COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Coach Buzz Williams led Texas A&M to its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2018 last season.
The Aggies' ouster in the first round has Williams, who is entering his fifth year in College Station, looking to take another step this season.
“We have yet to win a game after spring break,” Williams said. “That’s what we want to do. In our time, there have been pockets when we’ve been really good… but there have also been pockets where we have not been good.”
The 15th-ranked Aggies enter the season ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 for the first time since coming in at No. 25 in 2018, coach Billy Kennedy’s second-to-last season when they lost in the regional semifinals of the NCAA tourney.
This year they are picked to finish second in the Southeastern Conference behind No. 9 Tennessee with a team that returns starters Wade Taylor IV, Tyrece Radford and Henry Coleman III. Taylor is expected to lead the way after becoming the first Aggie to be named preseason SEC Player of the Year.
The guard is coming off a breakout sophomore season where he averaged 16.3 points, 3.9 assists and 1.7 steals a game. He also led the SEC in free throws made with 168 and free throw percentage while making 87.5% of his attempts.
“Our team is going to do well if Wade Taylor is doing well,” Williams said. “It’s not for (Taylor), it’s for our program. He is the leader of the program. We have to hold each other accountable.”
Taylor is encouraged by the progress Texas A&M has made and believes that Williams deserves much of the credit for the improvement.
“I think we’ve turned this program around for good, and I’m excited to call coach Williams my coach,” he said.
BIG SHOES TO FILL
Taylor is off to a great start to his career, but he’ll have to do a lot more if he hopes to even be considered the best player in his family.
His older sister Kennedy Taylor was a standout at Texas State before finishing her career last season. She had 769 assists in her time at the school, which set records for the most in Sun Belt Conference and school history.
“There’s a lot of pressure on me,” Taylor said. “My sister has a head start on me. Breaking a lot of records in the Sun Belt Conference. We… have those arguments at the dinner table at Christmas and Thanksgiving. Who’s the best PG? I have two more years to catch her. Hopefully, I can rally some points up and rally some assists up to come back and get her.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari, who has led six teams to the Final Four, believes the Aggies will be one of the SEC’s most difficult teams to deal with this season.
“They were terrific last year,” he said. “They are physical. They defend. They run good stuff. I would say coming back, A&M would be one of those one or two teams that should be favored.”
He’s envious that the Aggies have so many returning players in an era when so many guys spend just one year in college.
“Buzz should be walking around with a smile,” Calipari said. “Like: ‘I’ve got everybody back, so let’s go. Let’s see what happens.’”
The Aggies open the season Nov. 6 at home against Texas A&M-Commerce before trips to Ohio State Nov. 10 and SMU Nov. 14. They’ll get a big test when meet No. 7 Houston on Dec. 16 in a showcase at the Toyota Center that also includes a game between LSU and Texas.
“We do have a lot of returning players,” Williams said. “But we’re also arguably playing the toughest non-conference schedule that A&M’s ever played. We don’t have much wiggle room to give away possessions at any point. We play eight games in November, and five of them are on the road.”
Texas A&M begins SEC play Jan. 6 at home against LSU.
AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll