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Texas A&M Basketball

French analyzes A&M's non-conference slate as SEC play begins Saturday

January 5, 2024

Texas A&M hosts LSU on Saturday to open SEC play after a successful non-conference slate for the Ags. On Friday's edition of TexAgs Radio, former A&M guard Mark French shared his top takeaways from A&M's 9-4 non-conference record and shared his keys to the LSU game.

Key notes from Mark French interview

  • I think it sets up pretty nicely. Look at where they were in NET last year heading into conference and the uphill battle that was going to be vs. this year, where they’ve done a lot of the work early. I know the record doesn’t scream at you, but the NET ranking and all of the smart people who do the seeding are very high on the Aggies. I think they’re in a good spot, and getting off to a strong start in anything, whether that be a conference slate or an entire season, is super important.
  • It’s even more so this year to not have any lulls at the beginning. There are some winnable games, not only LSU. You probably need to split Arkansas and Kentucky. LSU at home is one you have to have. Piece the schedule together and find three- and four-game windows. Over the course of the last few years, whenever I’ve been on here, we’ve broken the conference slate up into segments. When you do that, you can look up and be 12-6 in conference play and on the road to being a No. 5 seed. I’m interested to see how they start.
  • The floor has been higher. You went and beat Ohio State at their place, and they actually beat Rutgers on Wednesday night. You beat SMU on the road. You beat Penn State. You had a competitive game against Florida Atlantic without two of our top four players. You beat Iowa State, who is a top-25 NET team on a Sunday after a long week in Orlando. You beat DePaul. You lost to Virginia, but that didn’t do anything to your NET. You’re fine, and it was a good experience for the guys.
  • The ones that hurt me a little bit are that I wanted to see them split Memphis and Houston because that would have been a check-point game. You should take care of business vs. Memphis at home if you’re going to be an Elite Eight or Sweet 16 team. They’re a good team but not a great team. Against Houston, that was a valiant effort, but they had a bad first half. You can’t do that against those teams. Overall, if you wanted to compare and contrast non-conference schedules vs. previous years, I think the floor is much higher this year.
  • I don’t want to go into the details of this, but I don’t expect Julius Marble II to be back for the remainder of the year. That’s where things are trending, but it’s subject to change. The going assumption amongst the fanbase should be that Marble won’t be part of the team this year or see the floor. That adjusts my expectations slightly.
  • Without Marble, they have to produce another big body. Wildens Leveque has been good, but he’s not that second- or third-team all-conference guy that Marble could be. Marble has been through the battles with Henry Coleman III last year in going to a conference title game and stuff like that. I think that’s a big piece of this deal.
  • I do think we have to continue to develop Jace Carter and Hayden Hefner into consistently providing 3-4 3-point makes per game. Not that both of them are going to be on every night, but one of them has to be on if we’re going to space the floor. Even guys like Andersson Garcia being able to jump out and hit 1-2 3-pointers a game helps the spacing. It all comes down to spacing.
  • It would also help to have Tyrece Radford back, which I expect, but we’re monitoring it. If he is a go, it comes down to being able to space the floor so he and Wade Taylor IV can get to the rack and do what they do best.
  • What I would do in the post would be to trend more toward having Coleman and Garcia playing together and being really physical. In the SEC, it’s not like the old Big East where it was pure basketball of who could shoot the ball the best. The SEC comes down to who can bully who and be on the offensive glass. We’re really good at that game, which is why you’ve seen Texas A&M have good runs in the last couple of years. Buzz Williams & Co. know that. I could see A&M go with a lineup of Coleman, Garcia, Carter, Taylor and Radford. Maybe you try Solomon Washington at the No. 3 a little bit, but I don’t know. It’ll come down to finding a style of play and a formula that you can use to win regardless of the opponent. It’ll adjust away from getting Marble more post touches to maybe someone else shooting a couple more 3-pointers per game.
