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October 16, 2011

Preseason Top 32: No. 21 Texas A&M


Today we continue out countdown of the nation's top 32 teams. Why 32? Frankly, if these teams don't get to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament (i.e., the round of 32), the season likely will be termed a disappointment.


STRENGTHS: A&M returns one of the best players in the Big 12 in senior swingman Khris Middleton and he has a solid supporting cast, one that is good enough that the Aggies should contend for a top-three finish in the conference. Middleton uses his size (6 feet 7) to good advantage on both ends, and he is the Aggies' most-gifted offensive player. New coach Billy Kennedy should have a more up-tempo attack than predecessor Mark Turgeon, which means Middleton's scoring average should increase by three or four points from last season's 14.4 points-per-game mark. The Aggies' best big man is 6-8 senior F David Loubeau, who has become more offense-minded each season. Still, his rebounding and defense are his true strong suits. PG Dash Harris is a solid distributor and defender, and he should be joined in the backcourt by senior Elston Turner, a Houston native who transferred "home" from Washington. Turner is a superb defender whose offense was spotty with the Huskies. The Aggies should have one of the deepest backcourts in the Big 12.

AT A GLANCE
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
F Kourtney Roberson (6-9/240, Soph.)
F David Loubeau (6-8/235, Sr.)
F/G Khris Middleton (6-7/210, Jr.)
G Dash Harris (6-1/170, Sr.)
G Elston Turner (6-5/220, Jr.)
KEY RESERVES
F Daniel Alexander (6-9/215, R-Fr.)
F Ray Turner (6-9/230, Jr.)
G Jamal Branch (6-3/165, Fr.)
G Jordan Green (6-4/180, Fr.)
G Naji Hibbert (6-5/195, Jr.)

Coach: Billy Kennedy (1st season at Texas A&M)
Last season's record: 24-9 overall, 10-6 in Big 12 (T-3rd in league)
Postseason: Lost to Florida State in first round of NCAA tourney
Final regular-season RPI: 29th
Last time didn't make NCAA field: 2005
[More on Texas A&M: Go to AggieYell.com]

WEAKNESSES: Other than Middleton, the Aggies have no proven outside shooters. While Harris is a pass-first point guard, he is pass-first for a reason: He is not a good shooter. The hope is that junior Naji Hibbert and/or freshmen Jamal Branch and Jordan Green can provide some backcourt offense. A lot of pressure was placed on Middleton last season, and he seemed worn down at times because of his offensive important. It's vital that he gets some perimeter help this season. Sophomore Kourtney Roberson should become the third starter up front, and his athleticism needs to be put to good use on defense and on the boards. The Aggies also need more production from sophomore F Ray Turner; he was bothered by an ankle injury for much of last season.

OVERVIEW: Kennedy, who arrives after spending five seasons as coach at Murray State, wants the Aggies to play at a faster pace but also retain the defensive intensity they showed under Turgeon. Kennedy, though, has taken a leave of absence for health reasons. In a statement Friday, he said he would return to the sideline "soon." Middleton and Loubeau form a solid scoring duo, but the Aggies need a guard or two to provide some offense. The Big 12 doesn't look to be as good as it was last season, and if everything breaks right for the Aggies, they could challenge for the league title. At the least, they should finish in the top three.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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