With the lack of a dominant team in the Big 12 coming into the 2011-12 season, Texas A&M, alongside Kansas, sat atop the conference’s preseason media poll.
But things haven’t panned out in College Station and, with the Aggies’ 61-51 loss to Texas on Wednesday night in Austin, the hopes of contending for a conference title, and even playing in the postseason, are slipping away.
Some of it goes beyond basketball.
Coach Billy Kennedy’s announcement that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, back in October, made his transition from Murray State, and the implementation of his new system, more difficult.
Khris Middleton, the centerpiece of Kennedy’s squad, went down with a torn meniscus in his right knee, sidelining the 6-7 junior for a month. The conventional wisdom was, see how the Aggies do without Middleton and, once he returns, they can only get better.
But that hasn’t been the case.
Since Middleton’s return, A&M is 2-5, including Wednesday night’s loss to Texas. As Baylor remains undefeated, Missouri keeps pace in the top 10, and Kansas quietly gains steam, not to mention Kansas State looking strong, the Aggies are getting lost in the mix.
The biggest problem has been on the offensive end.
A&M is putting up just 63 points per game this year and only managed 51 against Texas, turning the ball over 17 times and going 5-of-17 from three-point range. Middleton was the Aggies’ leading scorer a season ago, but his nearly 13 points per game have not cleaned out whatever is jamming the gears of the A&M offense. Over the last five games, guard Elston Turner has been less efficient than he was in the earlier half of the season, going a combined 24-of-67 (36 percent) from the floor.
On top of that, freshman Jamal Branch has decided to transfer, moving on to St. John’s and vacating 19 minutes per game off the bench in the backcourt.
Against a team like Missouri, who puts up 84 points per game, Baylor, who puts up 76 per game, and Kansas, who puts up 75, even a concerted defensive effort from A&M won’t be enough, unless the offense starts to click.
Looking forward, the Aggies must win the games that aren’t against the Big 12 powers, mentioned above. The must-wins come in pairs, with two games apiece against Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State. Problem is, if they win all of those games and no others, that leaves Billy Kennedy & Co. with just 15 wins. Say, for example, they avenge losses against Iowa State and Texas. Now they have 17.
That would mean, for the Aggies to get an at-large bid in the tournament, they would need to sweep the “must-wins,” beat two teams that they have already lost to, and steal a few games against the brass of the Big 12, all while, as a team, averaging 63 points per game.
Put lightly, it will be a steep climb.