When you think SEC hoops, a few programs immediately jump to mind. One, obviously, is Kentucky. Even though the Wildcats failed to qualify for the tournament two years ago and lost to Saint Peter's in the first round last season, coach John Calipari is still able to recruit top talent to Lexington every season. Rick Barnes has turned Tennessee into a perennial contender over the past five seasons. Bruce Pearl and Auburn made it all the way to the Final Four just a few seasons ago. And this year, Alabama has ranked in the top 10 of the AP Top 25 since December.
And yet, sitting in third place in the SEC with a record of 15-6 overall and 7-1 in conference, is Texas A&M. In Buzz Williams' fourth season as head coach in College Station, the Aggies may be on track to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018.
Strong Backcourt Led by "Boots" and Taylor
A&M's strength lies in its backcourt. Led by guards Wade Taylor IV and Tyrece Radford, the Aggies scored their biggest victory of the season last week when they upset No. 15 Auburn, ending the Tigers' 28-game home winning streak. The left-handed Radford poured in 30 points and nine rebounds, while Taylor chipped in with 15.
According to the Aggies fan forum, Williams started calling Radford "Boots" because he's tough as boot leather. The 6-foot-2 senior guard may not be the most physically imposing player on the court, but his quickness, toughness and shot-making ability make him a threat any night. Radford has started 108 games in his college career, making him one of the more experienced players in the nation.
Complementing Radford in the Aggies backcourt is Taylor. The sophomore guard's game has grown nicely since last season, going from just over 8 points per game to just under 15 this year. The 6-footer relies on quickness and long-range shooting to regularly contribute and leads the team in scoring this season. He's also averaging nearly two steals per game, helping the Aggies get out in transition.
Experience Pays Dividends
A year ago, Texas A&M fell one game short of a miracle run in the SEC Tournament, reaching the finals as a No. 8 seed before bowing out to Tennessee. Missing out on March Madness, the Aggies settled for the NIT. There, they made a run to the title game, falling to Xavier by 1 point.
The upside? These guys played a lot of basketball last season -- 40 games -- with basically two straight weeks of tournament play in March. That experience could pay serious dividends as the calendar moves to February, conference play tightens and we inch toward tournament time.
This Texas A&M team has a lot of the pieces of a successful March team: strong guard play, experienced players and a coach in Williams with three Sweet 16s and one Elite Eight appearance on his resume?. That late-season success is why A&M hired Williams. In his tenures at Marquette and Virginia Tech, he consistently helmed teams that made it to the NCAA Tournament.
Football will always be king in College Station. But this winter, the Aggies of the hardwood are making a strong case that A&M is also a basketball school.
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