  • Guys found a rhythm vs. Prairie View A&M. You're not stressed about getting a win in a game like that, so maybe those second- and third-layer items that you’re working on in practice get focused on. Getting Radford back on track is something like that. He came off the bench the other night. Getting him back into a flow after a choppy run is how you use those games. Manny Obaseki had six points. Washington had three. Taylor did his thing. It was a get-right game that allowed them to work on different things. That’s what you should do to teams like that.
  • They took care of business against Praire View, but the one thing that alarmed me is that A&M shot 12 percent from 3-point range. We were 3-for-24. If this team is going to do what we think they can, they have to find a way to shoot the ball, and it has to be someone other than Taylor, who was even 1-of-7. Hefner was 1-for-7. Eli Lawrence was 0-for-3. This is something that has plagued us really since Williams arrived. It has become crystalized to me how important Carter and Hefner are.
  • Some of the 3-point issues are running sets to get guys open, but some of it is style of play. Some of it is guys being reckless. Guys have to get in the gym because it’s embarrassing. Shooting 3-for-24 is not acceptable at Texas A&M. To do what we want to do here, and if you’re serious about making a deep run in March or winning an SEC title, you have to make 3-pointers in today’s game. Do you think you’re going to beat No. 5 Tennessee, No. 6 Kentucky or get in a track meet with Arkansas or Alabama? You’re out of your mind if you think you can only make three 3-pointers vs. Prairie View and think that will be good enough. I had to be blunt about it, but you can really tell if the Aggies are going to win or not in conference play based on 3-point shooting and offensive rebounds. They have to get in the gym and find some kind of consistency. Somebody has to step up.
  • It was so important that Radford came back vs. Prairie View. When you’re just getting back into the game, you can do three trips down and back, and you can be gasping for air. Once you catch that second wind, the game shape takes over, but it’s really important that he didn’t come back vs. LSU for the first time. He’s a Baton Rouge kid, and that’s a big game for him. You know he’s going to be pressing, and the adrenaline will be pumping. You didn’t want LSU to be his first game back.
  • Intensity is a good word, but the better word might be physicality. Modern SEC basketball has become mid-2000s SEC football in some ways because it truly is a battle on the glass and about imposing your will. Guys dive around on the floor. It’s a cool brand of basketball that is unique. It has a little bit of the Big Ten in there, but the league probably has better athletes. The top half of the league usually has one guy who can go get 20 points on any given night, and that’s usually what swings it. Luckily we have a couple of those guys in Taylor and Radford.
  • It’s physicality, offensive rebounding and tough, hard-nosed defense, but the pendulum can swing based on who can go get buckets. It’s really fun, and every environment is different. There are different nuances to a conference slate, but I am excited to see how they fare. They’ve used the time over break to get situated, and hopefully, they can come out of the gates hot.
  • For me, with where I want this team to go, it’s about how you win just as much as it is winning. With a team like LSU that is struggling a little bit with a second-year head coach who hasn’t found his footing as Will Wade did, this is a game where you’d like to see them pull away and win by 10-plus, especially at home.
  • This program deserves to have a great crowd there, especially on the weekends. Hopefully, that can start on Saturday.
  • You can’t drop Saturday’s game because then you’re playing from behind. You have No. 6 Kentucky coming in a week from Saturday, and then you have to go to Arkansas after that. The Razorbacks aren’t ranked right now, but they’ve been in the Elite Eight twice in the last three years. Eric Musselman is a really good coach. If you were to look at this as a four-game stretch, starting 2-2 before you get LSU, Mizzou and Florida, maybe you’re sitting at 5-3 or 6-2. You have to be 2-2 here.
  • I’d love to see them make eight or 3-point shots. Let’s say Taylor has three, Radford has two, Carter has two and Hefner has one. Get 24-30 points from 3-point makes. That would knock some of the worry off the shooting struggles that they’ve had. That’s one of the first places I look on a box score with this program right now.
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French analyzes A&M's non-conference slate as SEC play begins Saturday

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