This the seventh annual version of this post, and in the previous six I was left to reconcile a handful of different thoughts as I prepared my season preview. I was always focused on the present, but there was this undercurrent (with varying degrees of intensity) that was always flowing just beneath the surface, and it always asked one question: What is the future of this basketball program?
I navigated these waters best I could, defending Kennedy one month and roasting him the next, but it always seemed to cloud my judgement of the program as a whole. I understood why people wanted a change at the top, but I was never willing to abdicate the current season to join the party. I love basketball too much, and I couldn’t root for in-season failure to facilitate change. Round-and-round the circle went. It was exhausting at some points and exhilarating at others, but it never truly delivered the forward-facing hope you should feel at some point during an eight year reign.
The dawning of the Buzz Williams era has changed everything.
Now, for the first time in a decade, I’ll approach a season free of that undercurrent. There’s no forward-thinking program angst, and there’s no split in the collective Aggie Hoops fanbase. The University gave Aggie Hoops fans the one thing we’ve always asked for - a commitment of the finances and resources previously reserved for football.
We’ve got our guy, and we know it.
This offseason has been all about the future, but lost in that shuffle is a returning core of upperclassmen that don’t buy into this narrative that’s centered around 2021. They think they can win now.
Note: Shooting percentages are displayed using FG/3PT/FT splits
TJ Starks (Junior PG; 6’2” 196 lbs)
Stats: 27 games played, 18 games started. Averaged 27.5 minutes per game, with 12.3 points on 36/22/65 shooting splits. Led the SEC in usage rate (31.8%) and % of shots taken (31.2%), 7th in the SEC in assist rate (27.2%); 3rd on the team in steal percentage (2.56%), 2nd on the team in fouls drawn per 40 minutes (4.6). Led the team in assists… and turnovers.
Last Season In Review: Starks does not hold up well to the harsh light of advanced analytics, but some of those numbers are a function of our over-reliance on him last year. For large stretches of the season, we just couldn’t get anything going unless he was on the floor. Mitchell and Flagg picked up the slack later in the year, and I’m hoping that carries forward to a more reserved, polished 2020.
Current Outlook: TJ might not be the most important player on the team (with our height problems, that distinction goes to Nebo), but his range of outcomes is wildly high. Will Buzz Williams mold this All-SEC talent into a player that can function in a fluid offensive system? Will TJ’s bad habits surface in the face of coaching change? Those answers could very well define our season.
Note: Starks is out 2-3 weeks with a leg injury.
Jay Jay Chandler (Junior G; 6’4” 180 lbs)
Stats: 31 games played, 18 games started. Averaged 23.7 minutes per game, with 8.3 points on 44/30/71 shooting splits. Second on the team in steals.
Last Season In Review: Chandler started the season with the same scouting report that hounded him his freshman year (i.e., this guy can get to the rim, so just let him shoot), but by the end of the season his outside shot really rounded into form. I haven’t seen this discussed at all over the past six months, but Jay Jay was 9-17 from beyond the arc over the last month of the season. And he was the 4th best free throw shooter in conference play, to boot.
Current Outlook: Buzz Williams is going to freaking love Jay Jay Chandler. This guy plays his tail off on the defensive end, and he flies to the rim with absolutely no fear. Those two qualities are certain to land him big minutes, and if his outside shot continues to improve he could become the biggest surprise of the season.
Wendell (Chuck) Mitchell (Senior G; 6’3” 185 lbs)
Stats: 29 games played, 24 games started. Averaged 30.7 minutes per game, with 13 points on 39/34/84 shooting splits. Second on the team in 3PT%. Led the team in FT% and steals.
Last Season In Review: It took Mitchell a few weeks to get acclimated last season, but he cemented a starting role by SEC play. His best stretch came during the February surge from 1-8 to 6-10. His efficiency took a hit when he was forced to handle the ball after Starks was hurt to close the season, so let’s hope we can work him off the ball as a spot up shooter. When he steps into a three, it’s a pretty dang pure release.
Current Outlook: Mitchell is going to thrive in this new “position-less / constant motion” offense. He can score off a screen, he can finish at the rim, and he can get his shot in a number of different ways off the dribble. He’s the best outside shooter we’ve got this season, and that alone will grant him big minutes.
Savion Flagg (Junior F; 6’7” 223 lbs)
Stats: 32 games played, 32 games started. Averaged 34.8 minutes per game. Led the team in scoring (13.9) and rebounding (7.7), and was second in assists on 47/34/66 shooting splits. Led the SEC in % of minutes played, led the SEC in “fewest fouls committed per 40 minutes.”
