The Texas A&M Aggies have made the NCAA Tournament six years in a row and even though they went through another head coaching change this offseason, they look well-equipped to extend that streak this season.
But the Aggies have run into some turbulence before they even took off this year, with new head coach Billy Kennedy being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He's not practicing with the team and won't be on the bench when they start playing games. So there's a large degree of uncertainty surrounding this program at the moment.
And that's too bad. Texas A&M won 24 games last year, went 10-6 in the Big 12 to finish tied for third in the conference, and with three returning starters and seven other lettermen back the Aggies are expected to contend for the conference title again this year.
The last thing they need is to be wondering about the well-being of their head coach.
2011-12 Texas A&M Basketball Outlook
A&M gets three starters back from last year. Six-foot-7 junior forward Khris Middleton averaged 14 points and five rebounds per game last year, and shot 78 percent from the free-throw line. Six-foot-8 senior forward David Loubeau averaged 12 points and five boards per game and shot almost 50 percent from the field, and quick-and-slick senior point guard Dash Harris has 64 starts under his belt.
So Middleton and Loubeau form a nice combo up front, although Loubeau could improve his range. And Harris is a quality distributor at the point, although he's not much of a scorer.
Nonetheless, the Aggies are covered at the one, three and four spots.
Six-foot-9 sophomore Kourtney Robinson and 6-foot-9 junior Ray Turner will take up time and space in the frontcourt, as will 6-foot-9 redshirt freshman Daniel Alexander, a former Top-100 recruit. Turner was a bit of a disappointment offensively last year, but improvement is expected.
Sophomore C Keith Davis will try to provide a physical presence inside at 6-foot-10. And junior Naji Hibbert and transfer Elston Turner will play alongside Harris in the backcourt.
Texas A&M outrebounded opponents by better than six boards a game last year, held opponents to 41 percent shooting (32 percent from beyond the arc) and allowed just 61 points per game. And we're guessing the Aggies will put up similar numbers this year.
Big 12 coaches picked A&M, along with Kansas, as the co-favorites to win the conference this season, the last before the Aggies move to the SEC next year. A&M is also ranked No. 19 in the USA Today/ESPN preseason poll and No. 20 in the AP poll.
A&M loses guard BJ Holmes, who averaged 10 points per game last year, and F Nathan Walkup, who averaged nine points and six boards per game. But they now get the services of transfer Elston Turner, who shot 38 percent from three-point land in two seasons at Washington before sitting out last year. And they expect freshman Jamal Branch, a very good defender and Top-50 recruit, and Jordan Green, a shooter, to see minutes in the backcourt rotation.
2011-12 Texas A&M Basketball Schedule
The Aggies get an early taste of SEC play when they meet Mississippi State at the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament and Florida at the Orange Bowl Classic. And they could also run into either Arizona or St. John's up in New York City.
We don't know how much bettors might learn about A&M when they play the likes of Liberty, Southern, A&M-Corpus Christi, Alcorn State, Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston State, Louisiana-Monroe and Arkansas Tech, all in College Station. So bettors should pay attention when A&M plays those major-conference foes in the early-season tournaments.
The Aggies open Nov. 9 against Liberty, and start conference play with a road game at No. 12 Baylor on January 2.
2011-12 Texas A&M Predictions for College Basketball
BetOnline is listing Texas A&M at +450 to win the Big 12 regular-season title, behind Baylor at +135 and Kansas at +160.
The Aggies are also being offered at +5,000 to win the NCAA National Championship.
Coach Kennedy inherited an outfit with enough pieces in place to contend in the Big 12 and return to the NCAA Tournament, but the uncertainty surrounding his health situation throws up question marks.
While Big 12 coaches picked A&M as a preseason co-favorite, that probably had less to do with the Aggies and more to do with the losses other contenders incurred. Still, if things go well, A&M has a good chance to reach the second weekend of the Big Dance.
Bettors might also want to note that the Aggies went 9-15 on the ‘over/unders’ last year, because they're patient on offense, solid on defense and they rebound well. And they'll carry over that style of play into this new coaching regime.
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports college basketball picks Web site.