How are college basketball's contenders built? SI.com's Luke Winn breaks down five different sets of Hoops Architectural plans.
PLAN NO. 5: Texas A&M
ARCHITECTURAL STYLE: Gut Renovation/Revitalization
CHARACTERISTICS: A&M had the right general recipe for success: It's a large, BCS-conference school (more than 44,000 students) with a big-money athletic department (budget of approximately $57 million) and a prime location (less than two hours from Houston, less than four from Dallas) in a talent-rich state. But the Aggies were awful as recently as 2003-04, when they went 0-16 in the Big 12. Turnaround architect Billy Gillispie, who earned acclaim for remodeling a 6-24 UTEP team into a 24-8 NCAA tournament squad in '03-04, has worked similar magic in College Station. The Aggies, boasting the nation's eighth-most efficient defense (0.88 points per possession) and a holdover point guard from the dark days, Acie Law, made their first trip to the dance since 1987.
DESIGN PHILOSOPHY: Gillispie claims the stingy D isn't the real key. "We've had to emphasize defense in the first two years because we were limited offensively," he said. "We weren't able to score from all five positions, and we had to do that to give ourselves a chance to win."
The simple act of winning, Gillispie said, is what sets a renovation project in motion. To him, it didn't matter that A&M's '04-05 non-conference schedule was padded with seven sub-200 RPI teams and two D-II squads; the Aggies went 11-0, built momentum and ended up going to the NIT. And the next year they earned a trip to the NCAA tournament. "I've never seen a team consistently recruit well unless it wins games," Gillispie said. "Texas A&M has a big name nationally, and gets a lot of exposure in the Big 12. All we had to do was start winning, to get recruits to go from saying, 'Why A&M?' to 'Why not Texas A&M?'"
PROJECT STATUS: It's Year 3 of the Gillispie Era, and here's how the Aggies have progressed: They were 7-21 the season before he arrived, 21-10 in Year 1, and 22-9 in Year 2. They enter this season picked to finish second in the Big 12, behind Kansas, and are considered by some to be a top-10 team.