Our previous editions of the Big 12 Hoops Report have focused on this year's contenders--Baylor, Kansas, and Mizzou to be specific. Each of these teams has had some major storylines since the last time we wrote one of these, but today's focus will be on a little schadenfreude: the Aggies' final season in the Big 12 and what an epic fail it has been so far. The good news for A&M, of course, is that next year it will take a pretty serious step down in competition. All the talk about the school's move to the SEC has been about the supposedly tougher football schedule, but lost in the mix has been the fact that the Ags are going from one of basketball's premier conferences to a very top-heavy league without much beneath the surface. Just like football, these things run in cycles--but for the current incarnation of the maroon-and-white disasters, they can't get away from the Big 12's up-and-comers and established powers fast enough.
Losers of six of their last eight, the Ags' season is essentially off the rails. One of their two recent wins was in the Big 12 Battle for the Basement, in which they defeated Texas Tech to earn their position at ninth place in the conference, sending the Raiders into last place by themselves. The other win? An 18-point W against a school called "ATU," which is so obscure that ESPN doesn't even have a logo on file for them. (A bit more research revealed that the school in question is Arkansas Tech. ATU is a Division II school located in Russellville, AR. Like your high school, they generally play basketball games in the form of Women's/Men's doubleheaders. Aside from the Aggies, some of their fiercer opponents this season include Southeast Oklahoma, a tough road game at Henderson State in Arkadelphia (which is like Philadelphia, but different), and the ever excellent Ouachita Baptist).
That's not to say A&M doesn't have a really, really good excuse: as you likely know, first-year head coach Billy Kennedy was sadly diagnosed with Parkinson's in October. Obviously, when someone who matters in your life has a serious medical problem, that can cast a shadow so dark that basketball seems trivial. That combined with star forward Khris Middleton injuring his knee and missing seven games and the transfer from Aggieland of blue chip freshman guard Jamal Branch certainly entitles the Ags to some leniency in evaluating their performance.
However, the fact remains that the core of the 2010-2011 team is still on the roster, Kennedy has been on the sidelines for the entire regular season, and this team was supposed to contend for the Big 12 title. Instead they seem to be fighting for an NIT bid after a major regression from last season. When Billy Gillespie left A&M for Kentucky several years back, it was easy to rationalize from an Ag perspective: it's not a reflection on our program, it's just that Kentucky is one of the top 5 jobs in the country and anyone would jump at the chance to take it. But with Mark Turgeon leaving after a successful season last year to take a job at Maryland, it should have become clear to even the most blinded Aggie homer: this is not a top tier program. It is capable of having some good stretches, but consistent achievement is, in all likelihood, simply beyond the grasp of Texas A&M basketball. Yes, replacing them with TCU next year is a step down for now--but in the long run, there's no reason to believe the absence of A&M will have any meaningful impact on Big 12 hoops.