Quietly one of the best teams in the SEC, the Texas A&M Aggies are ready to take the next step this March.
As is tradition, CBB Review is again ranking the top 100 teams heading into the new college basketball season. Each day, we will reveal the next team until we reach the team slotted at number one. Follow along with #CBBRank on all our social media channels.
Texas A&M has gone 52-23 in the past two seasons, but they don’t have an NCAA tournament win to show for it. This year, the Aggies are good enough to make that March victory a reality. With 88.4% of their production from last year returning from a 25-10 season, the hype is present and buzzing.
Last year, the Aggies had hype too. But the season didn’t start off the way many expected. Winning their first two games against UL-Monroe and Abilene Christian was enough to get into the poll at no. 24, but Texas A&M would faceplant the next week at the Myrtle Beach Invitational. In the first game for the Aggies, they lost to Murray State 88-79. The Racers shot 50.0% from the field, while Texas A&M committed 26 fouls. Those two factors negated the 38-29 rebounding margin in favor of the Aggies, and Texas A&M was hit with their first shock loss of the season.
Their second shock loss of the season wasn’t long after. Just one day, to be exact. The Aggies lost the very next day to Colorado, this time by a much wider margin than the loss to Murray State. In a 103-75 loss, the Aggies only recorded 25 rebounds, their lowest total of the season, while Colorado shot the ball at an unreal 57.6% clip. The Buffs shot 50.0% from deep on 32 attempts, and the Aggies simply didn’t have an answer for KJ Simpson, who scored 30.
In the grand scheme of things, that defensive performance was an aberration, as the Aggies only allowed 33.0% from deep on the season. At the time, though, it was extremely concerning, especially considering Colorado ranked 287th in the country from behind the arc shooting at just a 32.2% clip.
While the Aggies won their next 3 games by double-digits against Loyola-Chicago, DePaul, and SMU through a series of impressive performances by forward Henry Coleman III, they then lost to Boise State 86-71 to fall to 5-3 to start the year. The Aggies allowed the Broncos to shoot 52.3% from the field and 44.0% from deep, similar to the defensive shortcomings in the loss to Colorado.
After a win over Oregon State, the Aggies simply continued to disappoint in the non-conference portion of the schedule. A road loss to Memphis was excusable, as the Tigers had loads of talent and also took down SEC opponents Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, and Auburn. The next game, however, was arguably the worst loss for the Aggies in Buzz Williams’s tenure. The Aggies lost to Wofford just three days later, an overmatched SoCon team that was playing under an interim head coach. The 67-62 loss was partially a product of a disciplined approach from Wofford, who only committed 8 turnovers and 14 fouls, but the end result was inexcusable nonetheless.
The Aggies sat at 6-5 after that game, which marked the low point of the season in College Station. That game, which may have resulted in a fiery post-game speech from Buzz Williams, ignited a fire under Texas A&M. Under the steady leadership of Wade Taylor IV, Henry Coleman III, and Tyrece Radford, the Aggies offense started to evolve and stabilize into a foul-drawing, efficient, well-oiled machine. Once the offense started to pick up the pace, the defense followed suit.
Texas A&M picked up 7 wins in a row, including a 5-0 start in SEC games with two wins over Florida and a ranked win over Missouri to move to 13-5 on the year. Their best performance in that stretch may have been a 94-53 road victory against South Carolina in which the Aggies outrebounded the Gamecocks 46-16. Henry Coleman III and Tyrece Radford combined for more rebounds than the entire South Carolina roster.
While they did lose to Kentucky on the road to end the 7-game winning streak, they rebounded with a dominating road win over Auburn to end the Tigers’ 28-game home winning streak. Then, following a road loss to Arkansas, the Aggies went on another winning streak, this time of the 6-win variety. 4 of those wins came against eventual tournament teams, those being Auburn, Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee.
Following a road loss to Mississippi State, the Aggies rebounded, which became a constant mindset for the team. After every misstep, it seemed the Aggies only bounced back stronger. This particular bounceback had Texas A&M beat Alabama in the regular season finale before making the SEC tournament final.
