NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Texas A&M will go about things differently this season, but Coach Billy Kennedy is optimistic he can have the Aggies in position for another NCAA tournament run.
“Six of our seven best players are 6-foot-8 or taller, so we’ll have to play more zone, and it will be a big zone like Syracuse,” Kennedy said on Wednesday at the SEC Basketball Media Day at Bridgestone Arena.
“We lost to Syracuse in the championship game of the Battle of Atlantis last season (74-67), and we studied the tape all summer. We’ll play a version of their zone, and hopefully it will be a version that’s as good as they play.”
Kennedy, the 2016 SEC Coach of the Year after Texas A&M won the league’s regular season title, led the Aggies to a 28-9 record and the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 last season.
Texas A&M must replace four starters from last season’s team, including All-SEC picks Jalen Jones, Alex Caruso and Danuel House.
“We’ve been a man (-to-man defensive) team and a guard-oriented team, but this year we’re going to have to be a grinding team,” Kennedy said. “We’re totally different, and that’s a good thing, because that’s who we have.”
First-team All-SEC pick Tyler Davis, a 6-foot-10, 270-post, is Texas A&M’s only returning starter.
A bit of a throwback with his physical style of play in the paint, Davis looks to set the tone.
“I like the thought of being more versatile on the offensive end, but when it comes down to it, I have to use what God blessed me with,” Davis said.
“I love physical basketball, I like contact, and I like to be hit,” said Davis, who also received some SEC Preseason Player of the Year votes. “I like playing through the contact, and I don’t mind when I get hit with elbows. I take pride in being that type of physical player on both sides of the court.”
Davis averaged 11.3 points and 6.2 rebounds as a freshman last season, with nearly 80 percent of his shots last season (78.9) coming at the rim, according to Hoop-Math.
Davis post-up games puts a premium on the Aggies’ play at point guard, where Damon Gilder is expected to get the majority of the action
Gilder, like Davis and DJ Hogg, was part of Texas A&M’s No. 4-ranked national recruiting class in 2015.
“Coach Kennedy has really worked hard to bring in the talent from the state of Texas,” Gilder said, asked about Texas A&M’s emergence as a basketball school. “He’s a down to earth guy and a good person, big on his faith.”
The Aggies made believers out of many last season, beating Kentucky in College Station, 79-77 in overtime, and then taking the Wildcats to overtime again in the SEC Tournament finals before falling 82-77.
“Me being a point guard is me being more of a leader,” Gilder said of his transition to the position. “It’s also knowing when to take a shot and when to drop a dime, and then when to run a play and when to bring it back out.
“Those are the biggest things, the leadership and just knowing when to do things.”
Kennedy, who points to his 2015 signing class as a “breakthrough” of sorts for in-state recruiting, said it will be a team that learns together as the season progresses.
“It’s just going to take us time, and I have to be patient and figure it out,” Kennedy said. “We knew what we had last year and knew how we were going to play. This season, we’re playing totally different than I’ve ever played.
“We could be one of the biggest teams in the country.”
Based on recent history, the Aggies might also end up one of the best.