Coming off of a generally successful first season in College Station, Buzz Williams now has higher expectations for his squad heading into year two. The Aggies finished last season 16-14, but won 10 conference games including 5 of their last 7 before the cancellation of the season after a relatively poor non-conference slate, which has given the program some positive momentum heading into this season. The Aggies will have to replace some of their key performers if they are to continue that momentum into this season and take the next step and challenge for an NCAA tournament spot.
Who’s Back, Who’s Gone?
One of the key storylines for the Aggies heading into this season is replacing the production vacated by the two scholarship seniors from last year’s team, those being leading scorer, F Josh Nebo (12.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG) and third-leading scorer, G Wendell Mitchell (10.2 PPG). Those two players started a combined 56 games out of a possible 60, which illustrates how important they were to the makeup of Williams’ team, and replacing those players is no small feat. The Aggies also lost a trio of outgoing transfers, most significantly much-maligned G TJ Starks (Cal State-Northridge), who Alabama fans will remember from his performance and matchup with Collin Sexton in the 2018 SEC Tournament, where he scored 23 points in a losing effort, as well as freshmen F Yavuz Gultekin (San Diego) and F Bakari Simmons (Palm Beach State College) who didn’t have many opportunities in their freshman seasons to make an impact.
The Aggies do return the bulk of their core from last season, starting with their rising senior class that have all had an impact during their time in College Station. F Savion Flagg (10.4 PPG, 5.1 RPG) is the leading returning scorer while providing a physical presence at 6’7”, while JUCO transfer G Quenton Jackson (8.8 PPG) and G Jay Jay Chandler (6.1 PPG) have experience playing and starting in the SEC and will play a major factor for this season’s team. The Aggies also return sophomore contributors F Emanuel Miller (6.4 PPG) and G Andre Gordon (6.3 PPG), who were key bench pieces and could factor into the starting lineup conversation with the departures of Nebo and Mitchell, as well as reserve sophomore F Jonathan Aku, redshirt freshman G Cashius McNeilly who missed the 2019-20 season due to injury, and newly minted scholarship player G Zach Miller, who was awarded a scholarship halfway through the 2019-20 season after starting his career as a walk-on.
The Aggies bring in five newcomers to their 2020-21 roster, four of whom are prep commitments that make up the 19th-best recruiting class nationally and the 7th-best class in the SEC per 247Sports. This class is led by top-75 recruits, F Jaxson Robinson (Ada, OK) and G Hassan Diarra (Putnam, CT), who should be factors in the rotation from day one, while three-stars, F Hayden Hefner (Nederland, TX) and G LaDamien Bradford (Jonesboro, LA) might not have those same expectations in year one but can provide depth in a pinch. This class doesn’t have the top-end wow factor, but the players the Aggies brought in will be foundational to the future of the program with it being Williams’ first full recruiting class since he was hired before last season.
The Aggies also bring in a big-time graduate transfer in F Kevin Marfo, who led the country in rebounding (13.3 per game) last season at Quinnipiac while also averaging 10.2 PPG. While the competition level for Quinnipiac doesn’t compare to the SEC, Marfo has shown production on the boards against high-major teams (13 rebounds against Miami (FL) in 2019), which shows that he can compete in that facet of the game at an SEC level. Marfo’s addition will help fill the void that Nebo leaves in Williams’ plans.
G: Jay Jay Chandler
G: Quenton Jackson
F: Emanuel Miller
F: Savion Flagg
F: Kevin Marfo
Bench: Andre Gordon
Bench: Jonathan Aku
Bench: Cashius McNeilly
Bench: Hassan Diarra
Bench: Jaxson Robinson
Bench: LaDamien Bradford
Bench: Hayden Hefner
Bench: Zach Walker
The Aggies have three seniors that started at least seven games last season in Flagg, Chandler, and Jackson, who seem like good bets to be the starters at the beginning of the season. Marfo, with his rebounding prowess, will come in to man the middle in a similar way to Nebo, minus the scoring punch that Nebo provided during his senior season. The only position in question in this lineup is the small forward position, where Miller slots in on day one after showing some promise last season. Gordon, Diarra and McNeiily should be the first backcourt subs off the bench, while Robinson and Aku should be the frontcourt backups. Williams has opted for a ten-man rotation in years’ past, and this configuration keeps to that standard, although Bradford and Hefner could be called upon if there are any issues with foul trouble.
Looking to the Future
The Aggies have put together an impressive recruiting class for the 2021 cycle, with the average rating of the class being the Aggies’ highest since their 2016 class that saw current Boston Celtic Robert Williams pledge his commitment to come to College Station for then-coach Billy Kennedy. The class is lead by four-star and top-25 recruit, combo G Manny Obaseki (Plano, TX) who will come in and immediately challenge for playing time after the departure of Jackson and Chandler. Obaseki is joined by fellow four-star, G Wade Taylor (Lancaster, TX), and three-star, C Ashton Smith (Spring, TX), and even with these commitments, the Aggies still have one more spot for a new addition, before outgoing transfers factor in. There are no strong indications that that new addition will be a prep player, so look for the Aggies to go down the JUCO or graduate transfer route to get some more experience in what will be a rather inexperienced group after this season.
Texas A&M had been one of the better programs in the SEC under Billy Kennedy, winning 20 games in three of four seasons during the 2010’s. In 2018-19, however, the Aggies went under .500 for the first time since 2011-12, while they were still in the Big 12. This prompted then-AD Scott Woodward to make the move to hire Buzz Williams to come to Aggieland, and so far, that move has been met with loads of optimism. Williams’ first season was a positive step in the right direction for a rebuilding program, and the feel amongst the fan base is that he was the correct hire. As he moves into his second season, however, there will still be growing pains given the state of the roster. The Aggies will still be a tough team to play, especially in their home gym, but to have groundbreaking expectations for the Aggies this season is a bit unfair. However, if the Aggies can have improved performance from their sophomore class, the Aggies could sneak into a top-half finish.
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