Texas A&M Quietly Rises in Rankings

Unless you’re really paying attention, you may have seen the latest college basketball rankings and thought something like, Texas A&M is No. 5? The Aggies were unranked to start the year, but in the past few weeks their 10-game win streak pushed them from 21 to 15 to 10 to 5. A&M (17-2, 7-1 in the SEC) was upset Wednesday night, at Arkansas, and faces a tough nonconference test against Iowa State on Saturday. I suppose you’ll have to watch them yourself to decide if they’re legit, but here is some more information about the unflashy, unheralded Aggies.

Have they beaten anyone good?

Yes. They beat Texas and Gonzaga in the Bahamas (and lost to Syracuse). Also in the nonconference, they beat Kansas State and Baylor (and lost at Arizona State). The SEC is not particularly strong this year but A&M beat Florida and won its first three league road games before the Arkansas loss.

Were they in the Tourney last year?

No. They haven’t been to the Big Dance since 2011, in now-Maryland coach Mark Turgeon’s final year. Texas A&M lost in the second round of the NIT last season.

Who is their coach?

Billy Kennedy. He replaced Turgeon and is in his fifth year. Previously, he was at Murray State. In his first year in College Station, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and his team finished 4-14 in its final year in the Big 12. The Aggies have upped their win total in the SEC every year since and Kennedy is as healthy as ever.

What has made them so successful this year?

Defense. They’re ranked sixth in the country in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency metric, partly because they force turnovers at an exceptional rate (seventh in the country). Their offense has operated at a high level as well. They have balanced scoring and assist on a larger percentage of their field goals than all but four other teams in the country. The Aggies start four seniors (one a fifth-year) and they brought in a top-five recruiting class this season.

Do they have any pro prospects?

Only one Aggie cracks the top 100 at DraftExpress or ESPN: 6’7” senior wing Danuel House is ranked 65 on each list. He’s second on the team with 15.8 points per game, though he’s shooting under 40 percent from the field and 33 percent from deep. Senior Jalen Jones, who like House is playing his second season in College Station after transferring, leads the team in scoring (17.1) and rebounding (7). He’s 6’7” and 220 pounds and has extended his range to the three-point line this season. “His size and strength make him a tough matchup,” Kennedy says.

What are opposing SEC coaches saying about the Aggies?

“They have a great mixture of veterans and talented young players.”—Mike Anderson, Arkansas

“They don’t have a weakness. They’re as complete a team as this league has. They have good point guard play, depth, terrific shooting, interior players who can score. They’re one of the rare teams in the country that has both talent and experience.”—Mark Fox, Georgia

“They’re one of the most complete teams in the country. They have a lot of weapons. They’re solid at each position and have depth. They have guys who can stretch the defense and do a great job of sealing, posting, scoring on interior. They’re one of the best defensive teams in the country as well.”—Johnny Jones, LSU

“They don’t panic.”—Kim Anderson, Missouri

What is Kennedy saying about his team?

“This is a fun group to coach. We have good maturity. We’re playing good defense, sharing the ball, valuing the ball; we have depth. That’s why we’ve been successful [even if we don’t shoot well].”

How far can Texas A&M go in the Tournament?

The Aggies are currently projected as a 2 seed in most brackets, but there’s obviously a lot of season left. Their schedule is favorable: Saturday’s SEC-Big 12 showdown against Iowa State is at home, as are games against Kentucky and South Carolina. They have a home-and-home with Vanderbilt. A first-place finish in the SEC is expected at this point. It would help if House, who shot 40 percent from three last year, found his shooting touch and 6’10” freshman center Tyler Davis continued to improve. In a season like this, there’s no reason Texas A&M can’t have thoughts of making the 90-mile trip to Houston for the Final Four.

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