Preview: WVU – Texas A&M
West Virginia’s lengthy trip overseas for just one game is problematic – but those factors affect both teams. Which one will deal with them better, and how will the key match-up in styles play out?
SCOUTING THE AGGIES
Texas A&M typically plans go big and pound the ball inside, but will be hurt by the absence of 6-10 forward Robert Williams, who is suspended for three games to start the season. That doesn’t leave it in dire straits, though, as the Aggies will still field 6-10 replacement Tonny Troch-Morelos. He averaged 8.1 points and 5.2 rebounds a year ago, and is the lone senior on the team who has been present for all four years. He can range inside and out, and will be paired with one of the best bigs in the SEC. Tyler Davis, yet another 6-10 post player who dominates on the blocks, led the Aggies in scoring a year ago, and made more than 61% of his shot attempts.
First year guard Duane Wilson, a graduate transfer from Marquette, leads a group of young teammates at guard and on the wings. Wilson averaged 4.8 points a season ago, and will get his chance to direct the offense after seven starts for the Golden Eagles. Sophomore D.J.Hogg, who has been sidelined by foot and shoulder injures for much of the last calendar year, still manged to average 12 points per contest in his 22 appearances. Sophomore Admon Glder give the Aggies punch on both ends – he averaged 13.7 points and tops returnees in both assists (3.9) and minutes (34.6).
With two players out (redshirt freshman J.J. Williams is also suspended), the Aggie rotation might be limited. True freshmen Jay Jay Chandler and Savion Flagg are highly-regarded, but neither has played in a college game. All told, A&M backups retrun just 2.7 points and 1.3 rebounds per game, and only three have played in a collegiate contest.
West Virginia faces a tough task inside. A&M has to protect the ball against the Mountaineer press. It’s a simplification, but that’s where the keys to the opener reside.
The Mountaineers, on the other hand, must create havoc with Texas A&M’s ball-handling. In addition to forcing turnovers, it needs to make the Aggies burn time in getting the ball into attacking position in the frontcourt, which could limit their chances of getting the ball inside to their bigs. A&M was good last year in working the ball to create angles for interior passes, but that can take time to develop, and West Virginia can help its effort immensely if A&M has to burn eight or nine ticks just getting the ball across halfcourt.WVU’s inside duo of Sagaba Konate and Logan Routt showed some spark defensively in the preseason, but neither contributed much offensively in the public exhibition against Albany, or in what could be gleaned from the private one against Purdue. Both will have to get a couple of buckets, but their main goal in this game is to combat Davis and Trocha-Morelos in the lane. If the West Virginia press isn’t creating turovers or bleeding the shot clock, A&M will have time, and the ability, to get the ball in to their bigs, or get shots up in rhythm that allow them to get to the boards. If that happens, a volleyball match will develop, with the Ags the certain winners. Remember that a year ago, even with Elijah Macon, Brandon Watkins and Esa Ahmad, A&M’s Davis snared 18 rebounds in the Coliseum in WVU’s 81-77 win.
Another big factor, though, is each team’s reaction to the travel and unusual circumstances surrounding this game. A long flight, a local tip time of midnight and the general excitement of an opener will all combine to make for an unfamiliar environment. Add in a temporary floor and lighting, in a venue not built for basketball, and there is much to adjust to. Does A&M have the edge here, given its participation in the World University Games over the summer?
WVU head coach Bob Huggins is now eighth on the list of winningest Division I men’s coaches, but will be locked in a battle with Roy Williams, who stands three victories behind Huggs’ current total of 816. The unfortunate passing of Rollie Massimino in the offseason froze that venerable coach’s all-time win mark at 816 — Huggins and Massimino had gone back and forth in win totals during the 2016-17 season.. Jim Phelan, at 830, stands next on the list.
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Texas A&M is playing its first season opener away from home since 2000. WVU opened away from the Coliseum in 2012. Both of those games were losses.
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The next three games in the Armed Forces Classic will occur on U.S. soil. Military bases in Texas, Alaska and North Carolina will host contests from 2018-2020.
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In its last three seasons, WVU has posted non-conference records of 12-1, 11-2 and 12-1. Those marks have helped fuel high NCAA seeds and very successful seasons. Reaching double-digit victories on that part of the schedule this year would be an outstanding achievement.