Aggie Websider New Year's Tidbits

It's the holiday season and we're just about to bring in the new year. So naturally, that means it's time for some Aggie Websider tidbits. Aggie Websider's David Sandhop takes a look at the status of the basketball program and what's next for Billy kennedy and the team. Also, he looks at the latest in football recruiting.

New Year's Websider Tidbits

Aggie Hoops

I'm not one to judge a season until we are near the end of the schedule. Bottom line…the Aggies still have a couple of non-conference games and 18 SEC games to figure out how to score points and play offense with confidence. Frankly, I'm at a crossroads with what I think about this team and what I think about the coaching regime. If you've followed my thoughts on basketball as a former high school player (very mediocre basketball player), you know that I judge how well a team is coached by the defense they play. If the team is playing good defense with intensity and effort that reflects the discipline of the team, then it shows the coach has control of the team. The last thing a 20 year-old player in this era of basketball wants to do is play good man defense and good team defense. So for a coach to instill that kind of discipline in practice is a positive reflection. That's why I'm inclined to give Billy Kennedy and the staff the benefit of the doubt at this point in the season with so much to play for going forward. It's clear he has not lost the team…yet. They still play hard…for now. You can't simply ignore the fact that as bad as the offense has been, the team defense has been outstanding especially given the frustration on the other end of the court. The team is in the top 10 nationally in defensive field goal percentage out of over 320 D-1 programs. Frankly, that's pretty damn good.

But, that good number on defense surprisingly has not netted any quality wins this season, with the team 0-3 against somewhat decent quality opponents. That's because the offense is simply so bad. It's bad because A&M doesn't have any consistent outside shooters. It's bad because A&M's one legitimate D-1 post has poor hands and fumbles away easy scoring chances in the paint. It's bad because the designated point guards are more concerned about turning the ball over than initiating a half-court offensive set and creating an assist. How bad you ask? The Aggie defense created a very impressive 16 turnovers against the Sooners in the first half, yet could manage only 14 points. Let that digest a little, because that is one incredible statistic. How can a team be so good on the defensive end and create 16 additional scoring opportunities in a half of basketball, and walk off the court with 14 points a minute, or .7 points a minute? That's mind boggling to say the least.

Lack of talent and certain skills account for some of these struggles (especially the lack of quality point guard play), but you can only come to one conclusion why a relatively athletic bunch that can hold a high-scoring ou team 20+ points below their season average can't score…confidence. These players simply lack confidence. They lack swagger. The players run into a decent team of athletes that pressure the ball, and all hell breaks loose on the offensive side of the court. It becomes a game of hot potato, with nobody really wanting to make that bold move to the basket or take that open outside shot. Then, as time winds down on the shot clock, one player gets a "what the hell moment" and wildly goes for it. Yeah, that's a great mindset to be in when attempting to put the ball in the basket. The lack of confidence causes turnovers, air balls, and missed point blank shots in the paint.

and we can say after every game "man, if we can only shoot and get hot, we can win some games." And you know what, this team will get hot and win a few nice games in the SEC. It happens…like a certain outside shooter going off for 40 points and beating the most storied collegiate basketball program in their crib in 2013. But the occasional nice win isn't the ultimate goal here and consistency will be fleeting when a majority on the team doesn't believe in themselves and doesn't have confidence that they are better than the other team on the court that's not named McNeese State or UT-Pan American.

And yes, i agree with many of you, that confidence has to come from the staff and the head coach, and that hasn't happened here. I keep waiting for the light bulb of confidence to go off after a season-changing win, and I keep waiting.

I like billy kennedy. He's a very likable man and he's a very hard-working man. I also think he's a very knowledgeable coach as seen in his team's defensive efforts. He's also a very good recruiter, recognizing that he must do some creative things to bring in quality talent to the program. Nobody outworks this staff on the recruiting trail. He's done a very nice job of improving the academics and keeping the program out of NCAA trouble with low APR scores.

Coach Kennedy has been dealt a tough blow in his life and i think we all appreciate how he has tackled this challenge. He's truly a nice guy who will stop and talk to you if you run into him at the store or in the mall. But, you know the Leo Durocher quote (at least you older guys do)…"nice guys finish last." As I've been going over this team and trying to breakdown what could be different with a functional point guard to initiate the half-court offense, or even a certain Colombian post player that can add size and athleticism to the paint, I keep coming back to this confidence issue. Most winning teams need confidence…they need swag. They need to believe that they are good enough to overcome whatever challenge is presented and find a way to win games. They need to see that swagger staring back at them in practice and in the huddle during a timeout. They need their coaches to believe in themselves and reflect that back to the players. I simply don't see that now. I don't know if that's just the way Billy Kennedy's personality is, or whether that first horrific season with the Parkinson's diagnosis took the swag out of him. But regardless, it's this winning attitude, swag, mojo, or whatever intangible ingredient you want to call it that's not present in this team and this program as a whole. This is the root of the problem, because this squad has the talent to be a pretty decent team.