Entering the NCAA tournament, the Aggies had a 25-9 record, better than any could have predicted after the 6-5 start. A 19-4 finish to the season earned them a 7 seed in the big dance, where the Aggies were slated to take on 10 seed Penn State. Unfortunately for Buzz Williams’s squad, they met possibly the hottest team in the country at the time, led by Jalen Pickett and Seth Lundy. The Nittany Lions dispatched the Aggies in the first round behind a 13-22 effort from deep. The typically stout perimeter defense from the Aggies couldn’t stop Penn State, and their season ended in mid-March at 25-10.
This year, however, luckily for the Aggies, almost the entire core from last year returns, yet again. 88.4% of last year, as mentioned above. Wade Taylor IV, Tyrece Radford, Henry Coleman III, and Julius Marble, four of last year’s five starters, return to College Station. Rotational forwards Solomon Washington and Andersson Garcia return, as do rotational guards Manny Obaseki and Hayden Hefner, while Buzz Williams went to the portal to grab Jace Carter from Illinois-Chicago, Eli Lawrence from MTSU, and Wildens Leveque from UMass. In the freshman class, 3-star guards Bryce Lindsay and Rob Dockery committed, as did 3-star center Brandon White.
Departures, however, include springy starting forward Dexter Dennis, who found a home with the Dallas Mavericks and reserve Andre Gordon, who was around the most impactful 2.2 PPG player one could find.
Taylor IV, of course, will be starting at point again, and Tyrece Radford will join forces with Taylor IV again in the backcourt at shooting guard. The two were one of the best backcourt duos in the conference last year and will be again this year. Taylor IV is more undersized than Radford, but both were excellent at getting to the line. Radford can crash the glass, and the two combined to average 29.6 PPG last year, including an average of 30.8 PPG in conference games. They’ve got worth on the defensive side as well, as both averaged over 1.0 SPG in SEC games. They’re both not bad at shooting from the perimeter, (Taylor’s career mark is 32.4% and Radford’s is 33.8%) and they’ll punish defenses if left open. (After last year, though, it’s assumed that they won’t ever be left open.) With a whole season of starts together under their belts for Taylor IV and Radford entering this year, the Aggies likely won’t suffer the same non-conference woes that have plagued them recently.
Henry Coleman III and Julius Marble will patrol the frontcourt again this year, and though neither are the tallest, (Coleman III stands at 6’8 and Marble is listed at 6’9) they have heavy, physical frames that allow them to matchup with any other frontcourt big man. Neither are a threat from the perimeter, but they do their damage down low. They had the highest shooting percentages on the team, with Marble at 53.3% and Coleman III at 53.2%. Coleman III is the slightly better rebounder, but Marble is no slouch either. Marble does, however, need to work on staying out of foul trouble, as he fouled out three times last year. Both did finish in the top 14 in the conference in offensive rebounding percentage, which often led to points or trips to the line. Coleman III, to his credit, might be one the most underrated players in the conference, and he perfectly fits Williams’s scheme.
There is a starting spot left vacated by Dennis, and there’s really a handful of players vying to grab it. Sophomore Solomon Washington started a handful of games last year, and Andersson Garcia and Hayden Hefner also started a game apiece. Transfers Jace Carter and Eli Lawrence fit the mold of player-type that Williams wants at the wing, as does high-ceiling guard Manny Obaseki, who scored 10+ points in 5 games while dealing with an injury last year. (He was the no. 37 ranked recruit in the class of 2021.)
That spot, however, is likely going to start out with Jace Carter, at least during the early part of the non-conference schedule. Carter is a high-floor glue guy with a knack for rebounding, (7.0 RPG for the Flames last year) and he’s a very underrated pickup for Williams and his staff. He can defend on the perimeter but also follow his defender inside if need be. He placed top 13 in the MVC in both steal percentage and block percentage last year, (Hakeem would be proud) and led the conference in steals with 1.8 SPG. Imagine being an SEC guard and having to go up against Taylor IV, Radford, and Carter on defense. Carter saw a massive increase in efficiency shooting inside the arc last year while seeing a dropoff from the perimeter at the same time. If he can regain his form from deep, something Dennis struggled with at times last year, the SEC will have to be put on notice.
