Kevin Kinder \ BlueGoldNews.com

West Virginia Likely To Start Ahmad Or Adrian In Place Of Holton

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The return of Esa Ahmad and an emerging Nathan Adrian should give West Virginia a needed boost as it plays at Florida minus suspended starter Jonathan Holton.

Holton, a senior forward, was "suspended indefinitely from the team for a violation of team rules" according to a WVU press release issued Thursday. Neither Huggins nor the school set an approximate timetable for the player's return, and Huggins declined Friday to name the specific rule violation.

Holton, a native of Miami, Fla., has played in 20 games this season, averaging 9.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, and has spearheaded the Mountaineers' press to lead the team in deflections and rank fifth in steals. His spot in the line-up is likely to be occupied by Ahmad, who will return after missing one game due to a sprained knee, or fellow forward Nathan Adrian. Adrian made his first start of the season in the victory against Kansas State, scoring a season-best 10 points - his most in 39 games - and playing what Huggins termed perhaps the best overall game of his career.

Adrian can also play at the top of the press, and his length and ability to understand angles and move effectively is a key for the ninth-ranked Mountaineers as they begin a stretch of four games against Florida, No. 14 Iowa State, No. 17 Baylor and No. 4 Kansas. All but the Baylor contest are on the road. Ahmad, which typically plays on the right side of the press pending match-up, adds some rebounding ability on both ends, and is a better passer than Holton. The true freshman started all 19 previous games and has averaged 4.5 points and 2.8 rebounds over 18 minutes.

"He practiced yesterday and was moving well," Huggins said of Ahmad, who was limited in practices leading up to the Kansas State game. Ahmad could have played against the Wildcats, but was held out for precautionary reasons. Huggins has not determined if either Ahmad or Adrian will start - though certainly at least one will draw the honor. 

"We are taking a look at different things, and we took a look at different things in practice and will continue to do that today," Huggins said. "I think that's certainly a possibility but not one that's set in stone."

The issue for West Virginia (17-3, 6-2 Big 12) will be replacing the activity of Holton. The 6-7, 220-pounder's length pairs with his quickness, athletic ability and energy level to create a perfect on-ball defender in the press when opponents are inbounding. Holton is also a productive rebounder on the offensive end and can slash to the bucket without the ball, which has set-up a series of backdoor dunks and lay-ins unmatched by Ahmad or Adrian.

"It changes us," Huggins said of Holton's suspension. "Jon leads us in deflections and is (fifth) on the team in steals. I don't think we can change the core of what we are doing. We have been doing this for a year and a half. It's hard to break old habits and start new ones. (The press) is going to be basically the same with different personnel."

West Virginia will also need Devin Williams to rebound it more effectively than he has over the last several games. Williams, in foul trouble in three of the last four contests, has averaged just 6.8 points and 5.8 rebounds over that time, well off his season averages of 13.1 and 8.2, respectively.

Part of that has been because of reduced time. Williams has matched his 23.5-minute average just once since playing 29 minutes in a 17-point, 12-rebound performance in the win over then-No. 1 Kansas on Jan. 12. That came in the upset loss to Texas, when the junior played 28 minutes and tallied 11 points and 11 rebounds. In three other games, he played 15, 16 and 20 minutes.

Williams also missed nine of 13 shots against Texas, and has struggled at the line, where he has made just nine of 19 (47.4 percent) during the four games. Huggins mentioned that the team's leading rebounder might be trying too hard and forcing the action as opposed to playing within himself and the flow of the game. But Williams hasn't been helped by teammates not setting him up in advantageous areas, either. He has often been passed up when he's had good position on the block, or fed the ball when too far away from the hoop - where Williams compounded the problem by spinning into a double team to create chances that simply aren't there.

There have been defensive lapses by teammates as well, which have left opposing players with good looks at the bucket. While those have appeared at times to be Williams' issues, they were not. West Virginia has to clean that up while also limiting turnovers - WVU has committed 45 over the last three games while forcing just 44 - and properly using Williams on both ends. A dose of added rebounding from Ahmad, Adrian and Elijah Macon wouldn't hurt, either.

"Nate has been a pretty good offensive rebounder," Huggins said. "Devin hasn't rebounded it the way he has normally rebounded it. Elijah has been getting better at it. We need to get those other guys to step up a little bit, or preferably a lot."


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