Billy Kennedy isn't surprised by the success at Murray State, one of four undefeated teams left in college basketball. He knew he left the program in good shape, and he believes the Racers will have a chance to make a perfect run through the Ohio Valley Conference.
When he took over the Texas A&M program in May, Kennedy felt he had inherited a similar situation from Mark Turgeon. The Aggies had been to six consecutive NCAA Tournaments and returned starters Khris Middleton, David Loubeau and Dash Harris.
But things haven't gone as planned for Kennedy or the Aggies. Whatever could go wrong, it seems, has gone wrong for A&M.
Kennedy was diagnosed with early stage Parkinson's disease in October but said his health isn't an issue. Middleton has been out with a knee injury and still isn't 100 percent. Two weeks ago, sophomore forward Kourtney Roberson fractured his ankle and is expected to miss four to six weeks. And, on Thursday, Arlington Grace Prep product and freshman guard Jamal Branch announced his decision to transfer.
"We're a work in progress," Kennedy said. "It's just going to take time. We're a new staff implementing a new system and trying to get the guys to buy into the system. And I didn't realize it when I first got here, but there's a lot more work than I thought coming in. We lack and don't have too many guards, guys who can handle the ball."
Now, Kennedy and Texas A&M face an uphill battle trying to mold the team with Big 12 play beginning this week. A&M opens its conference season at sixth-ranked Baylor on Monday.
As stated, the No. 1 concern for A&M is guard play, and that won't be easy to overcome in the Big 12. All of the top teams have formidable backcourts, including Baylor (Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip), Kansas (Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson), Missouri (Phil and Matt Pressey), Kansas State (Will Spradling and Rodney McGruder) and Texas (Myck Kabongo and J'Covan Brown).
By losing Branch, the Aggies are expected to play Harris and Elston Turner more than 30 minutes a game. Freshman Jordan Green might find himself in the shooting guard role, too, even though he's more of a wing player.
"We're taking it day-to-day, game-to-game," Kennedy said. "That's what we have to do. We've had our share of setbacks, but this team has shown resiliency. We'll be able to weather it."
Before the season, the Aggies were a legitimate candidate to win the conference before heading to the SEC. But, as the nonconference season developed, the Aggies at this point are simply hoping to somehow get enough wins to be considered for the Big Dance.
The Aggies (9-3) already have a bad home loss to Rice, and their most impressive victory came against a mediocre St. John's team.
However, Kennedy and his players are confident things will eventually come together, barring another unforeseen setback.
"We've still got work to do in building more chemistry and playing together as a team," Aggies forward Ray Turner said. "When it comes down to it, though, we should be ready. This is it. Big 12 play is what we've been waiting for."
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760