So unless an epiphany hits this team quickly with a couple of players stepping up to lead this program that builds the overall confidence level of the team, i have a hard time visualizing a productive sec campaign and a run at the nit (sorry folks, the NCAA's just won't happen with the sec's conference RPI even if A&M gets on a roll). I'm not one to look at short term goals and conclude the fate of a head coach (i.e. if you don't go to the Dance, you should be fired). There are too many contributing factors to evaluate. But for me, a team without confidence will never win consistently. Can Kennedy instill this confidence…this swag? Well, it hasn't happened yet, and that makes you seriously wonder if that will ever happen. And I'm at the point that if it doesn't happen this season, it may never happen.

Frankly, A&M needs somebody to grab this program by the crotch, and wake it up. If you have a difference maker cleared by the NCAA, then see to it that the university promptly gets him approved and on the court. The program needs a personality that can challenge the football-centric establishment within the A&M athletic department to bring more resources and attention to the program. The program needs a coach that energizes the fans and donors…a person that can fill-up Reed Arena with warm bodies and excitement. The program needs a coach that can shake up the recruiting landscape and get A&M back in the hunt for top prospects.

I so want Billy Kennedy to be that guy, and I'm willing to be patient and see what happens the remainder of the season. But at some point we all need to be realistic, and if there's no significant progress over the next 2.5 months, Hyman will have some tough choices to make. And if that happens, I think Hyman rings the phone of every possible candidate from the young, energetic up-and-comer to the veteran established coach between jobs which includes a talented but NCAA-banished coach that took a football-driven SEC school and made it a Top 10 basketball school. A&M should evaluate all options, but in the end Hyman must be bold because this program has once again slipped into oblivion with its own fan base. To get out of this very deep hole, A&M must hire somebody that can and will wake up the 50,000 students on-campus, and will force A&M former students and donors to pay attention again. This program will never flourish again until the fan base and administration once again care about Aggie basketball. I wish that person is Billy Kennedy, but if it isn't, Hyman has work to do.

That's my take for what it's worth.

Football Recruiting

It's been an eventful couple of days at the high school all-star games as several big name recruits are getting very close to a decision and the rumors are flying. For a change, most of the rumors are Aggie-friendly at this point. The biggest drama surrounds New Orleans WR Speedy Noil as the word started to spread that the Aggies may be the team to beat, which is what the A&M staff has been saying since the last in-home visit in early December. Now, if you talk to LSU sources, they believe Noil is simply trying to ramp up the drama prior to his announcement on Thursday. That's certainly a possibility, but those close to Noil say he's not the kind of guy that would do such a stunt. There is also word that the LSU staff is concerned about the situation with A&M and has dispatched mom to talk to him in Orlando and "straighten him out". That could be the truth, or it could be a ploy by his mom to show the locals she tried her best so life will be more tolerable when Noil picks A&M. Those are all nice storylines to follow, but ultimately his decision will come down to where he feels he can be a star and where his skills will be best utilized and developed. And from everything I've been told by A&M sources, that choice should be Texas A&M. I emphasize "should" because who knows what kind of pressure and incentives Mr. Noil will have to endure over the next 2-3 days.

The recruitment I can't quite figure out is Davion Hall. I saw some of the interviews he did yesterday with several networks uploaded to YouTube, and it sounded to me like he has convinced himself that he needs to play in the SEC which means Texas A&M. However, he's rooming with Baylor commit K.D. Cannon at the all-star game and who knows what conversations they are having in the room at night. Now, BOTH said that if it looks like Coach Briles is a serious candidate for the Texas job, they are done with Baylor and BOTH will likely sign with A&M. Of course, Hall has to choose by the end of the week since he's a mid-termer, so there probably won't be any Briles news one way or the other before he decides on a school. Anyway, I'm starting to feel more confident in Hall flipping to Texas A&M, but I'm not willing to bet my house on it just yet.

The easiest recruitment to decipher is the Frank Iheanacho situation. I think everybody in this industry would be shocked if he chooses Oregon over Texas A&M on Saturday. When I spoke to him, he didn't seem that enamored with the Nike amusement park in Oregon, and I don't think there are any other serious challengers at this point.

The Tony Brown situation keeps getting interesting. I'll be honest, I moved on to other recruits after he didn't show up to College Station for a scheduled unofficial visit three weeks ago. I have little direct information regarding A&M, but something has spooked LSU sources because they are now somewhat concerned about losing Brown and I'm not sure why. Ohio State and Texas were also involved along with Texas A&M, but LSU was supposed to land him this weekend. They still may, but some LSU folks heard something that has them less confident yesterday than they were on Monday. I'll keep eye on this one in case there's something to this smoke, or whether it's just Internet noise.

OL Braden Smith dropped on some school wish lists midway through the fall with some concerns about his footwork and flexibility. But A&M, TCU, and Notre Dame stayed on the kid, and it will likely pay off for one of the three schools because he's getting very good performance reviews at the UA game practices at guard. He a big-framed kid the A&M staff would love to have in this class. He plans to visit all three in January and may try to squeeze in a trip to Auburn as well.

The Semper Fi game festivities will kick off today, so we should start to get some feedback and interviews regarding Steven Parker. As I mentioned last week, he was on the verge of committing to A&M but some family matters have put that commit on-hold and brought OU back into the picture.

As far as we can tell, Dylan Sumner-Gardner has been telling all reporters that he's 100% committed to Texas A&M which isn't a surprise.

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