Let’s start with the rough part: We lost a ton of production from last year’s squad. Tyler Davis, Robert Williams, Duane Wilson, DJ Hogg, and Tonny Trocha were significant members of our crunch time SEC rotation, and their departure represents the following:
- Five of our top seven scorers (73% of all scoring)
- Our top four players on the glass (77% of all rebounding)
- Our top four rim protectors (92% of all blocked shots)
- 62% of all minutes played
I hate to start with the glum stuff, but to start anywhere else would be foolish, as our new identity is ultimately a function of the talent we lost. What is that identity, you ask? Let’s check the guys that stayed behind:
- Three of our top four 3PT shooters (55% of all made threes)
- Two of our top three players in FTA; FT%
- Our leader in steals and our best on-ball defender
- 73% of all ‘guard’ minutes played in the 2017-2018 season
So, there you have it. We’re finally joining the nation-wide movement towards fast, guard-heavy, offensive basketball. Four new contributors will help us fill the gaps, but make no mistake: This team will go as far as the the returning guards can carry us.
Can we make this transition while replacing our entire frontcourt? And perhaps more importantly… can we do it when the rest of the country has already been playing this way for years?
Let’s break it down.
Admon Gilder (Senior G; 6’4” 199 lbs)
The unquestioned leader of this year’s squad, Gilder is now in a position to truly shine in Billy Kennedy’s new, up-tempo offense. If you need a reminder of what Gilder can do in a fast-paced game, look no further than the 23 point, 9 rebound, 7 assist effort he dropped against West Virginia’s famous full court press. If you need a second reminder, take a quick look back at Gilder’s high school career... which is arguably the last time he’s played an entire season of fast-paced basketball. The result? He dropped over 30 points per game (a ton in high school) and was named 2015 Gatorade Texas Player of the Year.
If he can stay healthy for an entire season in this system, I think we’re looking at one of the most impressive statistical campaigns from a Texas A&M guard in quite some time.
2017-2018 Average: 32 minutes, 12.3 points, 2.6 assists, 1.1 steals; 46% FG, 82% FT, 40% 3PT
TJ Starks (Sophomore G; 6’2” 196 lbs)
Last year’s SEC All-Freshman selection and Texas A&M Newcomer of the Year came off the bench for the first half the season. But when the opportunity presented itself, he exploded into the starter’s role, and he does not appear likely to relinquish those minutes.
Starks can get to any spot on the floor he wants, he carries himself with a ton of confidence, and he’s never afraid to have the ball in his hands. These are qualities you want in your primary ball handler, to be sure... but there are times where they can work against him, as well. Game-to-game consistency needs to be a huge part of his development, moving forward.
2017-2018 Average: 21.3 minutes, 9.9 points, 2.3 assists; 39% FG, 64% FT, 32% 3PT
Savion Flagg (Sophomore G/F; 6’7” 217 lbs)
Flagg is one of those guys that can do a little bit of everything. He doesn’t demand shots to be content, he’s a capable rebounder, he’s comfortable with the ball in his hands, and he really showed promise when he was given an opportunity to play in short bursts. The problems arose when those appearances earned him larger chunks of minutes later in the season. He definitely proved he was worthy of rotation minutes, but the jury’s still out as to whether he can handle a full load of starter’s minutes in the SEC. His battle for playing time against a couple of the newcomers is going to be fascinating.
2017-2018 Average: 15.6 minutes, 4.1 points, 3.4 rebounds; 43% FG, 58% FT, 32% 3PT
Jay Jay Chandler (Sophomore G; 6’4” 180 lbs)
Jay Jay’s primary attribute is his motor. He never plays less than 100%. We saw it to start the year (teaming up with Trocha start fisticuffs in the charity exhibition against Texas), we saw it to end the year (with 17 really good minutes in a hopeless beating against Michigan), and we saw it at just about every stage in between.
He’s fearless going to the rim, and his passing and decision making improved as the year went on, but we still need a little more from him outside the arc. This offense is going to be based on spacing and three point shooting, and if you can reliably sag off and leave someone open, the system falls apart.
If he can consistently stick threes this year, he’s in for a bucketload of minutes and a really good season.
2017-2018 Average: 11.4 minutes, 3.7 points; 38% FG, 73% FT, 24% 3PT
Chris Collins (Junior G; 6’3” 181 lbs)
Collins might be the biggest beneficiary of our move to the new system. It’s not entirely impossible to imagine stretches where we play four guards, which could mean up to six (or seven) will see non garbage time action. With his ability to stick an open three, Collins is certainly in the mix to fill our back end guard minutes.
