Let’s open with the obvious: Buzz Williams was a great hire, and that won’t change in year one of this campaign... but are we sure we’re this bad? Are we SURE?!
Our three consecutive losses to Harvard, Temple, and Fairfield comprised the ugliest stretch of basketball I’ve seen as an Aggie Hoops fan. We missed basic assignments, we couldn’t shoot, we couldn’t protect the ball, we couldn’t rebound, and perhaps most crucially... there were large dips of defensive effort in all three games.
Heading into this tournament our shooting and rebounding struggles were well documented, but our defensive effort had not been a problem. I always figured we’d play with effort, which would provide a floor of sorts as we trudged through a likely lost season.
But now that floor is nowhere to be seen.
These losses sent us plummeting towards the bottom of just about every advanced metric that matters, and there’s now a pretty compelling case to call us the worst power five team in college basketball. I’m not saying that’s a true statement... but we’re clearly in the conversation. I fear this is going to be a long year.
We’re going to do this out of order. The game recaps will be linked, but I’m more interested in the cause, effect, and aftermath of this disaster.
How Did It Get This Bad?
First... let’s go through the uncanny string of events following Buzz Williams’ arrival, in no particular order. Brace yourselves.
- Two surefire starters leave the program: Admon Gilder (Gonzaga) and TJ Starks (Transfer Portal - TBD)
- Two additional projected contributors leave the program: Brandon Mahan (UCF) and John Walker III (Texas Southern)
- Billy Kennedy’s existing class (projected to be a fringe Top 25 crew) asks for their release, and that release is granted. Kobe Brown (Missouri), Chris Harris (Oklahoma State) and Sahvir Wheeler (Georgia) have looked solid, if not better than expected, at their new locations.
- To fill the gap, Buzz goes on a crazy recruiting spree. Crazy. Brings in seven guys.
- Bakari Simmons is mysteriously dropped from the program as the season approaches, and Cashius McNeilly (the highest rated of the bunch) has not played a game due to injury.
So What Happened This Weekend?
We went to battle with five returning players (Chandler/Flagg/Nebo/Mitchell/French) and five new players (Miller/Aku/Gultekin/Jackson/Gordon), and it was an abject disaster. Here’s where I deviate from the Texas A&M Basketball groupthink... because I think that’s enough talent to avoid results that are this bad.
A few trends from the three game stretch
- Savion Flagg shot well from beyond the arc (10-25 — 40%)
- Everyone else was flat-out awful (10-55 — 18%)
- Among power conference teams, we are now comfortably the worst outside shooters in America (23.9%)
- Despite this information, over 50% of our field goal attempts were threes
- We were outrebounded in all three games this weekend to the tune of 109—84, and all three games were played against non P5 schools (which should give us a rebounding advantage).
- Our offensive rebounding rate (23.7% for; 32.7% against) ranks in the bottom 15% of all D1 programs on both ends of the floor.
- With the exception of our home opener against Northwestern State, we have lost the rebounding battle in every single game this season.
- Poor Josh Nebo is constantly tasked with protecting the rim as guys get beat out front, which takes him completely out of position on the defensive glass.
- Our steal numbers look good to the untrained eye... but our gambling out top is creating a host of nasty side effects. We’re heading into these games knowing that we have to get some easy baskets via turnovers, and that desperation really isn’t landing the way we hoped it would.
- I dearly wish this was just a style issue... but there was a sharp decline in defensive effort in the last three games. One that might ultimately lead to our undoing.
- I dearly, dearly wish this was just a style and effort issue... but even our execution is off. This was perhaps most evident during the game against Fairfield, as their one offensive option was repeatedly left alone outside during a literal school record shooting performance.
- This component stung. It wasn’t supposed to be a problem, and it could turn this year into an unmitigated disaster.
There were moments this weekend where I started to question Buzz’s commitment to the long-term plan... more specifically, that he was TOO committed to the long term plan. Sure, I understand that we’re dealing with massive talent overhaul and the raw implementation of a new system on both sides of the ball. But can we really not deviate in the name of short term success? When we’re losing to Fairfield, who’s ranked in the 300’s, and our offensive and defensive approach isn’t working... can we make some adjustments to win the game without fear of compromising the long term mission?
Personally, I think we can. It’s going to be an interesting balance to strike, but I think it’s doable. At least I sure hope so, because what we saw this weekend would yield the worst A&M Big Three season in at least a decade.
The Horns are next in Forth Worth, y’all. We’re healthy underdogs, and a drubbing in that game would turn off all but the most fervent hoops supporters. We need a solid performance this Sunday if we’re going to start the arduous process of turning this sucker around.