UGA Basketball

Fox: Texas A&M is ‘way better than what their record shows’

Georgia guard J.J. Frazier drives against Texas A&M center Tyler Davis during last year’s game between the two teams.
Georgia guard J.J. Frazier drives against Texas A&M center Tyler Davis during last year’s game between the two teams. Georgia Sports Communications

Texas A&M has started SEC play on a slide, losing five of its first six conference games. The Aggies have now lost eight games total and would appear to be in the running for one of the SEC’s bottom-feeding spots.

A closer look at Texas A&M, however, might not suggest as such, which is something Georgia head coach Mark Fox was quick to point out. A tough schedule to go with some inexperience at key positions has led to the losses, with a lot of those being competitive games.

Therefore, Fox believes the Aggies have potential to be dangerous when the two teams square off at noon on Saturday in College Station, Texas.

“Just because their schedule has been so hard and they lost so much off last year’s team, I think they’re way better than what their record shows,” Fox said. “I do think they have a really good balance between inside and outside scoring.”

Texas A&M (9-8, 1-5 SEC) was forced to replace four seniors from last year’s team that tied for the regular-season SEC title and finished runner-up to Kentucky in the conference tournament. The Aggies then advanced to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 before being eliminated by Oklahoma.

The Aggies, however, have had to deal with inexperience in their backcourt, and thus have lost the turnover battle frequently. Texas A&M is tied for last in the SEC, along with Mississippi, in turnover margin at minus-2.4. It has cost the Aggies in games against Arizona (14 turnovers), Tennessee (16), South Carolina (25) and Mississippi State (22).

While Texas A&M dropped its turnover total to 12 against Arkansas on Tuesday, it fell 62-60 after holding a 12-point lead in the second half. Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy said the cast contributing now is still figuring out the intricacies of the college game.

“Last year, they were backup players and were challenged every day to compete,” Kennedy said. “Danuel House, Alex Caruso, Anthony Collins and Jalen Jones would embarrass them or step on them. So our guys, they played with that urgency. This year, they come in and they were our best players, off of talent and off of being here a year. They haven’t been challenged other than by our coaching staff.”

The Aggies are starting four sophomores — forward D.J. Hogg, center Tyler Davis, guard Admon Gilder and guard Chris Collins — and freshman forward Robert Williams. The lack of senior leadership has hurt more than expected, especially after Davis’ stellar freshman season.

“We’re immature in some spots on the court and off the court,” Kennedy said. “These kids, their role went from being a role player or backup on a really, really good team with four seniors, to now they’re main guys. They’re learning that responsibility is different.”

There are still some bright spots on this roster, considering Davis is an inside scoring threat to go with Hogg’s outside shooting ability. Davis leads the SEC in field-goal percentage at 61.3 percent and Hogg is shooting 39.4 percent from behind the 3-point line, which included a performance against South Carolina in which he hit seven 3-pointers.

For Georgia (12-6, 3-2), it’s a bit of a pick-your-poison battle for what it will choose to do defensively.

“You’ve got to do both, but that’s the challenge,” Fox said.

Outside of a blowout defeat to Kentucky, Texas A&M has dropped its other four conference losses by a total of 31 points — an average margin of defeat of 7.8 points. The Aggies also played three Pac-12 teams during the non-conference schedule — USC, No. 3 UCLA and No. 14 Arizona — and lost those games by a combined 13 points.

The game against UCLA might be the most telling in terms of the talent on the Aggies’ roster, considering that game, a 74-67 loss, was tied with only 2:17 remaining to play.

As Kennedy said, the Aggies still have some growing up to do. Fox and the Bulldogs hope that won’t begin Saturday at Reed Arena.

“They are a team, I think, that has played an unbelievable schedule,” Fox said. “As many guys as they lost, they’re still trying to find their rhythm this year.”