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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Thinking March in November

Billy+Kennedy
Photo by Photo by: Alexis Will
Billy Kennedy

The goal remains the same for Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy: earn an NCAA Tournament bid. Before last season, the aspiration seemed far-fetched. Heading into 2015-2016, it’s utterly ridiculous — in a good way.

Senior shooting guard Danuel House admitted a few weeks ago the Aggies, at 21-12 and 11-7 in SEC play, were in fact a tournament team. Things just didn’t go their way. This season, the team will only improve.

With two games remaining in the regular 2015 season and the SEC Tournament looming, the Aggies were picked by Bracketologist Joe Lunardi to make their first appearance since 2011. But the Aggies leading scorer, House, injured his foot, preventing him from playing the rest of the season.

As a result, the offense struggled and the Aggies sputtered to three consecutive losses — including Auburn in the first round of the SEC Tournament — knocking them out of March Madness consideration. 

Two years ago, Kennedy pieced together a team that finished just over .500 and then watched his leading scorer Jamal Jones and assistant coach Glynn Cyprien depart. Another sub-par season appeared to be imminent until House and Jalen Jones stepped into the picture.

House and Jones, transfers one year ago and now senior leaders, led the Aggies in scoring and posted double digit points in almost every game, filling the void left by Jamal Jones. Despite occasional scoring outbursts, the Aggies still ranked 181st in points per game, causing their downfall. That shouldn’t be the case this season.

The Aggies are projected to finish third in the SEC and return their leader in scoring, assists, rebounds and steals. Alex Caruso, who owned the assist and steal category, stepped into the leadership role as an upperclassman. Alex Robinson joined him in the backcourt. After struggling to score early in the year, he found his stride in the latter part of the season. Tonny Trocha-Morelos and Tavario Miller also saw improvement down low as the season progressed.

Adding more reason for optimism, Kennedy’s recruiting class was ranked sixth in the country. A&M snagged a handful of ESPN Top 75, four-star recruits from the Dallas area in D.J. Hogg (35), Tyler Davis (27), Elijah Thomas (31) and Admon Gilder (68). 

The freshmen each add a unique attribute. A Dallas native, Hogg is a sharp three-point shooter, and proved he lives for the moment after hitting a buzzer-beating three to win last year’s 6A State Championship. Gilder is a scoring mastermind, averaging over 30 points as a high school senior. Davis and Thomas both posted double-doubles on average, while Gilder and Hogg heavily contributed on the boards for their teams as well.

Beyond the numbers, the four freshmen, or the self-proclaimed “Fab Four,” are already familiar playing partners. All four are from the Dallas area, and Hogg and Davis even played on the same high school team.

Another piece of the puzzle unexpectedly appeared earlier this week when ESPN Top 100 shooting guard Kobie Eubanks signed with the Aggies. He will be eligible to play on Dec. 19 against Baylor. Also, former South Florida point guard and AAC assist leader Anthony Collins transferred and will receive immediate minutes as a senior for the Aggies. 

Freshmen Thomas and Davis enter at 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-10 respectively, bringing much needed size to the squad. Also, Hogg is a rare breed — a 6-foot-8 small forward. Kennedy now has the option to go big with PG Caruso (6’5’’), SG House (6’4’’), SF Hogg (6’8’’), PF Jones (6’7’’) and C Davis (6’10’’). 

In contrast, Kennedy can play small by utilizing shorter guards Collins, Robinson and Gilder. When Collins runs the point, Caruso can slide over to shooting guard and contribute as a scorer. The two together will form one of the national’s premiere passing backcourt tandems.

Kennedy used zone defense often in A&M’s two scrimmages and said it will be a common scheme in order to utilize the Aggies size. Playing small will help A&M move at a faster pace, which must occur with the new NCAA 30-second shot clock regulation.

No matter what lineup — big or small — or which players are brought in from the bench, the Aggies will have multiple scorers on the court at all times. With the influx of six very talented newcomers, Kennedy will have the luxury of giving quality minutes to about 12 players, which is far more than usual.

A&M does have one of the more difficult schedules, however. In non-conference, the Aggies square off with four Big 12 opponents — two of which are ranked — and travel to Arizona State. Moreover, A&M will open with Texas in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament that includes Gonzaga, Syracuse, Michigan and UConn.

As far as the SEC goes, almost every conference team will improve. LSU added the No. 1 prospect in the country, Ben Simmons, while Vanderbilt returns the majority of its main players after finishing last season strong. And, as always, there’s Kentucky.

This high-caliber schedule offers A&M an opportunity to build marquee wins to its resume. Last year, it was almost Kentucky or bust.

It is difficult to find a flaw with this team. Multiple scorers, depth at every position, senior leadership and stout rebounding and defense is all a team needs to make noise in March, and A&M possesses all of those attributes. 

When Kennedy says his Aggies aspire to make the tournament, he could be underselling it. This team just might take one or two games while dancing in March.

Carter Karels is a journalism sophomore and sports editor for The Battalion.

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