Oct. 29 Alabama
Oct. 30 Arkansas
Oct. 31 Auburn
Nov. 1 Florida
Nov. 2 Georgia
Nov. 3 Kentucky
Nov. 4 LSU
Nov. 5 Mississippi State
Nov. 6 Missouri
Nov. 7 Ole Miss
Nov. 8 Tennessee
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Billy Kennedy (99-65 Texas A&M, sixth year; 310-249, 19th year)
2015-16 record (SEC finish): 28-9 (12-5)
2015-16 postseason: Sweet 16
2016-17 media predicted finish: 3
DC’s predicted finish: 2
He’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): F Jalen Jones (15.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg), G Anthony Collins (4.5 ppg, 1.5 rpg), G Juan Aparicio (0.4 ppg, 0.0 rpg), G Alex Caruso (8.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg), G Danuel House (15.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg), G Kyle Dobbins (1.0 ppg, 0.2 rpg), G Alex Robinson (DNP, transferred to TCU), F Elijah Thomas (3.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg, transferred to Clemson), G T.J. DiStefano (0.0 ppg, 0.2 rpg, transferred to Blinn Junior College)
He’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): F Robert Williams, G JC Hampton (Sr., transferred from Lipscomb, eligible this year), G Eric Vila, G JJ Caldwell, G Mark French, G Kyle Nugent (So., walk-on), G Caleb Smith, G Chase Carlton (So., transferred from Ranger College, eligible this year)
Top returners: 6-10 C Tyler Davis (11.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg), 6-10 C Tonny Trocha-Morelos (7.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg), 6-4 G Admon Gilder (7.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
Nobody will ever go on record about it, but last year was “tournament or fired” for coach Billy Kennedy. He made the NCAA tournament and won two games – the last in as nutty a comeback as you’ll ever see – matching the program’s best-ever finish. He also won the SEC regular-season championship, which was the first league title for A&M basketball in 30 years.
Kennedy received a contract extension and things are looking rosy. Right?
Well … sorta.
The Aggies have a lot of talent coming back, despite losing three of their top five scorers. Even though they have a roster with only two non-freshmen or sophomores on it, they have several players who could make this a repeat SEC champ.
But they don’t have those seniors that were so integral to last year’s success. They don’t have a proven offensive system (last year, they leaned on Danuel House and Jalen Jones; this year, it’s center Tyler Davis first, second and third). And while they have recruits, they don’t have the guy who got last year’s freshmen – assistant Rick Stansbury, who dollars to doughnuts is the best recruiter in the country, split for Western Kentucky and another assistant, Kyle Keller, took over at Stephen F. Austin.
Outside of Kentucky, though, A&M might have the best frontcourt in the league. Davis and Tronny Trocha-Morelos anchor the post with forward D.J. Hogg able to play face-forward or back-to-the-basket.
At guard, the Aggies are replacing. They have guys who were good in spurts and a graduate transfer in JC Hampton, but it still may be a rotate-and-hope effort early in the season.
That may be an overall theme, with so much youth. But Kennedy bought himself time with a stellar season and has much more time to mold his current group into an NCAA tournament staple.
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Gary Blair (309-129 Texas A&M, 14th year; 717-292, 32nd year)
2015-16 record (SEC finish): 22-10, 11-5
2015-16 postseason: Second round, NCAA tournament
2016-17 media predicted finish: 6
DC’s predicted finish: 6
She’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): G Courtney Williams (12.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg), G Chelsea Jennings (9.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg), C Rachel Mitchell (3.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg), G Jordan Jones (7.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg), G Courtney Walker (18.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg), G Shlonte Allen (2.2 ppg, 0.6 rpg, transferred to Louisiana Tech)
She’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): G Aahliyah Jackson, G Jasmine Williams, G Rakell Spencer, G Alyssa Michalke (Sr., walk-on), C Walnatia Wright (Jr., transferred from Midland Junior College, eligible this year), F Caylinne Martin (Jr., transferred from McLennan Community College, eligible this year)
Top returners: 6-5 C Khaalia Hillsman (7.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg), 6-0 F Anriel Howard (4.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg), 5-10 G Danni Williams (3.1 ppg, 1.3 rpg)
Life without the two Courtneys (Walker and Williams) may be difficult.
Then again, Gary Blair has always overcome difficulty, and usually in ways where his team was picked down to start the year.
Blair, the hands-down best interview in the league (men’s or women’s), made it clear that he was going to miss the contributions of Walker and Williams, who were four-year stars. He said if he ever had another daughter, he’d name her Courtney.
But they’re not around anymore, and even with the presence of 6-foot-5 center Khaalia Hillsman, the Aggies have to replace a lot.
Blair went for the quick fix, signing junior-college prospects Walnatia Wright and Caylinne Martin to surround his returning core. And there is some returning experience there, with a top-heavy roster.
It’s just not a lot of them were depended on to be the main scorers every night and now they’ll have to be. The SEC is unforgiving and Blair took it easy with his non-conference schedule to perhaps accommodate that.
Yet … Blair has won 700 games and he didn’t start coaching in college until he was 40. The man knows how to coach.
Don’t be surprised if it gets to late March and A&M is the only SEC team left standing.
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