Last Thursday, Texas A&M (14-2) lost to the LSU Tigers (13-3). In that game, Aggies star guard Chennedy Carter left in the first half with a foot injury and didn't return. The Aggies had the lead at the half, but LSU came back and earned the victory thanks to a strong second half, including a fourth quarter where it held A&M to eight points.
That A&M lost that game without Carter prompted some to wonder about how A&M would fare if Carter were to miss an extended period of time. Thankfully, it looks like Carter will be back for A&M's next game against Kentucky ?— an extremely good team led by sophomore Rhyne Howard, who's arguably the best second-year player in the country right now ?— but the whole idea that the Aggies could be without Carter got me thinking about how the rest of this A&M roster isn't getting enough respect.
One player doesn't make a 14-2 team. You need other key scorers. You need defense. You need role players. And the Aggies have all of these things. This is Chennedy Carter's team, but it isn't just Chennedy Carter's team.
The Aggies are a fairly young team. Of the seven players who are averaging double-digit minutes this year, five ?— including Carter ?— are Juniors. While this year's A&M team is clearly one of the 15 or so best teams in the country, its youth and the experience they're getting via playing together this season could position them to be title contenders next season if Carter returns. But even if she doesn't, the returning players should be a strong basketball team.
A&M's strong Junior class
The Aggies, as previously stated, have a strong foundation of players who should be back next season.
The team's second and third leading scorers ?— Ciera Johnson and Kayla Wells ?— lead that group of Junior role players.
Johnson ?— who led Duncanville to an undefeated state championship season in 2016? — is averaging 12.9 points per game this season. Among qualified players, she's the team leader in field goal percentage at 56.2 percent, a number that also ranks her 110th in the country. In terms of points per possession, Johnson ranks in the 97th percentile nationally, and she's been fairly versatile offensively, scoring well on post ups, cuts, and as a pick-and-roll big.
When I think of Johnson, I can't help but think of A&M's close call against the Rice Owls earlier in the year. A tough Rice team had a chance to pull that game out late, but then Johnson got great position to grab an offensive rebound and put up the game-winning basket:
Johnson grabs 2.9 offensive boards per game and while she's not been elite at scoring on put back chances, the ability to generate extra possessions is huge. On this play, Carter passes the ball off to Shambria Washington, who rises for the corner shot. The ball clangs off the rim and Johnson's there to volley it back up and into the hoop. Two points. Aggies lead.
Kayla Wells has been the team's other double-digit scorer. The former South Grand Prairie star is averaging 12.3 points per game this year for the Aggies and has been lethal from downtown, knocking down 41.4 percent of her 3.6 threes per game. Operating mainly as a spot up shooter ?— 36.3 percent of her possessions have come in that role ?— Wells has been A&M's best shooting threat. Wells took a major leap forward last season, and her Junior campaign has only continued that.
Wells is good enough to have caught the eye of one of the biggest voices in women's basketball, LaChina Robinson:
LaChina shout outs are a big deal.
The other Junior to highlight is N'dea Jones. Unlike the other two ?— and Carter, who attended Mansfield Timberview ?— Jones isn't a Texas high school product, but the Georgia native has still found a home in College Station.
Where Jones has made the biggest impact is on the boards, as she leads the team with 10.6 of them per game. Every team needs someone on the inside who can do the dirty work, and that's been Jones. We talked about how good of an offense rebounder Ciera Johnson has been, but Jones has been even better, grabbing 3.6 of them per game, which ranks 44th in the nation. Her overall rebounding rate is ninth in the country. She scores in the 97th percentile on put backs.
I mean...N'dea Jones is very, very good at playing basketball.
Don't forget the Seniors, though!
Every good team needs veteran leadership. For the Aggies, that's mainly come in the form of Shambria Washington. Washington leads the team in minutes per game, but is just sixth in field goal attempts per game.
Washington is in her second season at A&M after transferring from College of Central Florida. In her last year there, the 5-foot-7 guard was named to the First Team All-Mid-Florida Conference team and averaged 4.5 assists per game. She quickly earned herself a starting role last year for the Aggies, and has been a great ball-handling presence for the team. This season, Washington leads A&M with 4.7 assists per game. She's also scored in the 96th percentile on spot up looks, proving that while shooting the ball isn't a major part of Washington's game, it's still something that she can do very well when the team needs her to do it.
But Washington is a smart player who knows how this team is structured, which is to say that Chennedy Carter is the engine that moves the Aggies. I think we can extend that metaphor some, though. If Carter is the engine itself, Washington is the axle to the car. I was pulling out of supermarket parking lot one night and heard a loud pop, and I couldn't get my car to move. It was on, but the axle had broken, so I was just sitting outside of Kroger, revving up the engine and wondering why nothing would move.
Washington is an axle. You need a player like her who can move the ball around and make smart shots and keep things going. Axles are important. You can walk up to a car with a broken axle and just push it, and that car won't be able to stay put. Without Washington, I don't know if the Aggies stay playing as good as they have.
And yes, Chennedy Carter is so, so important to this team. But the role players around her deserve credit for just how important they've been to the Aggies' success this season. Players like Washington and Wells and Jones and Johnson are the kind of players that good basketball teams need to have. That A&M has those players ?— and that three of those four have another year of eligibility left ?— is huge for this team's chances of finding postseason success.