Last Season In Review: Savion Flagg made a tremendous amount of progress last season. We started last year’s preview wondering if Flagg was ready to handle the weekly grind of a P5 starter, and he responded by starting all 32 games with the single highest % of minutes played in the SEC. He’s calm, he rebounds above his height, and he plays good defense without fouling; yet he’s got a fifth gear that was good enough grab SEC Player of the Week honors. He closed so strongly that he even dabbled with an NBA Draft submission before deciding to return for his Junior year. Sky’s the limit for this guy.
Current Outlook: We’re going to ask an awful lot of Savion, but I think he can handle it. He’ll be the back-breaking high post option against a zone, he’ll be asked to guard/rebound against taller/bigger players all season, and he’ll need to take (and make) a boatload of big shots in pressure situations. If he can meet these expectations, we can make a little noise ahead of schedule.
Josh Nebo (Senior C; 6’9” 245 lbs)
Stats: 30 games played, 2 games started. Averaged 19.6 minutes per game, with 8.1 points and 5.3 rebounds on 70/—/70 shooting splits. Led the team in blocks, 5th in the country in blocks per 40 minutes. 2nd in the SEC in offensive efficiency, 10th in the SEC in offensive rebounding.
Last Season In Review: Josh Nebo gave us everything we could ask for last season. He was half of the 50/50 committee with Mekowulu, and he was so impressive that an SEC All-Defensive Team nod was in play. He doesn’t play with his back to the basket, but that’s ok in this system. He’ll be asked to set screens, protect the rim, and finish. That’s a role he can execute.
Current Outlook: Nebo is out for an undetermined amount of time, which makes this tough to assess... especially when installing a new system. What makes this tougher to assess is the projected increase in minutes. We’ll need Nebo for 32+ minutes every night, and that’s a significant bump over last year’s involvement. Can he increase his minutes with the same high-efficiency output? Will his injury allow him to re-join the squad soon? Here’s hoping, because the frontline gets a little thin without him.
Quenton Jackson (Junior G; 6’5” 171 lbs): Jackson was the 2nd-ranked JC SG prospect in the country (and 15th overall) which landed him a four-star rating. There’s an expectation that he’ll be able to contribute immediately, which was certainly met by his team-leading 16 points against Texas A&M Kingsville. Quenton was a first-team All-MFC selection at the College of Central Flordia, averaging 18.3 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. Of the newcomers, he’s the surest bet to jump into the crunch time rotation from the opening tip.
Emanuel Miller (Freshman F; 6’7” 213 lbs): Another four-star recruit, Miller was the 21st-ranked HS PF (108th overall) and was quite the hot commodity as the recruiting season closed. He’s probably the second safest bet to join the rotation immediately, but this is mostly a function of his size. Of the incoming wings, he’s the best option to battle down low in the SEC. Fun wrinkle: Miller regularly features for the Canadian national team, and averaged 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in the 2018 FIBA U18 championship. Get your Canadian puns ready.
Cashius McNeilly: (Freshman G; 6’4” 191 lbs): Are those Canadian puns ready? Keep ‘em ready, because we got another one coming. Cashius was the 31st-ranked HS SG (132nd nationally), which was enough to nab us our third four-star of the class. I couldn’t find much from his high school stats, but the numbers from his national team performances (Canada!) seem to indicate that he’s more of a pure shooter. He’s also the nephew of new assistant coach Jamie McNeilly, which surely helped us land him ahead of the likes of Maryland and Wisconsin.
Jonathan Aku (Freshman C; 6’10” 245 lbs): Because of his height (and Nebo’s early injury), Aku is going to see the floor plenty this season… but it might be more “there’s no one else, so sink or swim” and less “we have assessed the situation and think you’re ready.” Calling him a true freshman doesn’t even tell the entire story, as Aku reclassified to the class of 2019 as part of his commitment. I truly think he’ll be a good player for us in the near future, but I fear this roster is going to ask too much, too early.
Andre Gordon (Freshman G; 6’2” 185 lbs): Gordan was the 37th-ranked PG in the nation and was first-team All-Ohio as a Senior, but he also had a stellar career as a dual-threat QB. This dude is pure athleticism, and early returns indicate that he’ll contribute as a perimeter defender. Jury’s still out on his ability to run an offense, but that’s ok because this roster may not need him to do that this season. Short, high-intensity defensive bursts appear to be his likely contribution.