2017-2018 Average: 17 games played; 7.1 minutes, 1.5 points; 25% 3PT
Isiah Jasey (Sophomore F/C; 6’10” 246 lbs)
Jasey played sparingly in last year’s forward-heavy lineup, but the departures outlined early in this article have cleared the way for him to contribute. He didn’t have an opportunity to show much in his limited action, but he certainly appeared to have the height and strength to hold his own down low. His offensive and defensive awareness weren’t really given time to grow, however, so we need a big offseason jump from him heading into the new slate.
2017-2018 Average: 15 games played; 3.3 minutes, 0.5 rebounds; 60% FG
Wendell Mitchell (Junior G; 6’3” 185 lbs): Mitchell originally committed to Scott Drew and Baylor, but after a redshirt season and a rocky Freshman campaign, he went to Trinity Valley JC in lieu of sitting out a transfer year. The result was a solid statistical campaign (19.8 points and 6.5 assists) and a top five ranking among Junior College recruits. He’ll certainly get his share of minutes, and could very well even start, but I hesitate to guess exactly where (or how) he’ll fit in. We’ll spend the majority of our non-conference slate answering that very question.
Brandon Mahan (Sophomore G; 6’5” 200 lbs): While Mitchell’s contributions may be tough to define, Mahan’s are quite straightforward - the kid can shoot. He made 88 3’s at a 50.3% clip for Chipola College in Florida, and he’s quite clearly our most talented spot up shooter. Kennedy has stated that he’s strong enough to play forward... but I’m going to have to see that before I believe it. Personally, if he can consistently stick a three and keep the defense honest, I feel he won’t have to do much else to earn his time on the floor.
Christian Mekowulu (Senior F; 6’8” 245 lbs): While the first two were Junior College transfers, this is a full blown graduate transfer. Christian played three seasons at Tennessee State (missing the fourth to injury), and was named the 2017-2018 Ohio Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He also picked up a 2nd team All-OVC nod, finishing the year with 12.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. One final note - check out this box score from last season’s game against Texas. They took the Longhorns to the wire, and he straight outplayed NBA lottery pick Mo Bamba on both ends of the floor.
I think we’re getting a good one, here.
Josh Nebo (Junior F; 6’9” 244 lbs): We grabbed two JC transfers and a grad transfer... so let’s add a regular ‘sit out a year’ transfer and complete the full set. Nebo comes our way via Saint Francis University, where he averaged 12.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks as a sophomore. In just two years at Saint Francis, he became the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots. While Mekowulu appears likely to contribute in a variety of ways around the basket, Nebo appears much more likely to serve in the Robert Williams ‘dunk and protect the rim’ role.
The 2018-2019 Schedule
Our non-conference slate isn’t operating at least year’s extraordinarily difficult level, but we’re still looking at six games where victory is far from guaranteed. If we can take four from this batch, I’ll be thrilled. If we grab three, it’ll be good enough. Two or fewer... and we leave ourselves an awful lot of work to do in a continuously improving SEC.
- at #3 Gonzaga
- Minnesota (Vancouver)
- #25 Washington (Vancouver)
- Boston College
- Oregon State (Portland, Oregon)
- #12 Kansas State
The remaining seven games are effectively home paycheck games. Lose any of these, and you’re in real trouble.
- Savannah State
- UC Irvine
- South Alabama
- Northwestern State
- Texas Southern
The SEC Campaign
If we want to survive in the SEC, we have to take care of business at home. Particularly against the bottom third. For my money, these home games (along with a road trip to lowly Ole Miss) have very little margin for error.
- South Carolina
- at Ole Miss
The real test lies in the nine games listed below, seven of which are on the road. We won’t be favored often, but we have to grab our fair share of these if we want to make any kind of postseason noise.
- #23 LSU (home and home)
- Alabama (home and home)
- at #18 MSU
- at Florida
- at Arkansas
- at Vanderbilt
- at South Carolina
Finally, the three games where we’ve got nothing to lose. With two of these at home, I’m hoping we can grab at least one from this group. If we don’t... well, this university is certainly no stranger to big losses at home.
- At #2 Kentucky
- #6 Tennessee
- #11 Auburn
Record prediction (Overall; SEC): 18-13; 8-10
Postseason Prediction: Next Four Out; NIT Quarterfinal Appearance
Team MVP: Admon Gilder
Overall thoughts: This season represents one of the most complete style changes in the country, especially among programs that aren’t changing their Head Coach. A slew of outgoing front court talent has forced our hand, so we’ll run to our heart’s content. The returning guard strength and incoming talent will let this work in spurts, but I hesitate to commit to an extended stretch of success. We’ll simply need too many things to go our way to win consistently, and that’s too much to ask in the new-look SEC.
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The season starts tonight against Savannah State, the fastest team in the country. They shoot more threes than anyone and their games are habitually high scoring, so this should be a fun one.
BTHO Savannah State