Texas A&M point guard Anthony Collins, one of two players to crack the Aggies’ starting lineup in every game this season, is eager for teammates to begin forming their own answers to a question only he can answer heading into Selection Sunday.
Collins, a graduate transfer from South Florida, is the only player on the A&M roster who has taken part in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament during his college career.
Since arriving on campus, teammates have peppered him with “What’s it like?” questions as the 17th-ranked Aggies (26-7) have closed in on their first NCAA berth in five years by grabbing a share of the SEC regular-season title and reaching today’s finals of the SEC tournament with Saturday’s 71-38 rout of LSU in Nashville.
When I came here, I thought we’d be pretty good. So I kind of envisioned stuff like this.
A&M point guard Anthony Collins, a transfer from USF, on the team’s impending berth in its first NCAA tournament since 2011.
Those efforts will be rewarded Sunday when A&M learns its seed in the 68-team tournament, along with other schools from the Lone Star State headed to the Big Dance.
For Collins, a Houston native who competed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament as a freshman, the opportunity to cap his career with a return appearance in an A&M jersey provides validation for his decision to spend his final season of college eligibility in College Station.
“When I came here, I thought we’d be pretty good. So I kind of envisioned stuff like this,” said Collins, who started 98 of the 101 games he played at South Florida, where he spent one season as a medical redshirt (2013-14). “People have been asking me, ‘How much fun is it?’ I tell them, ‘It was fun and the atmosphere was great.’ Around school, it was great.”
Beginning next week, teammates will be able to judge for themselves as A&M prepares for its first NCAA appearance in five seasons under coach Billy Kennedy. Seed and regional location will be announced Sunday, which also is true for projected tournament-bound teams from No. 22 Baylor (22-11), No. 23 Texas (20-12), Texas Tech (19-12) and the Southland Conference tournament champion (Stephen F. Austin or Texas A&M-Corpus Christi).
Whatever the final number of Texas teams in the tournament, few participants will be more giddy than Collins’ teammates at A&M, where the starting lineup includes three senior transfers: forward Jalen Jones (SMU), guard Danuel House (Houston) and Collins (USF). A fourth senior starter, guard Alex Caruso, has played his entire career in Aggieland.
Most analysts project A&M as a No. 4 seed, and perhaps higher, in this year’s tournament.
“With the experience we had, and the young pieces we had … That’s why I wanted to come here,” Collins said, reflecting on three key freshmen in the Aggies’ playing rotation (center Tyler Davis, forward D.J. Hogg, guard Admon Gilder). “I’m really happy. Everybody likes to win. The seniors haven’t been there, so I’m sure they’d like to end on a good note.”
With four senior starters, including both of the team leaders in assists (Caruso, Collins), A&M will enter the NCAA Tournament with one of the nation’s most veteran lineups. How far that will take the Aggies, who shared this year’s regular-season SEC title with No. 16 Kentucky, remains to be seen.
But it’s worth noting that, if A&M’s senior-laden backcourt could carry this team to the Final Four, it would be played in front of a loud, supportive crowd at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Hogg, a freshman from Plano West who averaged 6.5 points and 2.5 rebounds per game in a reserve role during the regular season, pointed to the addition of Collins as a key factor in solidifying the Aggies’ lineup. Only Collins and Caruso, who take turns running the point in the Aggies’ offense, have started every game this season.
Getting Anthony Collins was big. We felt like that made this a real complete team. And, hopefully, a contender than can make a big run in the tournament. He’s a great point guard. He’s real unselfish, a real good leader.
A&M forward D.J. Hogg on Collins, who has started every game this season
Typically, Collins runs the point and Caruso plays shooting guard when both are in the game together. But their dual presence offers flexibility, with Collins making his biggest impact as a facilitator (4.5 assists per game against 1.5 turnovers per game) rather than a scorer (4.8 avg.).
“Getting Anthony Collins was big,” Hogg said. “We felt like that made this a real complete team. And, hopefully, a contender that can make a big run in the tournament. He’s a great point guard. He’s real unselfish, a real good leader. And with Alex Caruso moving to the ‘2,’ being versatile and doing that, it just makes the whole team complete.”
Kennedy, who agreed to a five-year contract extension as A&M’s coach before Saturday’s game against LSU, last reached the NCAA Tournament as the Murray State coach in 2010. He said the four seniors in his lineup “have had to sacrifice some and adapt to freshmen” as the season has unfolded. He cited Collins, who started for a USF team that went 2-1 in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, as a key factor in pulling everything together.
5 Years in the contract extension given to coach Billy Kennedy and announced before Saturday’s 71-38 victory over LSU.
“I’m proud of Anthony Collins. He set the tone,” Kennedy said. “It doesn’t happen by accident. You have to go through some stuff sometimes and if you have good character and toughness, you can get through it. This year has been a credit to those seniors, setting the tone.”
Soon, the rest of A&M’s senior class will be able to experience something only Collins understands at present: taking part in the NCAA Tournament. How far the Aggies advance, in large part, will be up to Collins and his fellow seniors as well.
4:30 p.m. Sunday, KTVT/11