With Taylor IV, Radford, Carter, Coleman III, and Marble likely taking the starting spots, the bench rotation is still very deep. Manny Obaseki or Solomon Washington will likely be the sixth man off the bench. Obaseki dealt with injuries but showed promise on the court when he played. Washington was a super-efficient defensive stopper as a freshman that made a higher percentage of his two-point shots than veteran Henry Coleman III. The 6’7 Washington led the team in blocks per 40 minutes by a wide margin, (almost double) and quietly averaged 0.5 SPG in just 12.3 MPG as well. While he’s not going to score 15+ points a night often and isn’t much of a distributor, (his season high points was just 12) he’s an elite rebounder already and a fantastic defender that quietly shot 80.0% from the line as well. The author has been high on Washington for a while. If he can turn into a reliable offensive weapon as well, he could very well find himself back in a starting role as a sophomore.
Obaseki’s possible breakout last year was hindered by a lingering injury, but he’s seemingly healthy to begin this year. He’s the highest-rated recruit for the Aggies in the online recruiting database era, and he’s got loads of potential. His career-high came against Northwestern State his freshman year, where he showed off that potential with a 19-point, 9-rebound performance. Another player likely to contribute early off the bench is MTSU grad transfer Eli Lawrence, who averaged 12.2 PPG for the Blue Raiders last year. He’s a tall guard at 6’5, and he can score and take care of the ball on the offensive end. On the defensive side, however, he can make overly aggressive decisions while ball-hawking, and he averaged 2.7 fouls per game last season, getting charged with 4+ fouls in 10 games and fouling out twice.
Andersson Garcia and Hayden Hefner return as well in their rotational roles, ranking 6th and 10th in MPG with 16.5 and 10.9, respectively. Garcia was last on the team in usage rate, and was somewhat one-dimensional offensively, though he was the best pure rebounder on the team and got to the line often when he was in the game. Garcia is a role player, sure, but he’s just so good at his role. Hefner is, at heart and in practice, a shooter. He’s reliable from deep at 35.2% last year, and made 0.6 3PM per game (4th on the team) in just 10.9 minutes (10th on the team). Despite his height for a guard, 6-6, he doesn’t rebound well nor does he distribute particularly well either. But he isn’t asked to do so, because Hayden Hefner is a shooter, and he’ll keep being reliable from distance this year.
Bringing up the bench is an intriguing transfer and 3 freshmen. Wildens Leveque comes over from UMass after averaging 5.5 PPG and 4.6 RPG in 19.6 minutes. He’s an interesting case, as he’s declined as a shooter over the course of his career, but has improved as a distributor and on defense. His 43.1 FG% this past season was the lowest of his career, even after dropping down a level from the SEC (South Carolina) to the Atlantic-10 (UMass). His 0.8 APG and 1.2 BPG, however, were the highest marks in his career, even after seeing his minutes drop from his 3rd year in college to his 4th. It will be interesting to see when and where Buzz Williams deploys him on the court.
Out of the three freshmen, Bryce Lindsay likely has the best route to early playing time, as he’s a natural ball-handler at the 1-spot. The IMG Academy grad has more size than Taylor IV at 6-3, 190, and he seems to be the heir-apparent once Taylor IV leaves for the NBA eventually. The absence of another pure point guard on the roster besides Taylor IV and Lindsay either points to Williams wanting to fill a certain void in the offseason or simply his trust in Lindsay. It could very well mean both, and Lindsay is quite the talent. Wing Rob Dockery already has SEC size coming into his freshman year at 6-6, 205, but he’ll need to polish his game up a bit before seeing meaningful minutes. The other freshman, Brandon White, is intriguing as the third true center on the roster behind Marble and Leveque. Ultimately, like Dockery, he will benefit from sitting and allowing him to polish his game more before he sees the court in meaningful minutes, especially with the depth of this Aggie squad this year.
