The season has barely begun, but A&M's Khris Middleton has already amassed an impressive collection of accolades. He's earned a spot on the Wooden Award watch list and the preseason All Big 12 team. Yesterday, he was named a preseason Naismith Award candidate. Aggie fans are hoping the 6'7" junior forward can live up to the hype.
Middleton is coming off a strong sophomore season, when he averaged 14.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. His smooth offensive style and ability to score at both the rim and beyond the arc landed him a spot on the All Big 12 second team. There were times he caught fire - scoring 31 points against Arkansas and 28 points (11 of those in overtime) against Mizzou.
But there were also times Middleton disappeared. He scored in the single digits against Temple, Wagner, OK State, and in the second Mizzou match up, and was notably held scoreless by Texas. Periodically, he seemed present for only one half. (Middleton scored 20 points - not bad - in the first exhibition game of this season against Dallas Baptist, but 15 of them came in the first half).
The causes of consistency issues can be hard to pinpoint. Often it's a cocktail of concentration, fatigue, and nerves. In Middleton's case, it might help to take a note from the cheerleaders and be aggressive, be be aggressive. By most accounts, Middleton is a very generous, collaborative player who would just as soon pass the ball than take the shot. This is an admirable trait, of course, but now he's the Aggies' go-to man and needs to step up, take charge, and demand the ball.
Middleton's scoring should see a bump this season if A&M sticks to the fast-paced offense that Billy Kennedy has said he wants to implement. Kennedy has also said that Middleton is working with the Aggies' new strength coach. Bulking up will help his ability to finish at the rim - something Middleton, as more of a finesse and less of an explosive player, sometimes struggles with.
A&M will begin their season with more than their fair share of uncertainties. Their upcoming transition to the SEC, a new playing style, and Kennedy's illness are unfamiliar territory for an Aggie team looking to Middleton as one of its leaders. Luckily, he has a strong supporting lineup, including seniors Dash Harris and David Loubeau.
If Middleton can be aggressive, stay focused, and continue to gain strength, he has a good chance of leading the Aggies to a stellar season and picking up an award or two along the way.