College sports are tricky.
A true statement for many reasons, but the most pertinent for this article is the plague of the "disease of next." The next game. The next year. The next recruiting cycle. The next coaching regime. They are a series of crutches that allow for immediate relief in the face of sports pain, and they are really effective. Given the 24/7 nature of college sports coverage these days, they are also the easiest to default towards. Whether via recruiting coverage, the coaching carousel, or even the constant early polls for an upcoming season... the next "next" is never that far away.
It's a complex (and random, some might argue) introduction to a basketball preview, but I'm hoping it serves as a vehicle to drive home a critical point:
We have a damn good basketball team on our hands. The current squad. The present. This year.
For those that can't get past the prior coaching decisions or the admittedly frustrating indifference by the AD, I urge you to avoid the disease of next. Enjoy this season as a standalone entity. Yes, we could have done things differently over the past couple of off-seasons. Yes, the tone deaf response to basketball from the University can be maddening. But those things won't change in the next four months. We're here, we're loaded with talent, and we're playing in a conference that has rapidly gained respect in the national basketball landscape.
If you'll let yourself, you just might have a little fun this year.
With that out of the way, let's preview our 2015-2016 Fightin' Texas Aggie Basketball season
What changed since last year?
We lost Kourtney Roberson and Jordan Green to graduation, and we lost Antwan Space (UMass), Avery Johnson (Alabama), Peyton Allen (Wichita State), Davonte Fitzgerald (Minnesota), and Dylan Johns (Cal State Northridge) to outbound transfers.
Meanwhile, we gained the services of PG Anthony Collins (South Florida) via transfer, and we added four ESPN100 prospects (C - Tyler Davis, C - Elijah Thomas, SF - D.J. Hogg, SG - Admon Gilder) who were collectively named the #6 recruiting class in the country.
So not that much, really. Just twelve personnel moves. That's all. (Hint: That's a lot.)
How do the pieces fit?
The returning core of seniors Alex Caruso (led the conference in assists, second in steals, 2nd-team pre-season 2015 All-SEC), Danuel House (leading scorer, crazy range, great finisher, 1st-team pre-season 2015 All-SEC), and Jalen Jones (strong rebounder, great touch, 2nd-team post-season 2014-2015 All-SEC) will run the show.
The incoming freshmen will chip in immediately, as Hogg (shooting), Gilder (slashing), Thomas (rebounding/post defense) and Davis (many things) have plus skills that will land them plenty of playing time. Davis in particular projects to start from day one.
Finally, the remaining rotation guys (Miller and Trocha - big man depth; Robinson and Collins - ball handling) will fill in the gaps as necessary.
The result is a rotation that will have more depth and balance than all but one (Kentucky) of their SEC opponents this season.
As an FYI, we'll expand on the player-by-player stuff in a separate piece.
What about the rest of the conference?
Unfortunately, we aren't improving in a vacuum. For as good as we look, we are only one of three teams (along with Vanderbilt and LSU) projected to give Kentucky a real run for their money this season. And with an increased emphasis on non-conference scheduling strength, plenty of conference brethren will have a chance to flex their muscle early.
Okay, cool, scheduling. How does our slate look?
I have to hand it to you. Your questions are teeing me up perfectly.
Put simply, the days of Aggie Hoops having a "Baylor Football" approach to non-conference are over. Due to a quirk associated with Jalen Jones' transfer, he has to sit out the first four games this year... so we loaded up pretty light on the front end.
But when it ramps up, it ramps up in a hurry.
Our entry into the Battle of Atlantis (routinely seen as one of the top fields among preseason tourneys) kicks off with a battle against a strong Texas squad, and could include subsequent games against Gonzaga, Syracuse, Connecticut, or Michigan. December looks to be pretty challenging as well, with three power five games (@ASU; KSU; Baylor) leading into the Holiday break.
The conference slate isn't much easier, either. Our three 'rivalry' home-and-homes (Arkansas, LSU, Mizzou) and two 'rotating' home-and-homes (Vanderbilt, Mississippi State) include some of the tougher teams in the conference. It will be nice to see Mizzou and MSU twice... but the others, not so much. We'll play the remaining teams once (half home, half away), and the conference schedule is punctuated by a big-time home game against #7 Iowa State as part of the Big XII/SEC Challenge.
The full schedule is included below.
|Fri, Nov 13||vs South Carolina Upstate||9:30 PM ET|
|Mon, Nov 16||vs Southeastern Louisiana||8:00 PM ET|
|Thu, Nov 19||vs Texas A&M-CC||8:00 PM ET|
|Sat, Nov 21||vs UNC Asheville||4:00 PM ET|
|Wed, Nov 25||vs Texas*||7:00 PM ET|
|Wed, Dec 2||vs Florida Gulf Coast||8:00 PM ET|
|Sat, Dec 5||@ Arizona State||10:30 PM ET|
|Sat, Dec 12||vs Kansas State||5:30 PM ET|
|Sat, Dec 19||vs #22 Baylor||9:00 PM ET|
|Tue, Dec 29||vs Cal Poly||8:00 PM ET|
|Sat, Jan 2||vs Arkansas||4:30 PM ET|
|Wed, Jan 6||@ Mississippi State||8:30 PM ET|
|Sat, Jan 9||@ Tennessee||1:00 PM ET|
|Tue, Jan 12||vs Florida||7:00 PM ET|
|Sat, Jan 16||@ Georgia||2:00 PM ET|
|Tue, Jan 19||vs #21 LSU||9:00 PM ET|
|Sat, Jan 23||vs Missouri||4:00 PM ET|
|Wed, Jan 27||@ Arkansas||7:00 PM ET|
|Sat, Jan 30||vs #7 Iowa State||TBD|
|Thu, Feb 4||@ #18 Vanderbilt||7:00 PM ET|
|Sat, Feb 6||vs South Carolina||4:00 PM ET|
|Wed, Feb 10||@ Alabama||7:00 PM ET|
|Sat, Feb 13||@ #21 LSU||1:00 PM ET|
|Tue, Feb 16||vs Ole Miss||9:00 PM ET|
|Sat, Feb 20||vs #2 Kentucky||TBD|
|Wed, Feb 24||vs Mississippi State||7:00 PM ET|
|Sat, Feb 27||@ Missouri||4:00 PM ET|
|Tue, Mar 1||@ Auburn||9:00 PM ET|
|Sat, Mar 5||vs #18 Vanderbilt||TBD|
What does it all mean?
It means we're going to get challenged more often than we have been in the past, but it also means we have a squad more than capable of meeting those challenges. It means that we'll have every opportunity in the world to cobble together an NCAA tournament-worthy resume.
And perhaps most importantly, it means Aggie Basketball excitement will come back to campus in a big way.
Barring injury, I see a pretty damn successful year coming for the good guys. Let's call it 13-5 in conference, a couple of big wins outside the SEC, and an overall resume that leads to a stress free Selection Sunday.