Texas A&M got some love in the AP poll this year in the preseason, as they’re ranked 15th before the year starts, sandwiched between Arkansas and Kentucky. When the national media starts to notice Texas A&M, that’s typically a sign that they’re really good. And it’s true, the Aggies are very good this year. Yes, there are questions about an offense that shot 32.6% from deep last year, good for 269th nationally, but the roster is more than likely to improve that number while continuing to score in droves from the charity stripe as long as Wade Taylor IV and Tyrece Radford are on the court.
The defense is filled with stoppers for almost the entire rotation, and this might be the most underrated defense in the SEC this year, no hyperbole. The Aggies were very good last year defensively, save for outlier performances such as Colorado and Penn State, and they’ve only gotten better on defense in the offseason. Excluding the very early season losses to Colorado, Murray State, Boise State, and Memphis, the Aggies only gave up 63.5 PPG, which would’ve ranked in the top 30 in the country, on par with San Diego State. Taylor IV, Radford, Carter, Coleman III, Marble, Washington, Garcia, Leveque, almost the entire roster is well above-average defensively.
What gets lost sometimes in preseason discussion isn’t the amount of returning starters, but rather how good those returning starters actually are. These 4 returnees for the Aggies, they’re fantastic, and they’ve only benefitted from another offseason under the tutelage of Buzz Williams.
This team’s ceiling is high, and they fit the mold of a deep-run tournament darling. Their non-conference schedule is challenging enough, and they’re better built to not slip up early like they did last season. They play Ohio State, Penn State, and Virginia in November, while they’ve got games against Memphis and Houston in December. This team is certainly good enough to go 4-1 in those games, and it’s not entirely out of the question to go 5-0. The Aggies are that good. Sure, this team has holes. But almost every team does. (2022-23 UConn might not have had any.) Texas A&M will be a popular sleeper pick in March when the bracket rolls around. But they should be a popular sleeper pick right now in October, before the season even starts. Wake up now and start taking a look at Texas A&M. College Station is back.
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Head coach: Buzz Williams (17th season, 5th at Texas A&M)
2022-23 record: 25-10 (15-3)
2023 postseason finish: Lost to Penn State, 76-59, in first round of NCAA Tournament
Notable departures: Dexter Dennis (NBA)
Notable non-conference games: at Ohio State (Nov. 10), vs. Penn State (Nov. 23, Kissimmee), at Virginia (Nov. 29), vs. Memphis (Dec. 10), at Houston (Dec. 16)
PG: Wade Taylor IV (6-0, 175, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 16.3 PPG, 3.9 APG, 2.7 RPG, 87.8 FT%
SG: Tyrece Radford (6-3, 190, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 13.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.4 APG
SF: Jace Carter (6-6, 220, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 16.6 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.6 APG (Illinois-Chicago)
PF: Henry Coleman III (6-8, 245, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 9.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 0.9 APG
C: Julius Marble (6-9, 235, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 9.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 0.4 APG, 53.3 FG%
6: Manny Obaseki (6-4, 195, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 5.2 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 1.0 APG
7: Solomon Washington (6-7, 220, So.)
2022-23 stats: 3.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 0.3 APG
8: Eli Lawrence (6-5, 190, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 12.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.4 APG (MTSU)
9: Andersson Garcia (6-7, 215, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 3.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 0.8 APG, 40.0 3P%
10: Hayden Hefner (6-6, 185, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 3.4 PPG, 0.7 RPG, 0.5 APG
11: Wildens Leveque (6-11, 250, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 5.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 0.8 APG (UMass)
12: Bryce Lindsay (6-3, 190, Fr.)
247Sports Composite No. 204 rated recruit
13: Rob Dockery (6-6, 205, Fr.)
247Sports Composite No. 217 rated recruit
14: Brandon White (6-10, 245, Fr.)
247Sports Composite No. 225 rated recruit
Texas A&M Aggies MVP: Wade Taylor IV
Taylor IV is the best point guard in the SEC, and he very well may be the best player in the conference overall. Though he stands at just six feet, Taylor IV is a scoring machine and an excellent passer as well. He was impressive as a freshman, averaging 8.2 PPG and starting the last 13 games of the season. As good as he looked as a rookie point guard in the SEC, he broke out in his sophomore year.
