No. 18 Mountaineers taking on Texas A&M at home today

MORGANTOWN — The shadows on the WVU Coliseum floor could be a little more pronounced today when West Virginia takes on Texas A&M at noon, televised by ESPN.

That’s because the Aggies are big — or as President Trump is fond of saying, “yuge!’

A&M’s starting five goes 6-foot-10, 6-foot-10, 6-foot-9, 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-4 across the board, and then it has a couple more bigs it can bring off the bench.

Not only are they long, but they’re wide, too.

Sophomore center Tyler Davis goes 270, freshman forward Robert Williams, who some believe could be a lottery pick in this summer’s NBA Draft, goes 237, Tonny Trocha-Morelos weighs 224 and D.J. Hogg is a svelte 220.

This is easily the biggest team to play in the Coliseum since those massive Georgetown squads of the late 1990s with players such as Jahidi White, Othella Harrington and Boubacar Aw that coach John Thompson used to run out on the floor with regularity.

“They’re bigger than Texas was inside, and Texas was big,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said Friday. “They’ve got girth as well. They’ve got a lot of weight behind them.”

It shows up on the glass where Texas A&M is outrebounding its opponents by 6.2 boards per game this year. The Aggies have grabbed 260 offensive rebounds in 19 games, or 38 more than their opponents.

A&M (11-8) is also playing much better of late. Billy Kennedy’s club is coming off a four-point road win at Ole Miss on Wednesday night after defeating Georgia, 63-62, last Saturday in controversial fashion.

Those two victories have followed a 1-5 start in SEC play with A&M’s lone victory coming at home against LSU.

“I think it took them a while to get their perimeter guys to understand what they wanted done,” Huggins said.

Davis, a Plano, Texas, resident, is leading the team in scoring and rebounding with averages of 13.7 points and 6.8 boards per game. He is the top shooter in the SEC, making 60.7 percent of his field goal attempts while recording three double-doubles so far this season.

Hogg is the team’s best 3-point shooter, converting 40 so far this season, including a seven-for-nine performance behind the arc in a recent game against South Carolina.

He is averaging 13.1 points per game.

Admon Gilder, A&M’s starting point guard, shows averages of 12 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists while playing a team-leading 31.6 minutes per game. He is coming off a career-best 20 points in Wednesday night’s win in Starkville.

Guards J.C. Hampton and Chris Collins will also be called on from the bench to handle the ball against West Virginia’s full-court press.

In order to combat Texas A&M’s great length, Huggins said it will be important for his team to get the Aggies moving in order to spread them out.

“We’ve got to push everything without getting out of our comfort zone,” he explained. “You tell them to push it and then they come in and it’s out of our comfort zone. I don’t want us to be out of our comfort zone but we have to pick up the pace and get them to play faster.”

The Mountaineers’ frenetic “Press Virginia” style was scaled back a little bit during Tuesday night’s 85-69 win over No. 2 Kansas.  WVU produced just 13 turnovers, or 9.7 fewer than its season average of 22.7.

Sophomore forward Esa Ahmad had his best performance as a Mountaineer with 27 points against the Jayhawks and it will be interesting to see how he responds on Saturday against the Aggies.

It will also be interesting to see how some of West Virginia’s younger bigs answer the challenge of facing A&M’s massive front line. In seven of the eight games Texas A&M has lost this year, its opponent has attempted more free throws than it has.

The only time that didn’t happen was against UCLA on November 27, but the Bruins made up for that by knocking down 12-of-26 from 3.

West Virginia’s 3-point shooting has pretty good of late, the Mountaineers converting 38.1 percent of their triples at Kansas State last Saturday and 40 percent during Tuesday night’s win over Kansas.

This is will be the fifth SEC Challenge for West Virginia. The Mountaineers were 1-1 in the Big East/SEC Challenge, defeating Auburn in 2007 and losing to Mississippi State in 2011.

However, West Virginia is winless so far in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, losing at Missouri three years ago, dropping a home decision against LSU in 2015 and losing at Florida last year.

The Mountaineers have lost their last six games to SEC foes dating back to the 2010-11 season when they defeated Vanderbilt, 74-71, in Puerto Rico.

• After getting Wednesday off, the Mountaineers got back to work on Thursday afternoon in preparation for their final regular season non-conference game of the year.

“They were alright yesterday, not great, but alright,” Huggins said. “We’ve got a lot of stuff we need to get done. We kind of tried to introduce everything yesterday and go through everything. The concentration level has got to be a little better today. We kind of faded a little bit yesterday.”

• Huggins admitted Friday afternoon that he’s not a big fan of playing the SEC/Big 12 Challenge right in the middle of the conference season, but he understands the reasoning behind it with the NFL idle this week leading into Super Bowl Sunday next weekend.

“Because they are having those other challenges I think they were trying to find a place for their ratings because the other ones are pretty much during football season,” Huggins said.

• West Virginia’s most consistent rebounder the last three games?

That would be 6-foot-2-inch, 200-pound junior guard Jevon Carter, who has grabbed 29 boards in his last three games. Huggins is hopeful Carter can pull down some more on Saturday to help neutralize A&M’s big front line.

“We need to gang-rebound it,” Huggins said.

Huggins believes Carter is capable of producing a triple-double. He nearly had one on Tuesday night against Kansas, scoring nine points, grabbing eight rebounds and handing out nine assists. He could also reach a triple-double stealing the basketball as well — he has produced at least six steals four times so far during his career.

“He’s a great kid,” Huggins said. “He tries to do everything that you ask him to do. We obviously need our guards to rebound.”

By the way, West Virginia’s last triple-double happened 41 years ago when Jerome Anderson did it against Boston University on Jan. 4, 1975. That night he scored 18 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and handed out 10 assists.

Only three other Mountaineer players have ever done it –guard Jim Sottile against NYU in 1952, guard Rod Thorn against St. Bonaventure in 1962 and guard Levi Phillips against Virginia Tech in 1974.

• Assistant coach Ronnie Everhart continues to recover from lower back surgery. Everhart made an appearance at practice earlier today but doctors have limited what he can do until he makes a full recovery.

“We just want Ronnie to get well,” Huggins said. “He comes in for an hour most days just to kind of see everybody but he’s not close to being physically able to do what he needs to do.

“Ronnie is the toughest guy I know so he will be back, I just don’t want him to push it and then he gets hurt again,” Huggins said.

Everhart said it is more comfortable for him to stand than it is sitting for long periods of time, but he has not yet been cleared to begin a rigorous rehabilitation program.

In the meantime, Josh Eilert, West Virginia’s coordinator of basketball operations, has moved into Everhart’s role on the staff and has also taken over his recruiting responsibilities on the road as well.

“Josh has filled in admirably,” Huggins said. “One, Josh is a very, very bright guy. Two, doing film – this is his 11th year doing film for us – you’re going to learn. I had an assistant who went to the NBA and they put him as the film guy to start out with because they said that was the best preparation he could get to become a coach.

‘They said he knew every set of every team in the NBA, he knew every call and he eventually ends up being a head coach in the NBA. Everybody wanted him as an assistant because he knew what was coming.”

• Following Saturday’s game against Texas A&M, West Virginia jumps right back into conference play on Tuesday night with a key road game at Iowa State. That contest will tip off at 9 p.m. and will be televised nationally on ESPN2.

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