At nearly all levels of basketball, the era of physically imposing big men appears to be waning. In the NBA, frontcourt players are shedding pounds to become quicker, more versatile defenders and shedding post moves in favor of three-point shots to help open up space on the floor offensively. In college, the focus on post scorers is also fading. Over the last five seasons, just three centers in major conferences — Adreian Payne, Frank Kaminsky, and Jahlil Okafor — have averaged better than 15 points per game. In the five seasons prior, there were 12 such instances spread out over nine different players.
In College Station, though, the times won’t be changing quite as quickly, as Texas A&M looks to ride sophomore Tyler Davis to back-to-back successful seasons in the SEC. The 6-foot-10, 270-pound center is the definition of a physically imposing big man. As a freshman, the 19-year-old averaged an impressive 11.3 points and 6.2 rebounds in 22.8 minutes per game, but with all four of his fellow starters from last season graduating in May, Davis should expect to shoulder a larger load during his sophomore campaign.
While there will no doubt be talk about Davis expanding his range as there is for every big man around this time of year, he’ll still butter his bread on the low block, so his massive frame can let him back down smaller defenders. 78.9 percent of Davis’ shots last season came at the rim, according to Hoop-Math, and the A&M offense was better off for it. With him on the floor creating efficient scoring chances, the Aggies’ offense scored about one-tenth of a point per possession more than it did with him on the bench while converting five percent more of its two-point attempts, per Hoop Lens. Those numbers would suggest Davis is capable of breaking the 15-points-per-game mark as a sophomore, but with 61 percent of his makes having been assisted in his first season, the pressing question for Texas A&M is who’s going to feed the big man the ball.
Initial expectations were that freshman J.J. Caldwell would slot in at the point guard spot, replacing Alex Caruso and Anthony Collins, but the four-star recruit was ruled ineligible by the NCAA in September, reportedly for academic reasons. That role will now likely fall in the laps of sophomore Admon Gilder and graduate transfer J.C. Hampton. Gilder played small stretches at the point for the Aggies last season, but primarily worked off the ball, a fact reflected by his uninspiring 11.9 percent assist rate. Hampton has a bit better resume in that regard having assisted on approximately 20 percent of made shots while he was on the floor at Lipscomb. The good news is that reviews from teammates have been positive during the offseason with junior Tonny Trocha-Morelos praising both guards’ play during open gym sessions over the summer.
There are, of course, other pieces to the puzzle in College Station. Head coach Billy Kennedy needs Trocha-Morelos to be an effective modern-day power forward who is capable of knocking down enough outside shots to keep opponents from clogging up the paint against Davis. Rising sophomore D.J. Hogg also figures to take on a bigger role in his second season as a combo forward who can provide length and versatility on the wing.
Nonetheless, Davis will play the role of pace setter for the Aggies this season as they look to turn back the clock to a time when behemoths roamed the paint. He’ll rely on his guards to set the table, but if Gilder and Hampton can deliver, the big man should become the latest major conference center to average better than 15 points per contest. In that process, he’ll also help Texas A&M succeed in the SEC once again.