By Andrew Kahn
It’s been somewhat of a roller coaster season for Texas A&M, and yet the Aggies enter the Big Dance with a 26-8 record. How did they go from unranked to No. 3 seed?
Preseason expectation: The Aggies are a top-30 team in the two major polls and picked third in the SEC. In other words, after a four-year drought, there are NCAA Tournament expectations. Head coach Billy Kennedy guaranteed his team would be in the field after A&M was eliminated in the second round of the NIT last season. With three key returning starters and the No. 5 recruiting class coming in, it isn’t hard to understand Kennedy’s confidence.
November 21: Texas A&M beats UNC Asheville, eventual champions of the Big South, 75-47 to start the season 4-0. All games were at Reed Arena in College Station.
November 25-27: The Aggies beat Texas and Gonzaga in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. They forced a missed jumper at the buzzer to top the Zags by one and earn their first win against a top 10 team in 27 tries. They lose to Syracuse in the finals.
December: A&M goes 4-1 in the month, beating Florida Gulf Coast, the eventual Atlantic Sun champs, losing at Arizona State, and topping Baylor 80-61.
January 25: After winning their first seven SEC games, part of a 10-game win streak overall, the Aggies climb to No. 5 in the polls, the highest ranking in school history.
February 15: Three weeks later, having lost five out of six, Texas A&M is unranked and in a four-way tie for fourth in the SEC. Four of the losses were on the road, but the Aggies’ defense betrays them in a disappointing home loss to South Carolina. The Gamecocks hit 12 of 12 from deep in that game. The lone win during the stretch did come against Iowa State, giving A&M yet another win against an eventual NCAA Tournament team.
February 20: No. 14 Kentucky comes to town, and A&M wins in overtime, 79-77, aided by a technical foul late in overtime. Danuel House drives to the hoop in the closing seconds of a tie game and throws up a wild shot, but Tyler Davis corrals it and banks in a layup at the buzzer for the victory:
March 5: The Aggies close the regular season on a six-game win streak—hence the roller coaster reference earlier—by beating Vanderbilt 76-67, despite shooting just 6-of-20 from deep. They finished 13-5 in the SEC, tied for first with Kentucky, and earn the top seed in the SEC tournament.
March 8: Jalen Jones, A&M’s leading scorer, is named to the All-SEC first team. Alex Caruso and House are second teamers and DJ Hogg and Davis make All-Freshman squad (all were eight-man teams). Kennedy, presumably on the hot seat at the beginning of the season—A&M’s last Tourney appearance was the year before he arrived from Murray State—is the league’s Coach of the Year.
March 11-13: The Aggies don’t play their best, but escape with a 71-66 victory over Florida in the SEC tournament quarterfinals. The next day, they jump out to a 35-13 halftime lead over LSU and win 71-38. It sets up a finals showdown with Kentucky, a game that lives up to its billing. Just like the last two matchups and three of the last four, this one goes to overtime. House, who scores a career-high 32, gets the tying basket with 18 seconds left in regulation, but the Wildcats hit some big threes in overtime and win 82-77.
The road ahead: Texas A&M, a 3 seed in the West Region, plays Green Bay in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday in Oklahoma City. Basketball is a game of runs; A&M’s season has been one too. This is a balanced team that starts four seniors (one a fifth-year). The Aggies’ defense has slipped a bit the past month and they struggle from the three-point line, but they wouldn’t fear a rematch with Texas in the second round. Oklahoma and Oregon potentially await down the line.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.