The only thing worse than being the first team eliminated from the NCAA tournament is being the last team left out. That was the exact situation Texas A&M found itself in last year, and suffice to say, they did not take it well.
Never understated, Coach Buzz Williams described the slight by saying, “Sad is the wrong word, because it doesn't completely express the totality of our emotions." He continued "After studying all this nonstop the last two days and looking at it from every vantage point. It defies logic that we are not in the NCAA tournament."
The Aggies entered this season determined to right what they defined as a borderline biblical injustice, but mostly fizzled out of the gate. Texas A&M opened the year with a 6-5 record that included losses to Colorado, Wofford, and a very down Murray State squad.
That was back in December, essentially a lifetime ago in college basketball terms. This is very much a “how are you playing for me lately” sport, and by that metric A&M has been as hot as just about any team in the country. Since the putrid start, the Aggies are 15-3 and have the second-best record in the SEC.
Now A&M isn’t just vying to get a spot in the tournament—this team seems ready to make some noise in March. Here’s why:
It’s so crucial to have a good, goofy coach in March, and few coaches have been gooder or goofier than Buzz. Very generously listed at 5-foot-10, Williams generally dresses like a waiter at a mid-level cigar lounge during games and has very little chill. And it’s working!
Throughout his career, all Williams has done is win. In his six seasons at Marquette, he led them to two Sweet Sixteen appearances and an Elite Eight. He then went to Virginia Tech, which had been hapless in the ACC, and led them to a Sweet Sixteen in his final season there.
Buzz is now entering his fourth season at A&M, and, after failing to lead them to the tournament in his first three, the pressure is on to deliver a competitive team. But after some early difficulties, it seems like Williams might have things rolling again at yet another program.
The basketball conversation in the SEC generally begins and ends with Kentucky. In recent years, programs like Auburn, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama have sucked up the rest of the oxygen in the conference.
Given the other high-profile programs, it’s understandable A&M’s basketball team has mostly played second fiddle since the school joined the conference more than a decade ago (related note: I feel old.) But while everyone was paying attention to other schools, the Aggies just kept winning.
The Aggies are fairly balanced, ranking 25th in the country in adjusted offense and 52nd in adjusted defense according to KenPom.
The offense rides and dies with Wade Taylor IV, who has done all previous Wade Taylors proud while leading the Aggies in scoring this season. Most encouragingly, he’s only a sophomore and seems to be improving every game. He's surrounded by a tough, experienced group of upperclassmen, which is a definite green flag come March.
These late-season SEC games tend to start looking like rock fights, and A&M has held its own. Dating back to last year the Aggies have won 20 of the last 23 SEC games.
This Saturday we're going to learn a whole lot about the Aggies when they host the No. 2 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide at home. Alabama of course has a fairly insane amount of off-the-court issues, but they still sit atop the SEC and are arguably the hottest team in the country.
If the Aggies can beat Bama on Saturday, you can trust that they can beat anybody in March.