Taylor IV scored in double figures in 27 of 33 games, including the last 12 of the season. In the win over Vanderbilt, he scored 14, collected 7 assists, and 7 rebounds. (At just 6-0!) He’s a pest defensively on the perimeter and collected 4+ steals in 3 separate games, including 6 against DePaul. His most impressive skill set is on the offensive side, however, as he can score from every level. From deep? He shot 35.6% behind the arc last year. At the rim? He averaged 5.6 FTA per game and converted at a 87.8% rate. In one win against Tennessee, he only made 4 shots but scored 25 points. How? He went 16-17 from the free throw line.
He got to the line in 29 of 33 games played, and he had a perfect percentage from the stripe in 14 of those 29 games. Against both Missouri and Alabama, he went 10-10 from the line. Yes, he’s great at drawing fouls and making his shots. But he’s not just a free-throw merchant à la Joel Embiid. He shot 50% or better from the field in 11 games, and 40% or better in 17 games. The Aggies went 16-1 in those games. When Wade Taylor IV plays well, the Aggies play well. When he struggles, the Aggies struggle. On the opposite side of the statistical category, when Taylor IV shot less than 40.0% from the field, the Aggies went 9-9. He is so integral to the fortunes of the team, not just statistically but also as a leader who’s entering his 3rd year in College Station.
Wade Taylor IV very well could go pro after this season, but before that happens, he’s got 30+ more games to play in a Texas A&M uniform. He elevates the play of everyone around him, and reminds me a bit of Tyrese Haliburton coming out of Iowa State. Not only does Taylor IV have the skills and talent to succeed in college and the pros, but he’s got the intangibles as well. He’s a natural leader.
Texas A&M Aggies make-or-break player: Henry Coleman III
Coleman III, a one-time Duke Blue Devil, has excelled in his niche with the Aggies. After spending a year at Duke in the COVID-19-affected 2020-21 season, he made the decision to come to College Station, where he blossomed from a sparingly-used bench piece to starting 67 games in two seasons for the Aggies.
In his first year with Texas A&M, Coleman III averaged 11.0 PPG on 56.1% shooting. His first game was a 27-point outing against North Florida, and he didn’t look back. He collected 5 double-doubles as a sophomore, including a 18-point, 11-rebound performance against Alabama and a 10-point, 15-rebound performance against South Carolina. He’s not the tallest post presence at just 6-8, but he uses all of his 245-pound frame. He’s excellent on the offensive boards, but rarely gets into foul trouble.
There are concerns about a minor drop-off in efficiency from year 1 to year 2, especially in SEC games. After averaging 12.1 PPG against SEC opponents as a sophomore, he only scored 8.2 PPG against those same opponents as a junior, seeing his FG% drop from 56.7% overall on 7.2 attempts per game as a sophomore to 53.2% on 6.3 attempts per game as a junior. That’s still a very good percentage, it was just surprising to see him take a small step back after a year already in the Texas A&M system.
His turnover percentage took an alarming leap to 16.1% last year as opposed to a very good 10.0% as a sophomore, while his usage percentage dropped from 19.2% to 17.5%. Part of that was due to Wade Taylor IV’s emergence, but part can also be blamed on Coleman III’s slip in efficiency. However, it’s more nitpicking than making legitimate worries about Coleman III’s role in the Texas A&M offense entering his 3rd year. Not all progression is linear. Coleman III obviously has the talent, and his numbers this year should more closely mirror his sophomore year’s stats rather than this past year. He’s due for improvement, but it’s not like he was bad last year, he just wasn’t elite. Look for Coleman III to really shine in non-conference games early in the year, especially after defenses focus on Taylor IV.
