Information and analysis on Texas A&M's notable players includes contributions from college basketball freelance writer and researcher Nathan Giese.
The Arkansas Razorbacks. The Florida Gators. The Kentucky Wildcats. Nearly every 2018 SEC men's basketball team is a mystery, but some of the mysterious teams in the conference are still:
A) playing above expectations (Missouri, LSU);
B) showing unquestionable improvement as a program (Mississippi State, Alabama);
C) expectedly regressing after having outperformed expectations earlier in the season (South Carolina).
Auburn and Tennessee aren't mysterious -- they're just plain good. Georgia isn't mysterious -- Yante Maten has needed help the whole year, and Mark Fox isn't nimble enough to coach around that limitation. Ole Miss isn't mysterious -- it needs a new leader.
No, not all SEC teams are mysteries, but most in the league are. Among the many SEC teams which have succumbed to the league's constant volatility this season -- in which no non-Auburn, non-Tennessee team has managed to play well for more than two full weeks before reversing course -- the three Vanderbilt opponents which stand out the most are the ones mentioned above: Arkansas, Florida and Kentucky.
Vanderbilt defeated Florida and should have beaten Kentucky in Rupp. The Commodores got to see how exasperating the Gators and Wildcats have been to their respective fan bases this season. VU got drilled by Arkansas, but the Hogs' blowout loss to Kentucky earlier this week recalled the early-February slump the Razorbacks endured before busting out of it in more recent weeks (until the Kentucky disaster).
Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky -- Vanderbilt has encountered those programs this season and wondered one of two things:
1) With Arkansas: Why isn't that program a top-three NCAA seed?
2) With Florida and Kentucky: What the heck is wrong with those guys?
Auburn and Tennessee are maximizing their resources, and Missouri is coming close. Elsewhere in the SEC, it has been hard for the blue-blood programs (Kentucky and Florida) to develop their talent, and teams with high-end athleticism (Arkansas) have not been able to mesh to the extent their coaching staffs and fans have hoped.
Add Texas A&M -- Vanderbilt's next opponent on the final Saturday of February -- to the list.
This wasn't merely a team which had a No. 1 seed-level resume on Christmas morning; it was a team with the perceived level of talent to back up that resume in SEC play. Yes, injuries have affected the Aggies here and there, but as you will read below in the player notes section, one of their foremost starters did not come close to reaching his ceiling. The J.J. Caldwell implosion also had a significant negative impact on the course of this season. The A&M development project has not developed according to Billy Kennedy's plans.
One can be sure that in an SEC saturated with mysteries, Bryce Drew is not merely telling his team what to expect for Saturday's game; he is taking notes in his film study on why a collection of very formidable individual parts has not become a much greater sum of team accomplishments. Drew is making great strides in assembling the level of talent A&M currently has. If Drew learns how to avoid the landmines and potholes which have snared Kennedy and the Aggies this year, Vanderbilt will have found the way to become the next prominent basketball force in what used to be the SEC East.
Here are notes on A&M's notable players:
Tyler Davis: He leads the Aggies with 14.4 points and is second with 8.8 rebounds per game. A big, lengthy drink of water, Davis shoots from the three-point line once in a while, though not very often, and shoots just 65 percent at the free throw line. Davis does most of his work on post-ups and crashing the offensive boards. There is not a ton of versatility to his offensive repertoire.
He is a pretty good defender who moves well on his feet. He has 37 blocks and holds opponents to 37 percent shooting. Opponents have had a hard time scoring on him in the paint, where most of these attempts have come from.
Admon Gilder: He shoots just under 40 percent from three and 81 percent from the line. He works best as a spot-up shooter, hitting at a 46-percent clip on those attempts. The majority of his shots have come in transition, where he is about average.
Gilder is a phenomenal defender, holding opponents to just 27 percent from the field as the primary defender. That ranks in the 92nd percentile across the nation. He leads the team with 28 assists.
D.J. Hogg: He is a mixed bag in terms of shot attempts. Unlike Davis and Gilder, Hogg’s shots come in a wide array of areas, though most have been as a spot-up shooter or in transition. He has taken 40 more 3s than the Aggie with the second-most attempts, so he is not afraid to let it fly; he is also good when he does. Hogg is hitting 38 percent of those attempts.
Opponents have almost exclusively taken jumpers against Hogg. He has 24 steals and 23 blocks on the year.
Robert Williams: Williams’ offensive numbers are very similar to Davis’s, meaning they are mostly post-ups and offensive board putbacks. He averages 9.6 rebounds to lead the team and has 60 blocks. Williams finishes most of his attempts, so he’s a relatively efficient offensive weapon.
The volume, scope and scale of Williams’ scoring is a separate matter. He has not been as dynamic or as imposing as A&M hoped he would be this season. Williams has not dazzled as a potential NBA lottery pick, a central reason the Aggies have not sustained their torrid non-conference start in SEC competition. A huge season from Williams was viewed by many as the cornerstone of an Aggie run to the program’s first Final Four. Instead, A&M will be fortunate to get out of the first round. The team still has a high ceiling if Williams can bust out in March, but it is not reasonable to expect that kind of emergence. This season, the range of Williams’ offensive contributions has been much more limited than the Aggies desired.
Williams and Davis form a formidable defensive duo in the post. Williams is a little bit better, holding opponents to 35 percent as the primary defender. He is a genuine defensive obstacle, a problem opposing offenses must work hard -- and cleverly -- to solve. Williams’ lack of offensive firepower is the limitation which stands out the most for him this season.
T.J. Starks: Starks’ minutes have skyrocketed recently with the injury-based absence of teammate Duane Wilson. Starks also has scored in double figures each of the last five games, including a 23-point outing against Auburn. His shooting splits aren’t exactly great (38 percent overall, 33 percent from three), but he has become more of an offensive threat in recent weeks. He is also not a great defender. However, there’s something to be said for someone who can be a sparkplug offensively.
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