Despite depth concerns, Aggies have NCAA hopes
A college basketball team with an all-conference center, an all-conference forward who’s a projected NBA Lottery pick and two junior guards who averaged at least 12 points typically would enter a season with great expectations. But Texas A&M isn’t a typical college basketball team. The Aggies, who have a rather modest basketball history, followed a Sweet 16 appearance two years ago with a not-so-sweet 16-win finish last season. A&M was one of only four Sweet 16 teams in 2016 that did not return to the NCAA Tournament.
As honors and statistics indicate, the Aggies had high-quality front-line talent. But that wasn’t enough to compensate for a lack of a true point guard and an unproductive bench.
The Aggies believe those problems have been solved. Consequently, they’re confident they will return to the NCAA Tournament.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Billy Kennedy
2016-17 RECORD (SEC): 16–15 (8–10)
2016-17 POSTSEASON: None
G JC Hampton (6.7 ppg, 1.8 apg)
F Tavarrio Miller (3.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg)
F Eric Vila (2.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg)
Tyler Davis, a 6'10", 266-pound junior center, earned All-SEC recognition last season after averaging 14.1 points and 7.0 rebounds. He also was among the nation’s leaders with a .617 shooting percentage (which was actually down from .655 as a freshman).
Yet, Davis isn’t the most highly regarded big on the A&M roster. That distinction goes to sophomore Robert Williams, a 6'10" forward with a 7'4" wingspan who was projected as a top-10 pick had he chosen to enter the NBA Draft. Williams blocked 77 shots to earn recognition as the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year. He also averaged 11.9 points, but he has the potential to be much better. His scoring primarily came via alley-oop dunks and put-backs. If he can develop a reliable jump shot, Williams could contend for All-America accolades.
Tonny Trocha-Morelos, a 6'10" senior, provides depth at center and forward. Injuries forced him out to the perimeter much of last season, but he’ll be back inside where he’s more comfortable and productive.
DJ Hogg, a 6'9" junior, has the size and toughness to shift inside when necessary. He averaged 5.1 rebounds per game last season.
The Aggies were 12th in the SEC in turnovers largely because of the absence of a true point guard. Freshman JJ Caldwell, rated a four-star prospect a year ago, was expected to step into that role, but he was ruled academically ineligible. That forced Admon Gilder, a natural 2-guard, to shift to the point. Gilder performed admirably and averaged 13.7 points, but he was clearly out of position.
The Aggies believe the problem has been solved. Caldwell, who by all accounts was extremely impressive in practices, is now eligible and is being counted on to provide the ball handling, passing and penetration skills that were missing. Gilder will go back to the off-guard where he’s best suited.
Further, that allows Hogg to concentrate on the small forward position. Hogg averaged 12.0 points in 22 games before a foot injury put a premature end to his season.
Graduate transfer Duane Wilson, once a starter at Marquette where he averaged 9.6 points in three seasons, figures to bolster depth at point guard. Highly touted incoming freshman Savion Flagg should help in that area, too.
Williams’ decision to postpone entering the NBA Draft dramatically improved A&M’s outlook. The additions of Caldwell and Wilson should solve the point guard problem. Overall depth may remain a cause for concern, but if healthy, this year’s Aggies could be as good as or better than the team that reached the Sweet 16 two seasons ago.