SCOUTING THE AGGIES
Coming off an NCAA Sweet 16 appearance a year ago, Texas A&M is looking at a major uphill battle to forge a return to the big dance. A non-conference victory over Virginia Tech is its only calling card to date, and Billy Kennedy's squad will probably need to win nine eight or nine of its remaining 11 games to get onto the bubble. With games against the Mountaineers, Florida and Kentucky still to go, there's little room for error.
The Aggies are the total opposite of the trend toward more guard-oriented lineups, and routinely flood the floor with three or four big men. Sophomore center Tyler Davis (6-10, 270 lbs.) leads a lineup reminiscent of old Georgetown Big East teams, or more recent Texas squads, where beef and height dominate the court. Davis averages 13.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. He's ably backed by fellow sophomore D.J. Hogg (6-9, 220 lbs.) who totals 13.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, and freshman Robert Williams (6-9, 240 lbs.) who has acclimated quite nicely after his move into the starting lineup. He adds 11.2 points and 6.7 boards, and also is the leading rim defender with 2.4 blocks per contest. As if all that weren't enough, junior Tonny Trocha-Morelos (6-10, 225 lbs.) adds eight point and five rebounds to the starting lineup effort. Hogg missed A&M's win over Mississippi on Wednesday with a foot injury, but could be back to face the Mountaineers.
While Hogg helps with the ball distribution duties, sophomore guard Admon Gilder (6-4, 195 lbs.) runs much of the offense. In addition to nearly four assists per game, he also averages 12.5 points to the offensive effort. Off the bench, graduate transfer J. C. Hampton (6-1, 195 lbs.) . is the only major scoring contributor with 5.7 points. Senior Tavario Miller (6-8, 230 lbs.) gets a couple of buckets and three boards in about 12 minutes of action per outing.
While A&M relies on its big lineup, that doesn't mean it is exclusively an inside-oriented team. Hogg takes more threes than anyone else in maroon and white, launching nearly half of his shots from distance. Trocha-Morelos also can't be totally ignored from beyond the arc, and guards Gilder and Hampton are also effective 3-point shooters. They space the halfcourt effectively at times to give their post players more room to operate on the blocks.
While several Big 12 coaches decry the timing of this non-conference game, is it really so bad?
|WVU (16-4 / 5-3) vs. Texas A&M (11-8 / 3-5)||Sat Jan 28||12:00 PM EST|
|WVU Coliseum||Morgantown, WV||Series: WVU 1-0|
|RPI: WVU - 32 A&M - 72||TV: ESPN||Sirius/XM/SXM: 84/84/84|
A common theme among coaches concerning the SEC/Big 12 challenge is that it's a distraction, coming as it does in the middle of the conference season. Is that, or should that, really be the case? In a way, the out of conference clash serves as a nice midway point in league play..And while coaches view it as a disruption of the concentration on league games, isn't that sort of a violation of the widely held tenet of playing one game at a time? Will the fact that the Mountaineers played a non-league foe on Saturday really affect WVU's preparation for Iowa State on Tuesday? In reality, it shouldn’t.
Granted, for those teams that have to go on the road in this made-for-TV event, it's an extra travel grind. However, that occurs only once every two years, and in reality only WVU has a beef over that added travel. That negative, though, is offset by the chance, in a majority of the games, to get a good win over a solid or better opponent without dealing a corresponding blow to a league compatriot. The games also aren't affecting the normal twice-a-week schedule that has been the routine since the turn of the calendar year.
With that said, back to the court. The game ostensibly shapes up as one of pace, with WVU trying to force the bigger Aggies to run the court and get tired, forcing more minutes from a bench that contributes little. That's fine, and should be an item to watch, but its the defensive match-up of the Mountaineers against A&M that really bears scrutiny. WVU can put Nathan Adrian, Esa Ahmad and one of its three centers against three of the opposing bigs and figure to compete, but it's the guard match-up against Hogg that will be in the spotlight. Can West Virginia's guards bother him on the perimeter, where he's accustomed to shooting over defenders, but also keep him from diving to the blocks to score inside?
One final item to track – where are A&M post players establishing themselves? If Davis and Williams are able to pin WVU defenders deep in the lane, where they can catch the ball and shoot close to the rim, the Mountaineers will find themselves in trouble. However, if WVU can fight around those pin-down efforts and force their foes to catch the ball further from the hoop, it will be better positioned to get double-down help from teammates and make things more difficult for A&M.
The game features a match-up of the two most successful thieves in the their respective leagues. WVU's Jevon Carter tops the Big 12 swipe list with 62, while Gilder has 39. A&M's Williams will also match blocked shot prowess with WVU's Sagaba Konate. Williams has rejected 46 shots this year, while Konate has swatted 29 in just 11 minutes per outing – about half of the court time that Williams sees.
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West Virginia has undeniably been hurt at times by its free throw shooting, but oddly enough, its percentage from the line in its 16 wins is identical to that in its four losses – 66.3%
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West Virginia is going for its first win in the Big12/SEC Challenge. The Mountaineers have dropped decisions to Missouri, LSU and Florida in the first three years of the event. Texas A&M has been more successful, defeating Iowa State a year ago and also racking up wins against Texas, Kansas State and Baylor before Oklahoma knocked them out of the NCAA Tournament.
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With all of its height, it's not a surprise to see that Texas !&M holds a +.6.27 rebounding advantage over its foes. However, WVU averages more offensive boards per game than the Aggies (15.5-13.7).
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WVU will face A&M again in less than ten months' time. The Aggies and Mountaineers will meet in the Armed Forces classic on Nov 10, 2017 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.