No. 17: Texas A&M Aggies

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Midnight Madness is Friday. So we’re kicking off our college basketball coverage with our men’s preseason Top 25. Look for five teams posted a day, all this week.

2010-11 record: 24-9 (10-6), 3rd in Big 12 (tied)
Lost in NCAA tournament first round

Coach: Billy Kennedy, 1st year (211-179 overall)

Last NCAA miss: 2005

2011-12 roster [click here]
2011-12 schedule [click here]
2010-11 team stats [click here]

The good: Most programs would fret when a coach who never missed the NCAA tournament and never won fewer than 24 games leaves for another team. Texas A&M isn’t doing that.

Kennedy’s arrival in College Station didn’t make national headlines, but it could have. He’s got Southeastern Louisiana to the Big Dance and made Murray State the talk of March when the Racers upended Vandy two years ago. He followed that with another Ohio Valley crown in 2011, then walked into a prime spot with Texas A&M.

The Aggies return three starters, including potential Big 12 player of the year Khris Middleton. The 6-7 junior made the jump from decent freshman to outstanding sophomore last season. He and senior forward David Loubeau figure to carry the offensive load again, but I expect a little more offensive efficiency. Hey, sometimes scoring is easier when guys like Dash Harris and Jamal Branch are passing.

The bad: The Aggies racked up wins, but saw its offense falter when the Big 12’s best teams rolled around. (And sometimes the not-so-good, like Nebraska.) Maybe it was the slow pace or the cold shooting, but they were 0-6 against Texas, Kansas and Baylor, then ran into the defensive buzzkill known as Florida State in the NCAA tournament.

Kennedy’s teams aren’t likely to play any faster, but expect an improved offense and a still sturdy defense. There won’t be go-to guys down low besides Loubeau, but that’s OK. Kennedy often used smaller lineups at Murray State to great success.

The big difference? Those Racers were better shooters. The Aggies don’t have those.

The unknown: Kennedy made an instant recruiting splash at A&M, then had Kendrick Nunn back out a couple months later. Will more recruiting issues happen with A&M heading to the SEC starting in 2012-13?

Or will Kennedy just do even better?

A big splash this season – say 25 wins and a spot in the Sweet 16 – would give A&M ample momentum heading into next summer’s recruiting and make them one of the top teams in the SEC.

Which makes their Big 12 swan song season all the more interesting.

Counting down the preseason Top 25

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