Yavuz Gultekin (Freshman F; 6’7” 201 lbs): “Yeezy” Gultekin moved to the U.S. from Turkey in 2017, and as the product of two professional basketball players he’s literally got hoops running through his veins. That’s evident in his court awareness and off-ball movement, as he found himself pockets of space down low repeatedly against A&M Kingsville. Unfortunately, that’s only half the battle. The strength and speed of the SEC might limit his involvement this season. File this kid away for future contributions.
The 2019-2020 Schedule
2019-2020 Texas A&M Non-Conference Schedule
|Friday, Nov. 1||Texas A&M-Kingsville||Reed Arena (preseason)|
|Wednesday, Nov. 6||Northwestern State||Reed Arena|
|Monday, Nov. 11||ULM||Reed Arena|
|Friday, Nov. 15||Gonzaga||Reed Arena|
|Wednesday, Nov. 20||Troy||Reed Arena|
|Thursday, Nov. 28||Harvard||Orlando, Fla.|
|Friday, Nov. 29||Maryland/Temple||Orlando, Fla.|
|Sunday, Dec. 1||Opponent TBD||Orlando, Fla.|
|Sunday, Dec. 8||Texas||Fort Worth, Texas|
|Sunday, Dec. 15||Texas A&M - Corpus Christi||Reed Arena|
|Saturday, Dec. 21||Oregon State||Reed Arena|
|Monday, Dec. 30||Texas Southern||Reed Arena|
|Friday, Jan. 25||Oklahoma State||Reed Arena|
Two HUGE points to discuss here
- We brought a big-time opponent (Gonzaga) to Reed Arena on a football weekend, which is the type of common sense move hoops fans have been dying for. It’s the first big test under Buzz Williams, it’s our last chance to see our old friend Admon Gilder in the friendly confines, and it all lands on the last home football weekend of the year.
- We are playing the University of Texas in a sporting event, and the republic still stands
Three additional KINDA HUGE points to discuss
- Oklahoma State comes to town on January 25th during the Big XII / SEC Challenge
- Harvard (and probably Maryland) await in the Advocare Orlando Invitational over Thanksgiving break.
- Oregon State will complete the other half of their home-and-home in Reed on December 21st
Everything else (Northwestern State, ULM, Troy, Texas A&M - Corpus Christi, and Texas Southern) will hopefully serve as home game cannon fodder.
The SEC Campaign
2020 Texas A&M SEC Schedule
|Jan. 7||Ole Miss||Home|
|Jan. 18||South Carolina||Home|
|Feb. 8||South Carolina||Away|
|Feb. 22||Mississippi State||Home|
Before we jump into the results, here’s a quick primer on the 18-game scheduling format.
- Six games are split among three permanent home-and-home opponents (Arkansas, LSU, and Missouri)
- Four games are split among two rotating home-and-home opponents
- Four games are played against rotating “road only” opponents
- Four games are played against rotating “home only” opponents
Personally, I look for the following three things:
- Top-half SEC teams in the “home only” bucket
- Bottom-half SEC teams in the “road only” bucket
- The worst possible opponents in the “rotating home and home” bucket
Rotating Home Games: Kentucky, Ole Miss, Florida, Mississippi State
If the end goal is “we want the good teams at home, and we only want them once,” it’s hard to argue this result. All four of these teams went to the dance last year, and when you add our permanent home game against LSU and our non-conference gem against Gonzaga, we’re looking at a pretty dang solid home schedule.
Rotating Away Games: Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
This one works, too. Sure, Auburn and Tennessee will be rough, but I could see us grabbing wins at both Alabama and Vanderbilt next year. Those games can be had.
Rotating Home-and-Homes: South Carolina, Georgia
This is the single biggest piece of the puzzle, and I have to say… we killed it. South Carolina doesn’t appear to return much from a team that overachieved in conference play after some truly stunning early losses to sub DI opposition, and Georgia (despite their recent recruiting success) appears to still be a year away.
We can grab three of these four.
Record prediction (Overall; SEC): 16-14; 7-11
Postseason Prediction: NIT
Team MVP: Savion Flagg
Overall thoughts: On paper (on this paper, specifically) we’ve got the talent to fight for a top-half berth in the SEC. We return 5 of our best 6 players, they’re supplemented by a solid recruiting class, and the Buzz Williams hire represents a significant coaching upgrade. So what’s the problem?
The problem lies with the week-to-week grind. There’s a great deal of uncertainty beyond our core of returning players, and we would need 3-4 of those players to step up and have an uncanny string of season-long injury luck to hit our ceiling. It’s possible, sure… but it’s not likely. For that reason, I have us safely nestled in the bottom half of the conference. But take heart, friends - you won’t see us down there again after this year.
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The campaign begins tonight, friends. BTHO Northwestern St.