Getting to know: Texas A&M basketball

Texas A&M forward Robert Williams (44) dunks the ball as Florida guard Deaundrae Ballard (24) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in College Station, Texas.

Texas A&M forward Robert Williams (44) dunks the ball as Florida guard Deaundrae Ballard (24) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in College Station, Texas.

During non-conference play, Texas A&M was ranked as high as fifth in the country as it crushed opposing teams with a dominant frontcourt and solid play from its guards. Then a switch flipped once conference play started and the Aggies have struggled on both ends of the floor.

Which version of Texas A&M will show up against Kansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge at 3:30 p.m. Saturday (TV: ESPN) at Allen Fieldhouse?

When the Aggies (13-7, 2-6 in SEC) are at their best, they’ve overwhelmed teams with their size. They beat West Virginia and Oklahoma State by double digits in November. Back to playing with a full lineup after some injuries and suspensions, the Aggies haven’t regained their footing since entering SEC play.

Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said one of the biggest factors is the team’s guard play. The Aggies have made 26.5 percent of their 3-pointers since conference play began and their defense has taken a step back.

Sitting in a tie for last place in the SEC standings, A&M is ranked 33rd by KenPom (fifth among SEC schools). The Jayhawks (16-4, 6-2 in Big 12) are ninth.

“Any time you are playing Kansas on a national spotlight like we are, it’s good for your program,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy told NCAA.com’s Andy Katz. “It’s really good when you win but Kansas has so much tradition and so much success, the fact that we’re in this game, we’re thankful and excited about having the opportunity.”

Fun fact: KenPom ranks Texas A&M eighth nationally in average height at 78.6 inches (6-foot-5.5).

Series history: Kansas leads 20-1. The Jayhawks have an 8-1 mark at Allen Fieldhouse, losing the lone meeting in 2007 against the Acie Law-led Aggies. The last time these two schools met was in the 2012 Big 12 Tournament.

BREAKING DOWN TEXAS A&M

TOP PLAYER

No. 34 — C Tyler Davis | 6-10, 266, jr.

Texas A&M center Tyler Davis (34) tries to drive the lane against Florida forward Kevarrius Hayes (13) and guard KeVaughn Allen (5) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in College Station, Texas.

Texas A&M center Tyler Davis (34) tries to drive the lane against Florida forward Kevarrius Hayes (13) and guard KeVaughn Allen (5) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in College Station, Texas.

A back-to-the-basket low post presence, Davis is averaging 14.3 points on 57.8 percent shooting. He ranks second on the team with 8.8 rebounds per game, grabbing 66 offensive boards (3.3 per game, 25th in the country) this season.

Davis, who led the Aggies in scoring last year, has recorded a double-double in three straight games (eight this season). According to hoop-math.com, he takes 65 percent of his shots at the rim but he leads A&M with 45 turnovers.

From Plano, Texas, Davis is one of two players to play in all 20 games for A&M this year. At the start of high school, he said he weighed 350 pounds.

  • "When you go through some tough times, you've got to have one voice in the locker room that's echoing everything the coaches are saying,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. "Tyler has done that on the floor and off the floor. And you always know you're getting his best effort."

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 1 — F DJ Hogg | 6-9, 215, jr.

Texas A&M forward DJ Hogg (1) is defended under the basket by Tennessee forward Grant Williams (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn.

Texas A&M forward DJ Hogg (1) is defended under the basket by Tennessee forward Grant Williams (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn.

The top 3-point shooter on the team, Hogg has made 41 of his 100 attempts. He’s averaging 12.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. Hogg ranks second on the team with 17 steals and fourth with 21 blocks. He missed the end of last season because of a foot injury.

Hogg (pronounced hoeg, rhymes with rogue), who played in high school with Tyler Davis, has made just 2 of his last 14 shots from the 3-point arc. He was suspended for three games in December for an undisclosed violation of school policy and earlier suspended for the team’s season opener.

No. 44 — F Robert Williams | 6-10, 241, so.

Kentucky's Wenyen Gabriel, right, fouls Texas A&M's Robert Williams (44) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 74-73.

Kentucky's Wenyen Gabriel, right, fouls Texas A&M's Robert Williams (44) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 74-73.

Williams was considered a potential lottery pick in last year’s NBA Draft before he announced he would return for his second season in College Station. With a 7-foot-5 wing span, he’s averaging 10.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. He was last season’s SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

The Oil City, La., native is extremely efficient at the rim, making 81.8 percent of his close-range shots according to hoop-math.com. He’s a 50 percent free-throw shooter. He missed the first two games of the season because of a suspension and two games in December from a concussion he suffered in practice.

No. 3 — G Admon Gilder | 6-4, 199, jr.

Texas A&M guard Admon Gilder (3) is defended by Tennessee guard Jordan Bowden (23) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn.

Texas A&M guard Admon Gilder (3) is defended by Tennessee guard Jordan Bowden (23) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn.

A 45 percent shooter this season, Gilder takes about an equal number of shots at the rim and behind the 3-point arc. Averaging 11.7 points, the Dallas native is shooting 38.3 percent from deep. He adds 4.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.

Gilder missed five games this year because of a knee injury. He’s an 83.3 percent free-throw shooter. The Aggies are averaging 77.1 points with him in the lineup and 68.8 without him.

No. 13 — G Duane Wilson | 6-3, 175, sr.

A graduate transfer from Marquette, Wilson is averaging 10.1 points and a team-best 4.4 assists per game. He’s shooting a team-best 84.8 percent at the free-throw line. On defense, he leads A&M with 20 steals.

Wilson is only shooting 26.8 percent from the 3-point arc. Instead, he attempts about 41 percent of his shots at the rim, according to hoop-math.com. He’s missed three games this season with a knee injury.

ONE THING TEXAS A&M DOES WELL

Heavy on height and length, the Aggies are one of the top rebounding teams in the country. In their first 20 games, they’ve recorded a plus-7.7 rebounding margin that ranks 12th in the NCAA. It hasn’t always translated to wins — they outrebounded LSU by 20 in an eight-point loss — but they should have a huge advantage on the glass against KU’s four-guard lineup.

ONE AREA TEXAS A&M STRUGGLES

Despite playing through their post players in the paint, A&M has plenty of trouble with turnovers. During the Aggies’ six losses against SEC opponents, they are averaging 15.2 turnovers. For a team that doesn’t shoot particularly well from the 3-point arc, giving away possessions is even more costly.

MEET THE COACH

Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy yells directions to his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn.

Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy yells directions to his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn.

The 2016 SEC Coach of the Year, Billy Kennedy is in his seventh year with Texas A&M after replacing Mark Turgeon. He’s guided the Aggies to one NCAA Tournament appearance, reaching the Sweet 16 in the 2015-16 season which included the remarkable comeback win against Northern Iowa.

Prior to his time at College Station, Kennedy was the head coach for five seasons at Murray State and six years at his alma mater Southeastern Louisiana.

VEGAS SAYS…

Kansas by 7.5. It’ll definitely be a contrast in styles Saturday with the Jayhawks in a four-guard lineup and A&M featuring several talented forwards. The Aggies will look at the non-conference matchup as an opportunity to reverse the way their season is moving, but I’m not sold that their guards will be able to keep up with KU.

My prediction: Kansas 81, Texas A&M 65. Bobby’s record vs. the spread: 10-9.