SCOUTING THE AGGIES
Texas A&M has started 4-0 for the past five seasons. The Aggies will look to get to 5-0 today against West Virginia after a 69-60 upset of No. 19 Clemson in a first round game. Guard B.J. Holmes (5-11, 175 lbs.) came off the bench to score 20 points, 11 on free throws, in his best game since being slowed by a thigh bruise early this season. Holmes led the Big XII in three-point percentage last season in league games and is averaging six points in about 15 minutes thus far this year. Starting guards Dash Harris (6-1, 175 lbs.) and Donald Sloan (6-3, 205 lbs.) are averaging 7.7 and 20 points, respectively, and Sloan was making 75 percent of his threes this year until missing all four of his tries against Clemson. The senior shooting guard scored nine points and added five rebounds in 20 minutes. He has range, and the size to get the shot off effectively. Harris, the point player, led the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio entering the 76 Classic at 12:0, but committed three turnovers against two assists in the opening round. Harris isn’t a scorer, but will try to take foes off the dribble. The Los Angeles native will likely try to impress tomorrow in what amounts to a hometown game.
Forwards Derrick Rowland (6-4, 190 lbs.) and Nathan Walkup (6-7, 210 lbs.) don’t have the bulk of some of the foes West Virginia has faced thus far, and the Mountaineers will be the most physical team the duo has played this year. Rowland averages 15.7 points while shooting close to 60 percent. He has decent range, but his best asset is perimeter defense. He’ll be asked to close out on West Virginia’s top outside threat, which will likely be Da’Sean Butler. The two are similarly sized and natural swingmen. This, along with the physical point guard play, is the match-up to watch. Walkup, the power forward, got into foul trouble against Clemson but did see 15 minutes He isn’t a scorer, and is primarily used for defense. He’s listed as gritty, which usually brings to mind a Cam Thoroughman-type player. He’ll bang inside, and head coach Mark Turgeon will need him to mix it up on the blocks. Center Bryan Davis (6-9, 250 lbs.) is a three-year letterman. The senior averages nearly 10 points and six boards per game and in 24 minutes nearly posted a double-double against the Tigers with 10 points and eight rebounds. He is developed, and could force West Virginia off the blocks. The personal – personal – guess here is head coach Bob Huggins brings in Devin Ebanks to counteract the size and strength with some length. Ebanks did not play against Long Beach State, but Huggins said after the game that the ‘flow’ of the next contests would determine if Ebanks gets floor time. This could be the time considering the match-up.
Forward David Loubeau (6-8, 230 lbs.) and guard Naji Hibbert (6-6, 200 lbs.) are the backups. Loubeau will play about 20 to 25 minutes and is averaging 10 points and six rebounds. He’s not a great shooter away from the basket and isn’t likely to take a three. He has a knack for getting to the ball around the cylinder, though, and West Virginia must make sure to get a body on the sophomore. Hibbert is a sizeable shooting guard and the Aggies best young prospect. The freshman didn’t do much statistically against Clemson, but has a Butler-like assortment of drives and spins in his arsenal. He won’t pivot around as much as Butler, but he finds ways to create and get off shots. His wingspan also makes him a good defender, and he has played high level competition coming out of DeMatha (Md.) High. WVU might choose to worry more about other guards on the outside, though, as Hibbert has yet to show much there.
This is an ideal time for a challenge for West Virginia, and this will be its most sizeable one yet regarding the overall roster. Texas A&M is bigger and stronger than any team the Mountaineers have played – which should not be a surprise – and used physical play and good defensive length to take Clemson out of what it wanted to do offensively. The ease in which A&M handled head coach Oliver Purnell’s ACC team was enlightening, perhaps especially so for WVU assistant coach Billy Hahn, who watched the game from a baseline seat. West Virginia needs to maintain its physical play while using its better skills. Neither team has a major edge in pushing another around, but it appears the Mountaineers are a bit more talented top to bottom. They should be able to hit a greater number of shots both inside and outside the arc and spread the Aggies out enough to give individual players match-ups they could exploit. WVU doesn’t need to make 12 threes and shoot 50 percent to win. But it does need good, well-rounded play all over and solid free throw shooting (A&M has the depth to hack, though not as much on the inside as perimeter) and finishes around the rim and in transition.
|Fri. Nov. 27
2:30 p.m. EST
Anaheim Convention Center
WVU 3-0, 0-0
TAM 4-0, 0-0
WVU - 15
TAM - 83
WVU: Joe Mazzulla (Shoulder) – Will Play; Devin Ebanks (Personal Issue) – Unknown.
TAM: B.J. Holmes (Thigh Bruise), Will Play.
This is the first meeting between the schools. West Virginia is 2-3 against current members of the Big XII all-time. All the meetings have come in the last four years. WVU beat Texas Tech in the 2005-06 Sweet 16 and lost to Texas during the regular season and postseason in 2006-07. It split games with Oklahoma in 2006 and ’08.
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The Mountaineers are trying to bring the school is 209th all-time tournament game win. If they do, the school will have advanced to the championship game in its last three in-season tournaments (Old Spice Classic-Orlando and the Las Vegas Invitational). In the win over Long Beach State, West Virginia advanced to 19-0 under Huggins when it shoots 50 percent or better from the field and 49-2 when it leads by 10 or more points, among others. It has won 20 consecutive games in which it scores 70-plus points.
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West Virginia is 7-9 all-time in games played in California. It won its last two games in the state.
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Head coach Mark Turgeon (Kansas 1987) served as a Jayhawk assistant under Larry Brown and Roy Williams. He was the first KU player ever to play in four consecutive NCAA Tournaments. He played in 12 NCAA Tournament games, helping Kansas go 8-4 and reach a Final Four. In the last two seasons, his A&M team has beaten BYU in the first round of the NCAAs, then lost to an eventual Final Four team (UCLA 51-49 and Connecticut 92-66).