Key analytic: Free throws per game
The Aggies got to the line more than any other team in the country last year. With 18.9 attempts from the stripe per game, Texas A&M was able to easily manufacture points even when their shots weren’t falling. Four Aggies attempted 3+ free throws per game, led by Wade Taylor IV with 5.6 and Tyrece Radford with 5.3. Both are supremely talented at driving the lane and drawing fouls, and they collect their free points once they get to the line.
Taylor IV shot 87.8% from the line and Radford was above-average as well with a 79.6% rate. Henry Coleman, who was third on the team in attempts from the line, wasn’t as good with a 70.8% clip, but still managed to make them when he needed to. Center Julius Marble, however, only managed 57.1% from the line on 3.2 attempts per game. Since he’ll be manning the starting center role again this year, Marble will need to improve his shooting from the line, especially with the team’s scheme relying on the free throw heavily.
There are concerns with the volume of free throws, not with the amount of fouls drawn, but rather that a team that relies so much on getting to the line could become susceptible to upsets in game that the opponent plays a disciplined brand of basketball. In the NCAA tournament against Penn State, the Aggies only attempted 12 free throws, making 9 of them. Similar to losses against Colorado and Murray State, the Aggies lost the ability to defend the perimeter, allowing the red-hot Nittany Lions to shoot 13-of-22 from deep for a 59.1% clip. If and when the Aggies aren’t drawing fouls, they’ll need to have a fallback option like consistent perimeter shooting or an efficient interior presence like Coleman III to step up.
With Taylor IV and Radford still patrolling the backcourt, the Aggies are likely to keep getting to the line often and making their free throws, unless teams scheme for the Aggies and come up with some defensive gameplan to stop Texas A&M from getting to the line. Penn State and Wofford both played disciplined basketball in their wins against the Aggies, limiting fouls and turnovers on their end.
Regardless of how well a team can gameplan against the Aggies, however, there’s no surefire way to stop the offense. Even if the defense double-teams Taylor IV or Radford in an attempt to stop them from driving the lane and drawing a foul, they’ve got the ability to pass out of a double-team and find the open man. Against teams that don’t commit a lot of fouls, though, it is imperative that the Aggies hit their shots on offense.
This year it’s not out of the question that the Aggies could lead the nation in free throws made again. It’s a style of play that really benefits their lead guards, and it helps out their frontcourt by inducing the opponent’s big men into foul trouble. There’s no way around it for the Aggies’ opponents besides simply playing elite, disciplined, defense. Of the eight Texas A&M Aggies that shot the most free throws last year, seven return this year, and 6 of those 7 shot 70% or better from the line.
The only thing better than shooting a lot of free throws is making a lot of free throws, and the Aggies converted their 24.9 FTA per game at a 75.9% clip, a mark that was top 40 in the nation, and, as mentioned, their 18.9 FTM per game led the nation. The gap between the first place Aggies and the second-place team on the rankings was bigger than the gap between the second-place team (Samford at 17.7 per game) and the 18th-ranked team (UAB at 16.6). It wasn’t as if the Aggies were just among the country’s elite free throw shooting teams. They were the elite free throw shooting team. There was every other team, and then there was Texas A&M.
This year, expect more of the same. If ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Aggies are more than comfortable getting their points from the line, and it can allow them to overlook any issues they face scoring on the perimeter most of the time. 18.9 FTM per game again could be a stretch. After all, it was an exceptionally high number, one that hadn’t been reached since Auburn in the 2017-18 season. (The Tigers made 19.0 per game.) How did Auburn do from the line the next season? Only 13.5 FTM per game, but they did only return 65.5% of their minutes played the previous season, compared to the Aggies bringing back 88.4%. Also, that Auburn team made the Final Four the year after averaging 19.0 FTM per game, so the Aggies could be in good company.
Overall, any number between 17.0-19.0 FTM per game wouldn’t be surprising. The Aggies return their best free throw shooters who are coincidentally their best at getting to the line as well. Texas A&M’s free-throw shooting ability and foul-drawing talents should help them advance to the NCAA tournament again, and they very well could win a game or several in mid-March this year.
Texas A&M Aggies 2023-24 projections
Projected conference finish: 3rd in the SEC
Projected postseason ceiling: NCAA Champion