Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Texas A&M

Texas A&M offense

 …is not good

Well, folks, it’s a Texas A&M offense that can’t score consistently, turns it over a million times per game, can’t hit threes, and only scores by way of rebounds and the free throw line. Basically the same thing that came to Knoxville last season and won. Hope this makes you feel even more comfortable!

In all seriousness, this does feel like a carbon copy of sorts of last year’s putrid Aggie offense, though with significantly better two-point efficiency. The Aggies, as I type this, sit at a cool 162nd in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive rankings. This is not the worst (Tennessee Tech) or second-worst (USC Upstate) or even third-worst (Appalachian State) offense on Tennessee’s schedule, but it’s pretty darn close, and it’s significantly worse than the next-worst SEC group (Vanderbilt). For all of the analysts who desire Tennessee to win ugly, I imagine they get a real kick out of Texas A&M winning despite shooting 29.3% from three:

And turning the ball over on a quarter of all offensive possessions.

It’s really bad, man. And I don’t know that it can get that much better? Texas A&M runs a fairly uncomplicated offense predicated on getting spot-up opportunities, creating chances to score out of ball-screens and dribble-drives, and, uh, theoretically not turning it over all the time.

But Emanuel Miller is really, really good

If you were just judging A&M on their shot selection, it’s not outwardly bad. They have one of the highest around-the-basket in half-court, per Synergy:

And, to be sure, they make a lot of their twos. As mentioned, A&M is sitting at a very solid 55.4% conversion rate on twos (36th-best nationally), and a 58.5% hit rate on shots at the rim in half-court is pretty darn good. There’s nothing wrong there, and you can generally catch the fantastic Emanuel Miller hanging out at the rim:

Miller is, by my eyes, easily A&M’s best piece. He doesn’t really shoot threes, but no one else on A&M’s roster can score as efficiently or as regularly as he can. I like it! Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a ton of backup in this regard beyond Quenton Jackson, who’s a very good shooter:

The only way they can consistently score is off of turnovers

Anyway, back to the plot. After Jimmy Dykes (!!) shouted out a stat I wrote about in the Arkansas Show Me My Opponent, this very similar (but totally reversed stat) may seem of importance. Transition offense, strangely, comes easiest to this A&M squad. They’re sitting in the 80th-percentile nationally here, posting a 62.6% eFG% (33rd-best) and especially being unstoppable at the rim, where they’re making 77.1% of attempts:

(Predictably, they have almost the exact same success rate from three in transition vs. half court – 29.2% vs. 29.4% – so it’s entirely two-driven.) In half-court, though, their inability to stretch the court by at least occasionally making threes completely destroys their offense. That 80th-percentile transition figure falls to the 17th-percentile in half-court, and their 46.8% eFG% is 260th-best nationally. That’s a 227-spot drop, which I don’t know that I’ve ever seen an opponent have.

Obviously, in half-court, you aren’t going to get to the rim as often and you’re going to be forced to take longer twos. Still, it’s not as if A&M takes a ton of them; non-rim twos represent only 22.7% of their half-court attempts. But they’re only hitting them at 33.3% in half-court, an obvious and real problem:

And when you can’t hit threes to help stretch the floor:

It gets way, way worse. The deeper you force A&M into the clock, the worse things get. If Tennessee can keep this game low and slow from the start, it’s going to take A&M’s best shooting performance of the season to win it.

Here’s a quick scout of the main Texas A&M rotation, with positions in parentheses from Bart Torvik’s algorithm. The top five are the projected starters; a player must be getting at least 10 minutes per game to be considered.

  • #20 Andre Gordon (scoring PG). Not super-efficient, probably the best passer they have, but honestly his biggest strength is that he never fouls. Like, ever. Committing 1.3 fouls per 40 minutes! Gordon is the ball-handler in most ball-screen sets., which is where he’s best.
  • #3 Quenton Jackson (combo G). Jackson shot 24.4% from three on 78 attempts last year, but is shooting 44.8% from three on 29 attempts this season. The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle. Mostly seen spotting up for a three or taking it to the rim in transition off a steal. Struggling greatly with turnovers.
  • #4 Jaxson Robinson (stretch 4). Freshman. One of the most extreme shooting splits seen to date: 21 three-point attempts, one two-point attempt (made it!). For reasons I don’t entirely get, starting over Savion Flagg.
  • #5 Emanuel Miller (wing F). A&M’s best player by miles. Miller scores exceptionally well at the rim, draws a ton of fouls, and rebounds really well for his height. If you slow him down, A&M has no chance. Lots of screen and basket cuts, along with some post-up work.
  • #45 Kevin Marfo (center). Mostly post-ups and offensive rebounds. Very, very rarely shoots the basketball; has attempted one (1) field goal in his last 41 minutes of game time. Was the best rebounder in all of college basketball at Quinnipiac last year and posted an 18-rebound performance (NINE offensive) in his final game. 6.5 fouls per 40, which will explain why he only played seven minutes in a game he started this week.
  • #1 Savion Flagg (stretch 4). Not sure why he isn’t starting, because he’s better than Robinson and older. Flagg is not an efficient player, but he can somewhat score at two levels and was A&M’s best deep shooter a season ago. 
  • #11 Hassan Diarra (scoring PG). Freshman. Turning it over on 31.7% of all possessions he has, which is a truly wretched rate. 35.5% on twos. The only defense I can find for him playing is, well, his defense; he’s a better on-ball defender than Gordon.
  • #0 Jay Jay Chandler (wing G). I love three-pointers, but some people should not love them. Jay Jay Chandler probably should love them less. 28.4% on 229 attempts for his career, 6-for-30 this year. Baffling because he’s an above-average shooter otherwise.
  • #15 Jonathan Aku (center). Commits a lot of fouls and has one block in nine appearances.
  • #2 Hayden Hefner (wing G). Not related to Hugh, I don’t believe. Good shooter in a limited sample size. Also a freshman.

NEXT PAGE: “”Palpable Buzz Williams.” – Jon Rothstein” – Will Warren

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