right against Ole Miss, and maybe chat again when we aren’t dripping in disdain and basketball sadness?

MF: If we survive the ICE POCALYPSE. Be safe out there everyone.

GT: Agreed. Be safe, stay warm, and BTHO Ole Miss